Want to figure out how to do something? Search YouTube. From fixing your car to programming your phone to investing in gold, you can type and click and find someone to help you out.
Pretty cool, right? There is great information available online. I just searched for companion plants for my asparagus bed. Answer: basil and parsley. My husband Hotrod once searched for “repairing a torn earlobe” after a tool got the best of him. (I wish I were making it up.) One site suggested using a stapler.
And therein lies the rub. You can find amazing information on the internet. There are also lots of nutty people sharing their “expertise.” The world-flattening view of the computer monitor can make it tricky to tell the nutters from the pros.
Your employees are searching YouTube for ways to do what you’ve asked them to do. If they get stuck, they could call you — and they might. Or they might type in “how to install a water heater” and click on a random link.
Even if you have checklists and systems, they may be bypassing all that. So how do you make sure your team members are trained properly, in these days of at-your-fingertips-information? Let’s explore ways we can combine cool digital options with sound training practices to enhance learning.
There’s no substitute for operations manuals. At Zoom Drain, we have a world-class set of operations manuals. It took years to put together our how-tos. Writing manuals involves ride-alongs, heated discussions and some brutal executive decisions. Still, if you want things done the right way, your way, there is no sidestepping the written word.
Start with binders. One person does the task; another writes down what he is doing. Use a spiral-bound, three-hole notebook. Focus on the few tasks your people run into every day. Do this for every position on the organizational chart.
Then make the move to electronic manuals. We are now storing — and updating — the digital version of our manuals. It sure beats the “seek and destroy” method of updating the binders. Still, it’s an ongoing housekeeping project and essential for keeping up with evolving software, industry regulations and manufacturers’ offerings.
Like accepting crypto-currency, I think learning management systems are inevitable. Manuals, video, testing and tracking need to be coordinated. There are many options and the investment goes from mild to millions. I’ve been looking into these guys: LightSpeed VT (www.lightspeedvt.com).
The training center
Hands-on training is best. My partner and BFF, Al Levi, has been advocating operations manuals and training centers for 30 years. He recommends building realistic, fully plumbed, wired, vented and connected “vignettes” for practicing your trade. Until you make that happen, practice on your existing mechanical systems. Add sales training to your sessions as you do.
Note: Do you and your team hate to roleplay? They get used to it if you commit to it. Sure, it’s awkward. But consider a pro, collegiate or even high school sports team. How often would they run a play in the game they had never practiced? Just sayin.
Virtual reality is pretty cool! Our own Ashlei Williams reported on virtual reality training options at this year’s AHR Show (https://bit.ly/2HikP77). I love the fun factor and this is just the beginning of this emerging training option.
Viva la video!
In addition to written manuals, video is essential. Your team members have different learning styles and your training is improved if you offer information in multiple ways.
You can create your how-to videos as you practice your trade in the field and your training center. One person works, another records. Keep the videos short and informal. Don’t fuss over production quality.
You also can add videos created by others. Keep an open dialogue with your team about helpful info they discover. We have a Safety Module in our manual and we reference a very powerful (and super gross!) YouTube video on eye protection.
Video calls, social media
Send newly trained techs out with a promise to stay in touch via Facetime, Skype or Google Meet. Video calling saves time and avoids miscommunications.
When it comes to social media — follow cool guys. Encourage team members to follow industry icons and news providers.
PHCP Pros proudly represents in the Twitterverse! Check it out at https://twitter.com/phcppros.
Podcasts, interesting Instagram stars? Yes, please.
If they are into it, your employees are going to check their social media platforms. Don’t bother fighting it. Establish rules — no driving and clicking! — and stay in the conversation. You can learn something, too.
Oooh, there is so much available from your favorite manufacturers! From live classes to web-based training. Search or ask your reps to connect you.
A shout-out to Bradford White and its For the Pro partner portal (www.bradfordwhite.com/forthepro). I am happy to host a plethora of business basics videos there.
Big props to Hotrod and Coffee with Caleffi (www.caleffi.com/usa/en-us/coffee-caleffitm-schedule). This terrific webinar series draws hundreds of contractors live and the archive is deep. Wetheads take note.
Load product manuals onto your phone and tablets. My friends at Spartan do a great job making all their products offerings handy (www.spartantool.com/informationcenter). You don’t need those books on your shelf any more.
Don’t neglect the office crew!
QuickBooks is the basic wrench of your business building toolset. I used to hate the online version of its software. No more! It is stepping up big time and the site is chock-full of great training (www.quickbookstraining.com/self-paced-training).
Your dispatch software probably comes with how-to modules. Check them out before you spend hours waiting for a callback. I’m a big fan of Service Titan (www.servicetitan.com). If you are, too, dive deep into its Academy and Knowledge Base modules. They have tight videos, user interactions and the portals are well-organized.
Live industry events
AHR, PHCC Connect, WWETT, ISH, MOSTRA, K&B, EEExpo, CMPX-CIPHEX, FLOW and about a hundred other acronyms represent trade show offerings for each sector. Check them out, in the United States and across the globe.
Attend Service Titan Pantheon 2019 (www.servicetitan.com/pantheon). I went last year and was blown away by the quality of the presentations. Even better, the attendees represented some if not most of the movers and shakers in our industry. The networking was amazing. I’m excited to be speaking from the main stage on July 16 — and sharing “The Few Numbers that can Transform Your Business.”
Face to face
Perhaps what I love most about our fine industry is that it is a face-to-face business. What we offer is enhanced by technology but not overtaken by it. Ultimately, the winners in the “dirty jobs” world are those who will look someone in the eye, talk and listen, and develop a relationship.
The most successful are those who work elbow-to-elbow with a newcomer to the trade and share what they have learned over their lifetime. Yep, the manuals are essential. You can season your training with hip technology. One could learn 75 percent of this trade by studying up on their own. But for mastery, you need a coach. A sensei. A teacher. That, my friend, is you.
“In the end, it’s about the teaching, and what I always loved about coaching was the practices. Not the games, not the tournaments, not the alumni stuff. But teaching the players during practice was what coaching was all about to me.” — John Wooden, former head coach of the UCLA basketball team.