It’s important in EVERY position in a business…whether you’re the head honcho, someone who’s been around forever, or the newbie that just walked in the door…that you feel comfortable & confident enough to ask questions & when appropriate, request some help.

With the new trainees, that seems pretty obvious, no?

But lemme tell ya, so many new employees are too embarrassed, just plain frightened or “don’t wanna look stupid” when there’s something that they don’t fully understand.

They’d rather whisper to a buddy, who’s probably just as knowledgeable (unknowledgeable?) as they are.

Asking questions is NOT a sign of stupidity…but NOT asking questions most certainly IS!

You’re not fooling anyone by pretending to know everything that you need to know…and that applies to EVERYONE.

I would always challenge my managers & my people to learn more, to ask questions, to have an unquenchable thirst to gain more knowledge & ultimately, increase their value to themselves & to the organization.

“And if you somehow feel that you got everything down pat, we can always meet in my office & I’ll give you a little quiz. And I’ll put up my weekly paycheck against what you earn in an hour to make it interesting!”

Never had a taker.

But they knew that I was dead serious. The learning process never, ever ends.

And contrary to what most people believe, the more you know, the greater the opportunity you have to learn even more!

Think about that one for awhile. 🤔

When your brain has been properly exercised & you’re used to taking in more information (and transforming that into useful knowledge & tangible skills), then you’re primed for learning even more.

Your brain requires exercise, just like any other body part.

When I was Operations Director for First American/CoreLogic down in St. Pete, FL, we had a very diverse office staff in terms of age & experience. There were a couple of employees past the age of 70 as well as a few newbies…and everything & everybody in between.

Since many of our functions required investigative skills, or “plotting ability” (taking words & numbers describing the size & shape of a parcel of land and turning that into an actual map that matches the county’s records), or quality controlling work performed by overseas employees, it was far from “mindless tasks” & required a good amount of concentration & mental agility.

I proposed to our corporate Training organization that we start delving into “mental gymnastics” for our people.

Set aside maybe 10 minutes a day for them to work on puzzles, riddles, word games…just about anything that would “exercise” their gray matter.

If you managed a baseball team or coached football, you most certainly would concentrate on your players’ physical conditioning, no?

You wouldn’t even think about playing a game, or even conducting a practice session, without first warming up.

Doing some stretching exercises.

Making sure that their bodies were “ready”.

Despite my outward passion for this, I received pretty much of a cold shoulder from those responsible for “training”…improving our employee’s knowledge & mental dexterity. (BTW, it’s really a JOINT responsibility that leaders maintain with the “formal” Training organization to improve your people’s skills & abilities and, ultimately, their performance & value to the company.

Besides, most training actually occurs AFTER they’ve left the classroom!)

Perhaps it was too novel an idea for them (2009/10) to appreciate as I know this concept has since been adopted by a number of top companies.

Maybe this is something you wanna look into further for use in your own organization (or even with your own team), heh?

*smells the burning logs*

Another thing with your newer employees is that you need to realize that what they don’t know is rarely only reflected in the questions they actually ask.

While they will indeed ask questions, they probably struggle with a lot more stuff than what they let on.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that “they get it” as/when you’re not getting besieged with questions.

That’s absolute nonsense!!!

When they have doubts about something, I’d venture to guess that they’ll only ask questions, maybe, 10%-25% of the time!

They’ll guess.

Or they’ll not really feel confident in what they’ve done/said, but if there are no immediate repercussions (the customer protesting or a supervisor is checking their work), they’ll accept that as confirmation that what they did was correct.

Bad assumption.

The beginning of bad habits.

With your new people, don’t just (re)act only when they have questions.

Be proactive.

There will be LOTS of difficult situations or problems that will certainly give them trouble. Don’t wait for them to crash & burn.

Compile a list of “25 difficult situations/cases/calls/requests that you’ll receive that will certainly give you trouble”! Get ahead of that train!

