Staff Training: 10 Expert Tips to Get New Employees Up to Speed

Staff training for retail stores | Shopify Retail blog

The success of your business depends on your ability to train the people who work for you.

Without proper guidance and education, your retail employees can’t perform at the level you expect. You must communicate effectively, and it’s your responsibility to ensure they fully understand your expectations and their role in your shop.

That’s not always easy. Staff training requires a lot of effort and consideration — both before you actually hire anyone and through a new hire’s first few months.

Not only do you need to educate this new employee, but you need to do so in a way that they can understand and digest all the information flowing their way. You also need to provide guidelines and feedback in a way they can act on your suggestions and know how to make great judgment calls when the situation requires it.

It’s overwhelming because training isn’t just a one-time task with a set timeframe. Great staff training programs are complex systems with a lot of moving parts — and many offer ongoing learning initiatives.

To help you overcome some of the challenges in piecing that system together for yourself, we talked to a number of experts, business owners, and retailers to get their tried and true best practices for staff training.

Here are their tips that you can use for your next hire. 

Start the Staff Training Process Before You Hire a New Employee

“I find the most important first step to training new employees is to document, in a very detailed fashion, all job requirements and what the job will be like before you even start looking for someone to fill the position.

You will end up doing this sooner or later, as every new employee wants to know their job description. You may as well do it before you even begin the recruiting process.”

— Justin Singer, owner, manager, and trainer at Mekanix Calisthenics Gym

 “Last year, we overhauled our onboarding program and threw out all of the standard documentation we had used for years.

We found that when we dumped documentation on new hires, many failed to prioritize the information or were simply overwhelmed. 

We now use a mentorship based onboarding program as a means of facilitating information transfer and training. I have seen a reduction in turnover since we started this new approach.”

— Alex Roher, San Diego Botox

Make Staff Training Easy with a Thorough Recruiting Process

“Know what you’re looking for and who would make a good fit. We take great care in selecting employees that will fit with our core team.

The camaraderie of our team is at the forefront of our training process, as it sets the tone and energy of our company, and leaks into every aspect of our work.

When the core team is happy and with everyone genuinely enjoys what they are doing, work performance and customer service runs at its best.

Therefore, before training begins, we believe our most essential and effective training technique is selecting employees that fit our company culture.”

— Alissa Crane, assistant manager, Dr. Drone

“Take the time to properly screen candidates and find a way for them to do the kind of work they will be doing for you during the interview process.

For example, if they have to answer a lot of customer inquiries by e-mail, give them a few samples to respond to in writing. If they need to organize information in a spreadsheet, have them produce a work sample.”

— Justin Singer, Mekanix Calisthenics Gym

What You Teach During Staff Training Matters (and So Does How You Do It)

“Let the employee know how you define success for the first 90 days of the job on Day 1. For example, you may expect them to be proficient in a certain computer system, to have produced a specific number of proposals, have a sales pipeline of a certain size, and so on.

Take the time to go over everything with them when they start. Then schedule a 30-, 60-, and 90-day checkpoint meetings on Day 1. I usually schedule each of these as lunches and let the new employee know this is a chance for us to touch base and see how things are going.”

— Justin Singer, Mekanix Calisthenics Gym

“All your employees need to know their role and understand what they’re responsible for. Making this clear when you bring on a new employee and start the training process is critical.

Document the new employee’s role and be clear about responsibilities.

Give them step-by-step procedures they can follow to help them get up and running quickly and efficiently, too.”

— Adam Watson, Hollywood Mirrors

“We’ve found a few important ways to cut down on the learning curve new employees face:

  • Find out how the employee learns best. Is it by observation and demonstration? Hands-on practice? Give them training that matches their learning style.
  • Involve more experienced team members. Our Senior Employees get direct training with the official manufacturer and transfer their knowledge to trainees.
  • Enable employees to feel comfortable with asking questions.

Repetitive hands-on training helps get employees up to speed quickly, too. We give employees one-on-one guidance through mentor shadowing, demonstration, and hands-on practice.”

— Alissa Crane, Dr. Drone

Don’t Just Focus on Tasks: Train for Culture, Too

“Organizations typically want to load up employees with a lot of mandatory training when they first join a company. It’s usually very boring and doesn’t stick.

This was the case when I joined IBM Canada in 1997. The initial training was focused on learning basic systems and company benefits. No inspiration and no tips for navigating a large complex organization with a distinctive culture.

Eventually, I joined a team that reviewed what was really needed to get people prepared for success.

Yes, they need some basics about benefits, but more importantly, they needed help getting connected to the organization.

Learning was focused on the culture of IBM as well as skills needed to succeed — teamwork, facilitation, and presentation development. Additional learning was spread out over the first six months to allow time for new hires to apply what they had learned.

The cultural connection piece was critical to meld people with the mission of the organization – helping them align their thinking with the purpose of IBM.”

— Jeff Skipper, CEO of Peacebridge Performance Inc.

Your Staff Training Should Go Beyond the First Few Days

“The first few months of employment are especially critical since employees are still evaluating their fit within the company and deciding how they feel about the job.

That means integrating your new hire into the team doesn’t stop after the first day — so neither should your new hire checklist. Some of the activities you should track in the first few months include:

  • Setting goals collaboratively with new hire and revisit them often.
  • Ongoing mentorship and coaching for new hires.
  • Coordinating recurring one-on-one meetings to keep the lines of communication open.

You can also work with your new hire’s supervisor to create a roadmap of milestones, goals, and check-ins, and don’t forget about ongoing training by providing relevant and well-timed content.”

— Peter Schroeder, eLearning Expert at SchoolKeep

Give Constructive Feedback

"Since we want our employees to feel empowered, we encourage them to use their best judgement in all situations and we give them feedback to help them improve or even to tell them we would've handled it the same way.

We did this with our latest new hire, Chloe. When she had a question about how to handle a situation, we talked it out with her on the phone.

Once she decided how she would like to handle it, we gave her feedback to let her know what we might have done differently.

The result was that she learned how owners of the company think and is better equipped to make decisions on her own, in the future.”

— Vicky Lirantonakis, co-owner, Best Dressed

Put These Staff Training Tips into Practice for Your Retail Business

Training new employees becomes exponentially easier when they’re qualified for the job and feel like a good fit for your company culture.

Take your time to truly understand the kind of employee you need to hire — and the criteria someone needs to meet in order to have the best chances for success in that position.

Once you make a hire, it’s your responsibility to give them the training they need to perform at their best. That includes sharing set processes and systems they need to use.

But it also requires you to teach new hires about your expectations for their position, what success actually looks like, and the more nuanced aspects of the job (like how the entire team works together and how they can contribute to the culture).

Don’t hesitate to invest in long-term training, either. Continuing education of some sort will keep employees feeling informed, empowered, and capable of handling their own responsibilities with confidence.

At the very least, plan for follow-ups in your new employee's’ first few months. Check in with them to make sure they continue to progress along the right track as they gain experience.

And give constructive feedback. This means answering questions, making suggestions, and sharing what needs improvement in a way your new hire can take action on what you say.

Need more tips on training new employees for your retail business, dealing with employee mistakes, and more? Check out Shopify’s retail staffing 101 resources, including this guide to hire, train, and retain the right employees.

What are your top staff training tips? Share your advice in the comments below.