Finding New Methods for Educating Your Staff

Thinking about training as an algorithm can help your employees better understand the logic behind company processes and ultimately improve their job performance

Finding New Methods for Educating Your Staff

Denise Hollidge, left, and Jenny Long go over T&T records at the company office.

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Your employees and customers come to you for solutions all day long. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could hand us similar answers to all of our complex business problems?

As much as we want that miracle solution, there is no single formula for success. Formulas follow strict rules, which is why A+B=C works every time. A formula is too simple and our businesses too diverse.

Instead of approaching your business like an algebra problem, consider a more modern approach. A handful of tech companies have changed society with their algorithms. It’s fascinating — and a little scary.

I wanted to understand how algorithms worked. Turns out, an algorithm is a logic process. It is more fluid than a formula. Where a formula commonly has one answer, an algorithm has an array of answers. It operates more like a decision tree than a set of rules.

You can love or hate what Google has done to the industry, but you can’t deny its influence on us and the world. All that power started with an algorithm.

I can say to my phone, “Hey Google, how do I live without you?” and my results will be as diverse as a LeAnn Rimes video, a codependency support group, and a relationship advice article titled “17 Signs He Can’t Live Without You.” Your results may differ.

Consistent excellence is the bedrock of a successful drain cleaning business. It leads to a reputation that gets you hired. The best entrepreneurs can deliver, but many shops struggle to sustain excellence as they grow.

But what if we could apply a logical process, rather than a formula, for training our employees? We could keep the nimbleness of a small shop without working ourselves to death as a decision bottleneck in our business.

Here’s the cool part: This doesn’t mean giving your staff a free-for-all. Algorithms control the set of results. Nothing shows up on Google that the alphabet company doesn’t want you to see. They make the rules in their organization, and so should you.

Don’t let the Silicon Valley references intimidate you. This may sound technical, but in reality, algorithms mimic your brain’s thought patterns. Your business’ logic trees won’t be so complex that you need a kid in a hoodie to write the code. All we are doing is laying out a path for decision-making. You are literally teaching your employees how to think like you. I promise that isn’t an impossible task.

We do this mental computing every day. Consider how you get dressed in the morning. You narrow down your options within seconds, processing questions and answers without conscious thought. Is it a workday: Yes or no? Is it hot outside? Is it cold outside? Is it raining? Do you have any meetings scheduled?

This example chart shows how algorithms are built. Employers can teach employees why they do something, which will lead to them better understanding the job. (Photo courtesy Canva)
This example chart shows how algorithms are built. Employers can teach employees why they do something, which will lead to them better understanding the job. (Photo courtesy Canva)

Your brain shortcuts these thoughts in a few seconds because getting dressed is a task we’ve been doing nearly our entire lives. Yet at one point, our parents taught us how to reason our way through the decision. The process got ingrained and now comes easily.

They call this logic sequencing. Teach your staff the mental code you used to process your logic sequence. Over time, you’ll be able to stop answering the same questions repeatedly. It’s scary to allow employees to make independent judgments. This fear leads to micromanagement or oversimplified policies. Neither is good for business.

If you rely on owners or supervisors to make every judgment call, it creates a growth bottleneck, frustrated workers and burnt out leaders. Sweeping rules may be easy to implement but lead to customer dissatisfaction. Your company isn’t a big-box store or a major corporation. So don’t act like one.

Use the algorithm method to encourage critical thought at all levels of your organization. It frees managers’ time to focus on the important work rather than putting out fires all day.

Here’s how to get started:

1. When an employee comes to you for help, view it as a training opportunity.

2. Answer their questions, but share your decision-making process with them. Note: Don’t expect it to stick the first time. This is not a quick fix.

3. After a while, ask them for their solution rather than answering the question. Probe them about how they got to that answer. Encourage and correct as needed.

If you want to take it a step further, track common questions. For these key processes, document your logic sequence in a flowchart. This will give employees access to your brain, even when you aren’t around.

Adjusting to this approach takes some time and effort. If you can get the hang of it, your team will learn self-reliance and you might even take a vacation.


About the author: Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at anja@acpupstate.com.



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