Ever found yourself answering the same questions from different employees over and over again?
If so, your organisation may be suffering from a lack of documentation – you probably need to create a comprehensive training manual that employees can rely on to provide the learning they need, when they need it.
What is a training manual?
A training manual is an method of ensuring that anyone carrying out a certain task or using a new product is doing so in a way that best fits the required processes and ethos of your business.
There is no point in constantly reinventing the wheel – a good training manual promotes efficiency, providing each individual with straightforward instructions and a definitive guide which should answer most, if not all, of their pertinent questions.
Having this kind of document readily available increases the confidence of staff, especially newcomers, who can be sure they are carrying out their work in the correct manner.
This increases productivity by cutting out time wasted on finding out answers from other employees, and instead ensuring all the information is displayed clearly at their fingertips, with the ability to refer to it whenever it is needed.
To encourage continued use, a good employee training manual must be easy to understand and simple to work through, which means it should be laid out in a logical manner and split into clearly defined sections for future reference. As an inspiration for simplicity, think about an airplane safety card, which is designed to be understood in seconds, regardless of which language the reader speaks.
Read on to find out how to create an employee training manual that fulfils all your organisation's needs.
Step 1 - Define your objectives
The first step taken towards creating a training manual that works is to define your objectives.
What should the user have learned to do by following this guide?
This means deciding exactly what you want them to achieve, no more and no less.
Putting too much into one training manual can overload the user, making the task seem more daunting than it is and defeating the object of creating an efficient, accessible set of instructions. Not putting enough information in can leave the trainee with questions that are not answered by the manual and forcing them to once again go elsewhere for support.
- Some common objectives when creating a training manual include:
- Acclimatising new employees with workplace processes
- Providing health and safety information to reduce accidents at work
- Giving current employees new skills for when processes are updated and the ability to adapt to new ways of working
- Fulfilling extra training requirements identified during performance reviews
- Increasing employee productivity with more efficient or standardised ways of working
- Providing the extra training needed for staff to advance through promotions
- Outlining the manual's objectives will allow you to create a coherent flow of instructions for the user.
Step 2 - Identify your audience
The next step in creating your manual is to identify and understand your audience and their particular needs.
This will enable you to present the information in the best way possible for them. Whether you are a current employee of the organisation yourself or an external trainer, your manual must take into account the organisation's culture and demographics in order to achieve the stated objectives.
Think about the trainees as a group and as individuals, their position in the organisation, their prior knowledge base and the industry in which you are training. This will increase the effectiveness of your manual, by embedding new, relevant knowledge, reducing low uptake and making the whole project much more worthwhile and more likely to be a success.
Step 3 - Select your training tools
Now you have established what you want the learner to know, and who those learners are, you can choose the right tools for the job by selecting how you will present your training materials.
We've come a long way from traditional, hard-copy training manuals, which have often proven unwieldy and unappealing to new users. If you're issuing training manuals in Microsoft Word or PDF, expect a frosty reception, poorer learning outcomes, and less engagement.
New ways of learning have arrived, and they include video guides from Camtasia, semi-interactive elearnings such as those from Adobe Captivate, and the increasingly popular fully interactive, step-by-step product guides produced by Nickelled.
These interactive training manuals take the user through each part of the learning process with self-paced guided tours of new products. This method makes the user an active part of the learning process and shows them an example of real-time results, which helps to ensure each new step is properly understood before moving on to the next, creating a deeper overall understanding of the task at hand.
Nickelled's cloud-based guided tours of software require no installation or code and work well with virtually every website out there. During the tour, you can choose which sections to highlight and offer instruction on, while providing the user with the feeling of being on a live site. Smart scrolling and auto-complete take the user to the right part of the site, allowing them to focus on the task at hand and preventing them from being distracted by other visual elements.
Step 4 - Develop your training materials
While there are several different ways to present your training materials, be sure to include all the necessary elements in the most logical way:
- Introduce the objectives of the training manual, which ensures the user has a clear goal in mind, so they understand what they should expect to have learned by the end of the training. State that there will be an assessment to ensure the objectives have been achieved, and illustrate how that assessment will be carried out and graded.
- Explain how knowledge weak points may be identified by the assessment, and how they can be overcome with extra or more targeted training.
- Outline alternative methods of training, should they be available and more suitable, and show how the learner can access them.
- If supplementary material is available, provide options for it.
- Use both text and visual aids to demonstrate the information and give examples of how it might be used to carry out the tasks at hand, to better convey the information to a range of learners and ensure a deep enough understanding of the learning material.
- Where possible, include interactive elements within the training environment, as this helps to embed knowledge by giving the user a chance to practice what they are learning for themselves.
- Try to include some discussion topics, where appropriate, to enable the user to deepen their knowledge and to encourage them to apply it to other similar scenarios.
- At the end of each section, summarise the key learning points to reinforce the points and help them enter the learner's long-term memory.
Keep each section as short as possible as not to overload the user with too much information to take in at once. 20 minutes of learning is generally regarded as a good length of time to promote optimum concentration and reduce the likelihood of needing to cover the material again after assessment.
Consider adding quizzes to each section, to allow the learner to test themselves on their new knowledge and identify points which may need greater focus.
If you're looking for training manual templates to follow, here are some pointers in the right direction:
- Template.net's Employee Training Manual Templates
- Template Labs' collection of Training Manual Templates
- Northpass' Powerpoint-based template
- The Nickelled Academy, a collection of training manuals we use to train new users to Nickelled
Step 5 - Create an assessment
Assessing the success of the training by testing the learner's knowledge at the end is a crucial component in ensuring the training is meeting its objectives.
As well as identifying where more training is required for each individual learner, it can also help identify weaknesses in the training itself, by identifying where exactly objectives are not being achieved and allowing you to look at why. This will enable you to improve your materials for future learners.
A score of around 80 percent is usually seen as a good benchmark for each learner to achieve, to ensure they have reached a suitable level of understanding through the training, and can go on to use the product or carry out the designated tasks confidently and efficiently.
Step 6 - Get feedback
User feedback is a valuable tool for anyone who wants to learn how to create a training manual. As well as helping to pick up minor faults such as typos or awkward grammar, getting a fresh perspective on how the learning experience really translates into practice can help ensure you are delivering the right kind of training in the most efficient and helpful manner possible.
Being open to critique can only improve your methods of training, saving you time and effort by improving your training outcomes, reducing the need to repeat the training programme in future.
Companies that invest time and money into training their employees well undoubtedly see a return on their investment through greater productivity and improved efficiency.
With new products and processes constantly under development, it's vital for your employees to be able to access the training they need to do their jobs properly.
Having a tried and tested method of creating useful, interactive training manuals can be an invaluable tool for any modern business, no matter how large the organisation or how high the employee turnover.