I remember the first time I was promoted to a leadership position, when I was named assistant supervisor of a new department. One of the first things the supervisor said to me was "I don't have a lot of time, and I don't like to repeat myself, so pay attention and take good notes, and don't ask a lot of questions."

Training teaching

It wasn't the most gracious way of welcoming a new employee, especially one you've recruited for a new position, and as I was still pretty young, it came across as kind of intimidating. Lucky for me, I already knew the computer system, and I'm a pretty fast learner, so I wasn't someone who ever had to ask a lot of questions. She was also a pretty good trainer; that worked out well for both of us. She wasn't the most patient sort but she knew her stuff and was a "by the book" trainer; no tricks or short cuts, which left me with things I could teach her over the next couple of years.

Though I didn't have problems learning everything I needed to know, I noticed that wasn't true across the board. Before I took over the training duties, whenever she trained others, including working with some of the people who were already in the department, things didn't go quite as smoothly.

There's an inherent intimidation factor when a supervisor has you sitting at their desk to begin with. When that same person shows irritation because they're not pleased with what they perceive as slow comprehension of something they know better than the back of their hand, it impedes the learning process. The more stress there is to learn something, the harder it is to retain.

As assistant manager, I didn't have any real pressure on me for the department to succeed, but being the type of person I am I adopted the role anyway. When I took over training, my approach was a little bit different. I tend to be more nurturing, expecting people who are totally new to something to be somewhat nervous. Being confident in my own abilities to catch up with my own work at a moment's notice, I didn't worry that someone needed to learn things as fast as my supervisor wanted them to.

When I left that job and became district manager at another organization, then a director at the next hospital, things changed just a little bit. I didn't have to do as much training on day to day processes, but I did have to train supervisors on leadership. I also had to monitor how they trained others, and of course monitor those being trained.

Something I didn't always have the luxury of at a higher level was waiting too long for someone to learn the basic steps of a new job. Suddenly, I knew how it felt to be the one with the pressure on, responsible for production, and knowing that I couldn't afford too weak a link on the team because, well, if we didn't produce, people didn't get paid, equipment didn't get bought, and we might as well have shut down the entire production. That wouldn't make people too happy with me; I wouldn't be all that happy either.


One of the hardest skills to master when you're leading or working with others is how to determine whether someone's incapable of learning what you need them to learn, whether they need you to teach them in a different way than the norm, or whether they need more time and if you can afford to give them that time.

As a consultant, I know that a mixture of hard copy visuals, group interactions, and a bit of storytelling enhances the learning curve, which is important when I only have a few hours to convey thoughts. I also know that, when I leave, it's not as imperative that everyone memorizes each concept I tell them because I leave them with material, and I can only hope I've engaged them enough that they'll feel inspired to open the material even one time when they get back to their daily work lives.

Being on the job is tougher. Most managers forget when they were learning the ropes and how difficult it might have been for them. With the added pressure, they want everyone to know everything now; how realistic is that? In health care, even nurses with years of experience have learning curves when going to a new hospital or health care facility, because each hospital has a different way of doing things. These are people with full training and certifications before they're even allowed to perform their jobs; that's saying something.

There are usually two different dynamics in place when a new employee has difficulties learning; estimating how much time you believe it might take this new employee to learn everything you need them to learn to at least be productive, and what kind of time you have to work with such an employee. Each job or occupation has its own learning curves to deal with; there's no one set answer.

Time consideration is going to be much different if you have an office of 2 people compared to an office of 50 because there are so many other bodies to rely on in getting the job done. Still, even an office of 50 people has needs for competence, and obviously they need that new person to learn their job as quickly as possible.

Managers need to give themselves the opportunity to not only be fair to new employees, but to themselves. Having practical training and procedure manuals is always in their best interest. Having a printed glossary of terms would be pretty smart also. Taking a little bit of time to make a new employee feel as comfortable as possible is a good idea, because if they're tense then you're going to be wasting a few days that you can never get back. Establishing time frames for what you need employees to learn is your best friend because it's a measurable tool that everyone can be calculated against. It can always be modified on an as-needs basis or when things change. Many companies have probation periods, but if there's no established training curriculum or process then it's not fair for everyone.

Recognizing these issues exist and planning ahead for them will reduce the stress level of both new employees and those who train them.