(Note: You’ll be shocked just how many people – – in YOUR own team/area/ organization- – don’t understand some of the very basics…and they’ve been on the job “for a while”!

> I remember once when Bobby Hogan & I were designing some new screen stuff & we met with different groups of reps (0-6 months experience…6+ months to 12 months…>1 year) to gauge their understanding & acceptance of some different ideas & concepts we had.

We were ABSOLUTELY SHOCKED to learn just how many of the “year & under” reps were totally unaware of a special functionality/screen we had introduced on CWS/CitiPhone WorkStation ~3 months earlier! Trust me, we had over-communicated this enhancement to EVERY single rep & Team Leader…offered training… developed a special instructional guide & STILL, many reps were at a complete loss over something that would’ve made their lives so much easier.

Normally, you’d have to wait for the next posting run (next day) to see any & all “same-day transactions”…cash withdrawals, purchases, transfers, some in-clearing checks, every single on-line transaction.

Now, they could easily see each transaction, the exact time it occurred, where it occurred, which signer’s card was used, the type of store where the purchase (signature-based or POS) was made, etc. and be able to effectively handle the thousands & thousands of inquiries we received every day – – and they claimed they never heard of it!!!

2 of the “6 months to 12 months” reps didn’t even understand the TJ/Transaction Journal…the Bible!!!…well enough to properly service a customer!

We were astounded. Shocked. Dismayed.

And these 2 reps came “highly recommended” by their Team Leaders!!!

*does the Sign of the Cross 🎚…offers up a novena 🙏🏼…sobs 😭*

> Many Customer Service reps failed to “properly explain”…in a way that the customer could actually understand…why a check bounced!

God forbid if it was a check that posted on a Friday night, bounced on Monday, and there were a whole bunch of other transactions (ATM c/w, funds transfers, purchases, etc.) in between.

And then the customer would bitch (incorrectly, I might add) that we charged an Overdraft fee when he “withdrew cash from the ATM”.

Answer: The check posted on Friday. The reversal & the OD fee post on Monday…along with all the customers cash withdrawals from Friday 7 PM through Mon 7 PM. The customer, and the rep, see the OD fee appearing right next to the cash withdrawals & really don’t understand the real-world timing of transaction vs. how they appear in “business day” format.

> And there were not many people who realized that an ATM cash withdrawal performed after 7PM on a weekday can, indeed, cause a check to bounce…but they (the debit & the check) show up on different business days.

And how come “on-line debits” (ATM c/w & transfers, CBOL transfers, etc.), performed after 7PM, will deplete the available balance used to pay checks at posting…but on-line credits DON’T help to pay a check?!?

No, you can’t “save a check from bouncing” by transferring funds into your Checking acct after 7PM!

I personally fought tor that feature for YEARS. “Hell, if we can bounce checks because of post-7PM debits, why won’t we pay checks because of post-7PM credits???”

For years, all I kept hearing from Systems was “You don’t understand, Mike! It’s after the business day…tell ’em to get Safety Check or Checking Plus!!!”

*hates that understand bullshit*

I fully understood why we considered the post-7PM debits…you don’t want a customer completely cleaning out their account at 9PM (with ATM c/w), then we’re honoring their checks at “midnight posting”…and there’s no money left!

But not considering the post-7PM credits seemed so unfair.)

OK, back to our story…

Monitor their calls or quality control their work tirelessly. Constantly. Overdo it.

With experienced, competent employees, a representative sample will often prove helpful.

But with new people, you not only wanna “measure their performance”, but you want to compile lists of their weaknesses & opportunities for improvement.

And if you have a group of, say, 10 newbies, make the assumption that if any one of them experienced an issue with the XYZ thingie, then the majority of them are having the same exact issue with XYZ.

It could be that they weren’t trained properly (due to trainer expertise, something lacking in the curriculum, not enough time devoted to it, insufficient testing or practice, etc.) so chances are that the issue will cause problems throughout the entire group.

