New Employees Should Master One Task at a Time

George Kingman
Posted on May 14, 2019

Working with clients, I hear over and over that training is one of the most dreaded tasks. It can be exhausting, the idea of starting with someone who has little or no experience in the industry and turning them into our next superstar. One of the reasons people dread this is rarely do people know where to begin.

How many people can relate to my start in the industry? First day, I’m excited to get started, I’m put behind the counter, am told to watch how everyone does their job, answer the telephone, and by the middle of the first day, my boss had thrown me to the wolves to fend for myself. We all survived, so that must be the right way to train new employees, right? Ehh, probably not.

Imagine I switch this up, and we talk about training someone to understand algebra… fun, right??! Now imagine, they have no understanding of basic math. If we applied this training logic to algebra, we would try to teach algebra without first having the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division down to “muscle memory.”

That probably wouldn’t lead to any future mathematicians, but it would lead to people hating math. This is why we lose so many people from our industry within the first 90 days.

What if instead, we had a set plan, and no matter what, we wouldn’t take a shortcut. I suggest having your new employee learn one task at a time, until they are an expert on that task. They can continue to do the learned task while they add one more task to their list, and master it as well.

It goes something like this: Day one, the salesperson does nothing but answer the phone until they have your script or method memorized. Once they get good at answering the phone, teach them how to master asking for the appointment. Once that is done, have them master the phone quote.

Within a week, you will have trained them how to be exceptional on the phone.

The best part about this method of training is that because they didn’t learn to take shortcuts, the fundamentals are similar to addition and subtraction. They take less effort to manage going forward. Another way to think of it is right now they are overwhelmed trying to learn everything. The pathways in their brains get crossed, and to overcome, they invent shortcuts. But by learning one thing at a time, the maps in their brains are laid out neatly, so they can quickly recall from muscle memory, like 3 + 3 = 6.

Plaza Tire Service Inc., MTD’s 2017 Tire Dealer of the Year, knows the importance of properly handling phone calls. The company was founded 56 years ago in Cape Girardeau, Mo., by Pee Wee Rhodes. Above is third generation tire dealer Sam Rhodes.
Plaza Tire Service Inc., MTD’s 2017 Tire Dealer of the Year, knows the importance of properly handling phone calls. The company was founded 56 years ago in Cape Girardeau, Mo., by Pee Wee Rhodes. Above is third generation tire dealer Sam Rhodes.
If you take this approach, you can have a customer service teammate skilled at the fundamentals within one month.

Isn’t that much better than teaching them everything, and still after 90 days, they continue to make daily mistakes or are constantly failing to meet our expectations?

One way to break out the tasks for a new or struggling customer sales associate is to list the essential skills the teammate will need on their first day, and help them prioritize it. Something like this:

  • Answering the phone
  • Asking for an appointment
  • A tire quote over the phone
  • Cash-out every customer
  • Write up every customer

The number of days on each task will be determined by the complexity of your POS and your own store process.

I use the same principles for tire or lube techs. Give your new tire guy a scrap tire, and puncture 30 holes in it. Let him/her run through the innerliner to see what it feels and looks like. Then have them mount/demount a tire 30 times. Do the same with a low-profile tire, a tire with a TPMS sensor and a truck tire.

Your tire tech only needs to learn about 10 different tasks. If we approach learning one task at a time, they will become excellent at their tasks.

Remember, things like racking a car is a task in itself. For that matter, so is pulling a car in. Teaching employees to use the steering wheel cover, floor mat and seat cover every single time is a task to be mastered itself. Just like getting the mileage and any other tasks you want done at check-in, you should have your new tech pull in every single car for several days, until they have mastered it.

If you take this approach, you’ll have a staff that makes fewer mistakes, takes fewer shortcuts and best of all, your entire team will have much less stress!

These lists are merely starting points. Hopefully you will begin to implement this style of training for your next new hire, or maybe to help a current employee who is struggling with any of these things. Although it is helpful for teammates who are struggling, it takes more repetition, because you must erase their bad habits with new muscle memory. The same is true if you hire someone from within the industry. You must create a new road map in their brain for your way of completing the job.

Taking these steps will create longer tenured, happier employees and in-turn, happier customers -- which does what we are all in business to do, create larger profits! ■

George Kingman is executive director of Dealer Strategic Planning, the DSP 20 Group. He can be reached at or (704) 506-2164. See the website

Related Topics: Business Insight, George Kingman, retail, sales training, training

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