What happened to On the Job Training?

“Training? To be honest, ours is on the job training, and that’s about it.”

If a manager admits that to you, they often have a cowed expression on their face, and they say the words apologetically. They’re quick to explain about cutbacks in training budgets, or they feebly try to change the subject somewhat, under the guise of giving their senior employees some strokes for doing such a good job at it with their newbies.

However I have to say that I would welcome more On the Job Training if only it actually happened consistently, and included some healthy doses of coaching.

Thanks to my own work and the fact that I travel so much to do it, I’m able to collect a lot of customer experiences, and I am in a lot of workplaces where I eventually become one of the gang and people let their guard down, comfortably becoming their normal at-work selves around me. I rarely see any On the Job Training actually happening, and if I do, it is all about skills with sprinkles of random knowledge factoids sprinkled on top. There isn’t any coaching.

Now I understand that managers need to be discreet about it, and that I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) actually see the coaching happening before my eyes unless those managers were real jerks who didn’t care about embarrassing their staff. However I would eventually enjoy the results of managers training and coaching their people on the job if it happened, right?

I am on a business trip right now, and this is day 4 for me of a 7-nighter in the same place. There is a major chain bookstore near my hotel that has proved to be an every-day haunt for me because of its cafe and free parking, and bookstores are like great big candy jars for me anyway – love ’em. It didn’t take me that long to figure out who the floor managers are, and to pick a few staff people to keep tabs on over the course of my frequent visits, staff members who really have no concept of warm, gracious, engaging customer service skills. They certainly were not hired for their smile readiness, for they don’t even give them to each other.

I couldn’t stand being a manager for one day in this place, without taking these employees aside individually and coaching them…

I’d like to give you some coaching on handling the next customer coming up to the counter, okay? I can see that you have the skills you need as a cashier down pat right now, and your transaction time is quick and efficient: I’m sure people appreciate that, as do the customers waiting their turn in line. Now let’s put your personal signature on your work, and get your warmth and aloha to shine through. Instead of saying, “next in line?” look directly at that person in the front of the line, make eye contact and give him or her your biggest, brightest smile, and say something like, “hello, may I help you now?”

Then, I’d discreetly watch them with the next few customers, and yes, they would know I was watching. I would be their biggest cheerleader when they got it right, thanking them for making the extra effort, and letting them know how much I appreciated it – and how positive I am that they made a big impression on the customer too.

Instead, I see managers oblivious to the quality of service the customers are getting – even when they are pitching in at the very next register. They just don’t see what I see as a customer, and if they do, they aren’t responding to it, and they aren’t coaching.

You don’t have to apologize to me for “only” doing On the Job Training. You should be apologizing to your employees, your customers, and your business for not doing it.

Flicker photo
by webchicken


  1. says

    Amen, preach it sister! In Australia now, customer service and systems excellence has been buried in the 1990s. The 21st century service motto seems to be “Take it or leave it”. I applaud it every time I see a manager actually mentoring or otherwise developing someone.
    Can’t you come to Australia and change our corporate landscape. Please?

  2. says

    I am working on it Pete, for I would LOVE to bring Managing with Aloha to Australia! Meanwhile though, Australia has a terrific coach in you :)