Have every newbie jot down EVERY SINGLE call or topic with which they felt uncomfortable. Put all the lists together & those are the topics you cover with them during your DAILY (!!!) end-of-shift, 15-min review sessions with all of them as well as your 1-2 hour WEEKLY refresher training classes.

You don’t already do this, right?

They’re like icebergs. The questions you get represent only the part of what they don’t know that’s above the surface of the water.

It’s that huge mass hiding underneath that’s the real battle…and the most dangerous one as well!

Things that they may think they know, but really don’t as they haven’t received any feedback or asked a question about it. And if you don’t proactively cover that stuff, then your inaction will only reinforce in their minds that they’re doing the right thing!

Those first 3 months are the most critical ones in anyone’s career.

It’s also the period when you’ll experience the HIGHEST attrition rates…with employees as well as your customers!

Dissatisfaction with a job/company/role is often attributed to the fact that the employee is not confident in what they’re doing. It’s not the company’s policies or rules that drive new employees away. They find that the real world is nothing like the sterile training classroom environment. There’s no safety net.

It is physically & logically impossible to provide them with too much help.

To review their work with them too often.

To hold too many review sessions & refresher training classes.

To monitor too many of their calls or QC too much of their work.


Remember, you MUST be PROACTIVE in your approach to bringing them up to speed. Expose them to the more difficult stuff instead of just waiting until they face that particular situation. Use your senior, exceptional people to help them as often as humanly possible.

Build this “learning curve” (new employees at a much lower rate, productively & quality-wise, than your regular staff; taking experienced workers off your production line to “buddy up” with your newbies, further depleting resources; etc.) right into your budgets & forecasts so you’ll have sufficient manpower to still get the overall job done.

Just because you got 5 new bodies out of training, and you already had 25 workers, does NOT MEAN that your capacity increased by 20% (5/25)!!!

Again, they’re not “as good” production- or quality-wise…they require MORE direct supervision (proactive)…they ask way more questions (or, at least,should be).

Between their lower net productivity & the existing resources “reassigned/reallocated” to help them, you’re lucky if you get “2 full people’s worth of production” out of the 5.

Yes, as time goes on, they’ll get better & their need for help decreases.

(Note: I know how “everyone” simply “loves” the whole SME/Subject Matter Expert concept.

🙋🏻‍♂️love the concept, but rarely, if ever, have seen it executed properly.

In a call center environment, a 1 SME:10 newbies will NEVER work!

Neither will 1:5.

If you believe that a SME simply answers questions that the newbies have, then maybe those ratios work.

But the SME must be proactive!!! Be nosy! Be on the floor within 10 ft of every new rep! Overhear everything!

The optimal ratio is 1:3.

There has never been an organization in the history of business that’s provided newbies with the proper amount of resources (SMEs, call monitoring or QC, individual reviews, group re-training, etc.).


Naturally, in a non-call center environment, the SME:worker ratio can certainly be increased as less hands-on supervision is required.

Use every available minute during the day when “things slow down” to do something that’ll help your new people develop.

You’ll find that, over time, they’ll come up to speed more quickly…your attrition rate will decrease significantly…your senior staff will feel more important & valued by having major roles in their training & development…and your customers will be more satisfied as they’re receiving a better level of service from any & every employee.

Oh, and when possible, the New Hire Trainer should follow the class onto the floor. (That’ll also help the trainer  keep their skill base current & in tune to what’s going on.)

But the whole learning thingie doesn’t begin & end with your new employees.

What are you doing for your entire staff? What are you doing for yourself?

Do you set aside some time every day, every week for “learning”?

Why not?

Every hour your people spend learning will pay for itself 10, 20, 100 times over in terms of improved productivity, higher quality (less errors, re-work, 2nd requests, corrections/reversals), less attrition, higher customer satisfaction (and profitability) and a more effective & efficient organization.

And, please, don’t forget about yourself!!!


As always, thank you so much for listening!

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