Creating a Peer-to-Peer Training Program
Employee engagement can help reduce turnover. But in small to mid-sized businesses, turnover and its consequences remain an important issue to address, for several reasons:
- Low wages can mean that workers are always looking for opportunities elsewhere
- Advancement opportunities are rare in smaller businesses
- Competition for employees between small, mid-sized, and big-box companies is stiff
- Low-wage workers are often young, inexperienced, and highly mobile
In certain industries, there’s even more concern. In the retail industry, for example, low wages, seasonal hiring trends, and a generally younger workforce lacking job experience, can make your turnover sky-high. While manufacturing sees lower turnover than retail, the effects can be far more devastating. Having more experienced workers available to show new employees the ropes is vital when it comes to know-how and workplace safety issues,
Because small and mid-sized businesses may lack HR departments to handle hiring, onboarding and training, turnover can eat up productive time. Owners and managers must take hours out of their busy schedules to recruit, hire, onboard and train new employees. At the same time, job vacancies and inexperienced new workers put a strain on scheduling and may cost the company more in overtime.
If turnover is high, the constant stress on management and staff can contribute to a tense atmosphere that induces more turnover.
It’s a vicious cycle. So how do you break it – and turn it into a virtuous cycle?
Peer Training Is a Good Solution for Companies with Limited Time and Budgets
If you’re a smaller company, the odds are two shortages affect your ability to implement a formal training program: time and money. It’s also likely that you have a lean staff, one that may already be maxed out performing their day-to-day duties. And yet new employees seldom come with all the skill sets you need; you have to train them.
Given time and money constraints, how do you train your new employees in a way that doesn’t impinge too heavily on any one manager’s or employee’s time, and doesn’t strain your budget?
Peer-to-peer training works on the old adage, many hands make light work.
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What Is the Advantage of Peer-to-Peer Learning?
Simply put, peer training (also known as peer learning or P2P training) is workers teaching coworkers. Peer training leverages the skill sets and knowledge that your managers and employees already have and distributes training responsibilities across your staff. So, the training burden does not fall too heavily on any one worker. Peer training in the workplace relies on existing staff knowledge and takes place during the workday, so you won’t be bringing in an outside trainer, sending employees to seminars, or spending large amounts of management time creating a training program. Instead, your peer training program evolves as it grows.
Five Reasons Peer-to-Peer Training Is Effective
- On-the-job training with peers is less intimidating than with managers
- Hands-on, experiential training is fast, plus creates better retention
- The new hire can buddy with the best employee for each activity
- New and old employees quickly get acquainted and develop camaraderie
- Employees who teach feel more confident and become more engaged
Implement Your Peer Training Program in 6 Steps
Workers will turn to coworkers for help and direction most of the time.
Institutionalizing peer training in your company takes advantage of this natural human tendency to seek and share knowledge from our peers, making implementation easy. Of course, it helps if you’ve been building a team culture of open communications in your company, because you’ll need to be able to have honest conversations about skill and talent levels with your staff.
Make it clear that the purpose of establishing a peer training program is to help everyone improve. You can ease any tensions by admitting that you don’t have all the skills to do everything in your company, and that you don’t expect anyone else to, either. It’s only natural that people excel at different tasks; the intent is to share that knowledge around, raising up the whole team.
Step 1. Use Teamwork to Determine the Skills Needed in Your Company
You, your managers, and your employees collectively have the skills and knowledge needed to run your business. While managers usually know the broad-brush duties, employees often know the nitty-gritty details of the day-to-day operations, from computer program shortcuts to where the supplies are kept.
Meet with your team to discuss the skills required in various positions, from mechanical tasks such as operating a cash register or other equipment to more nuanced skills, such as customer service abilities. Break these down into components as necessary. For instance, it’s not enough to say that your employees who deal with customers need customer service skills. That’s really a skill set, comprising:
- Communication and listening skills
- Problem-solving skills, handling difficulties
- Product or service knowledge skills
- Time management skills
Compile all the skills into a list that can then be used to determine which of your team members are the best choices for teaching each one. You’ll also use the list to identify the necessary skills that your new employees have, and those that they need help with.
