The Sign Connection: Training and Developing Your Team...While Running a Busy Business

Training” seems daunting when you’ve hired a new employee or are working to cross-train an existing employee. There’s never any time because you’re already busy with existing projects.

You know training is important, but is it more important than getting today’s projects out the door? Do you train and slow the jobs down, or do the jobs and short-change training?

The decision doesn’t have to be this-or-that; with a little effort and planning you can effectively weave training into daily operations, keeping the business on track and getting your new employee off on the right foot or cross-training an existing staff member.

Here are five areas of focus to help you effectively train in your signage and graphics business with minimum disruption to daily operations:

Focus #1: Follow Two Basic Principles of Effective Communications

1. Provide clear expectations about performance, duties, and responsibilities.

2. Provide honest and timely feedback to the new employee or existing team member. Starting a new job is stressful and feedback is essential in keeping a person on track. Learning something new while handling your existing responsibilities can be overwhelming.


Focus #2: Keep it Simple.

Don’t worry about writing out a comprehensive training agenda. It’s more important to have a checklist to set expectations and validate when training is done, but don’t write a tome.

Stick to “now” and “next” in communicating what’s to be done and learned. Identify one go-to person in case you are not available.

Focus #3: Use the “Right” Times of Day to Train


The work-start/production meeting or pre-shift is a great time to discuss daily objectives with your team and highlight what the new employee or existing team member will learn today so that everyone can pitch in as needed. Use “training” the new employee or cross-training as an excuse to go over operating standards, processes and procedures, quality controls, customer service, sales, etc., as reinforcement for everyone. Especially with a new employee on the team, you are presented with the opportunity to address your expectations of performance without publicly calling someone out.



Most days (not all) have some down time or slow time; whether it is during lunch time, mid-afternoon...every business is a little different. Know when a lull tends to occur and use it to bring your new employee or team member you are developing into an area that you normally wouldn’t during busy periods (e.g., sit with the graphic designer, shadow output, or give them a little hands-on introduction with equipment and products).



This may be the most challenging time as everyone is looking forward to heading home, but investing just a few minutes in a daily “wrap-up” can have a tremendous effect. You have the chance to make observations about the day, recognize good work and allow the trainee to ask questions about what they experienced. Not all employees need to be at the end of day meeting, but it’s great for building a new team. Lastly, provide 60 seconds of one-on-one coaching and encouragement with the trainee and set specific expectations for the next day, “Tomorrow we’re going to focus on...”

Focus #4: Provide Time for Self-Study

Set aside a specific amount of time each day for the employee to study or learn what he or she wants in relation to your business and industry. This may sound counter-intuitive, but self-directed training increases engagement and helps a person take responsibility for his or her training. This could be shadowing a different part of the business or doing some online research about the products you use. Clarify what may be off limits, such as using certain equipment, but otherwise leave the agenda open. You will get a good idea of how the employee utilizes his or her time, what areas of interest they have, and how well they self-manage.

Focus #5: Never Stop Developing People

Always look for opportunities to enhance your team’s skills and knowledge about your business. The more your team knows—and the more they can do—the more they will be able to help you grow your business. Use cross-training so that team members can step in and help on a big project or when someone is sick. Use “stretch assignments” to give employees experience beyond their comfort zone: owning a more complex project, making a sales call to a larger client, or “managing” a project are a few examples.

Finally, use your resources. If you are part of a franchise system, don’t try to reinvent training—take what the franchisor has developed and modify it to your needs. Also look into what tools vendors and manufacturers provide; many companies have learning centers on their websites with videos, how-to guides, and other helpful resources. Additionally, social media sites are full of resources where companies post short videos on sites such as YouTube or Facebook pages that demonstrate how to use equipment or unique applications.

Training doesn’t have to be a burden or sacrifice to other aspects of your business. With a little planning and smart use of resources and time, you can quickly and seamlessly transition a new employee into a productive member of your team and expand the skill set of your existing team. The key is to have a (simple) plan, communicate it, and get the rest of your team engaged in helping facilitate and fulfill the training.