Careers advice

How to train a new colleague

Let’s get this train moving.

What you’ll learn:

  • Our tips for training a new employee
  • How to set training goals

There are many reasons why you might be made responsible for training a new member of staff. Perhaps you’re a manager who’s taking charge of their overall onboarding, perhaps you’re leaving the business and you’re training up your replacement, or perhaps you’re simply a long-term member of staff who knows the ropes and is trusted to pass this information on.

Regardless of the motivation, the goal is the same – to get the new starter clued up with what they need to know, without blowing their minds by information overload.

So, how exactly do you train a new staff member? Read on to find the answer.

Training a new employee: our tips

1. Identify the best trainer

If you’re the direct manager of the new starter, one of the most crucial aspects of providing good training is to consider who’s best placed to deliver it. In many cases, this might involve multiple people who are experts in different areas of the business, or have specialist knowledge of tools and techniques the newbie will need.

2. Create how-to guides

Meeting one-on-one with your new colleague is a great way to start developing a relationship with them. However, even if they’re the world’s best note-takers, they’re not going to remember complex organisational processes after one explanation.

So, where possible, try to create step-by-step how-to guides for them to take away from the session. For example, if you’re training a new graphic designer, you should have one document which lays out all the house style information, another that details the process of how a piece of work goes from ideation to publication and so on.

Remember when you’re writing these guides that, even if the person is highly experienced in their given field, they won’t know the idiosyncrasies of your organisation. For example, many companies have quirky names for different departments that will be like a foreign language to someone who isn’t familiar with them. So, you’ll need to write everything in plain English, and give plenty of examples.

Similarly, put things on a plate for them. Remember what it was like when you first started at the organisation, now knowing where things were, how things worked or who you needed to ask for help with what. So, instead of, for example, telling them “you’ll need to get access to this document”, make sure they have that access from the get-go. Not only will they appreciate this extra effort, it’ll make your training sessions run more smoothly, as you’ll be able to actually walk them through things, rather than being hit with a bunch of “access denied” messages.

Put together some how-to guides before your training sessions.

3. Structure their training

Endless hours of back-to-back training won’t work for many people. So think about how you’re going to structure your training sessions to both convey the relevant information, while also providing the new starter with time to let what they’ve learnt sink in. Also, many people learn by doing, so give them time to play around with some of the tools for themselves.

Taking our graphic designer example, structuring the training might mean that you have one session where you talk through the processes for publishing an asset, then you give the person an hour or so to try this out in a test environment, so they can immediately practise what they’ve learnt. Then, after this, you reconvene and talk about how they found things, before moving on to the next broader topic. 

Crucially, if you’re looking to build a cohesive team, your training of every employee needs to contain the information that everyone needs to know, regardless of their specialist position. Of course, you’d train a social media specialist differently to how you’d train our graphic designer in terms of some of the tools they’ll need to have access to etc., but you still want them to be singing from the same song sheet when it comes to company direction, values and pan-organisation processes.

4. Provide lots of time for questions

However long you think a particular training session might take, build in a decent chunk of additional wiggle room as the new starter will likely have heaps of questions.

Of course, providing time for questions is only good if you can also provide the answers to what they’re asking. The best way to do this? Spend some time thinking about what they’re likely to ask about, so that you’re primed and ready to cover the necessary ground. Again, the best way to do this is to try and put yourself in their shoes – someone who’s coming in completely cold, to whom everything will be new and different. What would confuse you? What would you want to know?

Make sure you give them time to ask questions.

5. Build culture into your training

You can’t expect your new colleague to jump into the role with a complete grasp of the company culture and ethics, even if this was something that was covered in their job interview. After all, every company culture is different, and they’ll need to adapt to it, in the same way they’re learning the technical side of their new role.

When we say train for culture, don’t just simply run through the list of company buzzwords. Try to provide actionable examples of what this culture means in practice. For example, if your organisation has made commitments to being environmentally sustainable, talk about how both the business as a whole, and individuals within it, work towards this goal.

6. Make sure they spend time with other stakeholders

Even if you’re the person with whom they’ll have the most contact out of anyone in the business, it’s likely they’ll also have to work with others regularly.

Not only is it important for the new starter to meet these people from an interpersonal perspective, but these other colleagues may be able to provide a better overview of what they’re hoping for out of that relationship than you could. Your role here isn’t only setting up these meetings, but also, again, thinking about how they should be structured so they have a good chance of learning the most salient points and feel supported.

How to set training goals

It’s vital that your new hire understands what’s expected from them in all aspects of their role, and this is particularly important when it comes to training. A great framework for doing this is using the SMART technique for objective setting.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound, and here’s an example of how it might work in practice when it comes to training a new employee.

Let’s say you were training a colleague to use your content management system (CMS) as this will be a core part of their content writing role. A SMART goal around this area could look like:

  • Specific: Upload two feature articles into the CMS, including proof-reading the already created copy, choosing images and using the folder structure you’ve already shown them.
  • Measurable: You’ll measure success here by the articles being added in the correct way, without errors in the text, and with the correct workflow in the CMS backend.
  • Achievable: Make sure this is achievable, both in terms of the amount of time you give (see below) and the resources you’ve provided to support the newbie with this task. For example, it would be helpful for them to have a guide to the folder structure to hand, so they’re not trying to recall this from memory.
  • Relevant: Rather than just setting this objective and leaving the new starter to get on with it, you should take the time to explain why this is relevant to their role, and what you hope they’ll learn from the process.
  • Time bound: Depending on the complexity of your CMS, and the experience level of the new starter, set what you think is an appropriate timeframe for them to complete the task within. This should be a little stretching, but not to the extent where they’re going to be stressed out – they’re new, after all.