Step 2. Figure Out Which Employees Are the Best Trainers for Specific Skills
Once you’ve identified your skills list, meet again with your staff to determine who is best at each. You also want to consider teaching talent. Some employees may be very competent at a task, but not as good at showing someone else how to do it. Your employees with better people skills may be able to help those coworkers learn how to convey their knowledge.
People naturally feel good about themselves when they share knowledge. But a little recognition helps, too.
Consider a small rewards program for your best trainers. It could be as simple as adding “Star Trainer” to their title, putting a star on their nametag, or starting a fun competition where employees vote for the best trainer. Although rewards don’t need to involve money, a small bonus or an “appreciation card” good for free coffee or a meal out go a long way towards letting the employee know that their extra efforts are noticed and appreciated.
Step 3. Identify Skill Gaps in Your New Employees and Match Mastery with Need
Job interviews often establish high-level assessments of employee skills, but may miss details. Have new employees meet with an established employee to go over the skills list. For the new hire, talking to a peer is not as intimidating as admitting to a manager or owner that they don’t know how to do something.
The point is to quickly establish the areas that need the most attention; these are skills gaps.
Once you have these, it’s easy to determine which team member is the best trainer in each area. Have your new hire meet with them as a team. There are two additional advantage to this process. If your employees handle all or most of this process, it saves tons of management time. Also, it lets the new hire know from the start that they are working with a helpful team in a culture of open communications where a skill gap is not seen as a liability, but as an opportunity to learn.
Step 4. Use a Buddy System for Training
The buddy system pairs two coworkers together so that one can learn from the other on the job. There are several advantages to this over sending the new worker to a training program, having them read a manual or watch videos, or complete an online training course. The trainer can answer any questions the new hire has right on the spot. They can also quickly catch and correct any errors. Working side by side, the trainer can also give more detailed, specific instructions than a manual or video would be able to provide. And, because buddy training takes place on the job, less productivity is lost than in more traditional training programs.
In addition to skills acquisition, buddy training quickly assimilates new workers into your culture and way of doing business.
Step 5. Document the Training Processes
When good employees leave, their knowledge often leaves with them. Peer training is a great way to share that knowledge with more team members and retain it. Documenting successful peer training methods keeps the information in the company. Have trainers write down their instructions, or take smart-phone videos of their demonstrations. Little by little, you’ll find that you have created a training manual, or a library of training videos, without a large, costly expenditure of time.
Step 6. Measure, Improve, and Repeat Your Peer Program
As with all business processes, peer-to-peer training needs to be reviewed, analyzed and improved. What worked? What didn’t work? What are best practices? Using your skills gap list for each new hire test the employees to see if they have mastered the needed skills. Meet with the new employee and trainers together to openly review the process, find out what worked well and what could be done better next time. Include any improvements in your next peer training.
Cross-Training Employees Using Peer Training
Cross-trained employees can strengthen a company by creating a more flexible team of employees able to fill in for each other at a moment’s notice. As with new employees, you can identify skill gaps that employees have – the employees themselves can tell you what they need, and would like, to learn. This is often a perk to them, because it prepares them for advancement opportunities if they arise, plus adds skills to their resume.
Choosing the Best Methods for Your Peer Program
Which is more effective, hands-on training, training presentations, or materials such as videos and manuals? The answer may be all of the above depending on your employees and business. While hands-on learning with a buddy is the most direct way to transfer manual skills, more nuanced skills such as customer service are good topics for presentations. Occasional “lunch and learns,” as your schedule permits--and in accordance with wage and hour requirements--are great ways to let an employee who excels in a particular area present to their peers. And training materials that were created during training periods can be made available to employees on a company learning management website.
Peer-to-Peer Training Helps Build a Perpetual Learning Team
Peer training saves time and money for managers, while providing personal and professional development for employees as they learn leadership and teaching skills on the one hand, and pick up new skills on the other. It can improve the expertise of all employees while creating a close-knit team. And that, in turn, helps retention and makes life easier on everyone.