Essential staff training

Kick off the year by planning a day to make sure your employees stay in the know.

There’s no better time to refresh your staff policies and procedures than at the start of the spring season, especially as new hires join the team.
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Many IGCs gather all employees together in the winter or early spring for a staff training day. Such events introduce new hires to company practices and policies, remind veterans of standard expectations and bring everyone up to speed on new products and procedures. These events are more effective than passing out company manuals but need to be planned in advance so that the time is used efficiently and employees are effectively engaged.

Sweat the small stuff

Those planning an all-hands-on-deck training day should begin, of course, with their priorities. What are the five or six critical areas that need to be addressed on that day? Major changes in policy or practices should be on that list, as are the standard methods and recommendations for assisting customers. After noting those must-cover topics, be open to staff suggestions for passing on the smaller bits of information. Management knows that going over procedures for accepting deliveries or policies for recording waste-loss are on the must-include list, but long-term employees often forget some of the simple items that mean a great deal to new hires.

We may convey crucial information to newbies, but neglect to tell them where the flagging tape is stored, what each building on the property is called, or where they can find emergency rain gear. In fact, you could make this a warm-up exercise on the training day by asking returning staff to stand, give their name and what department they work in, and then tell everyone one small thing they wished someone had explained to them in their first week.

Top 10 customer questions

Your staff hears the same questions from the public all the time, so a company training day is the perfect time to review some of those topics. It’s also the ideal time to be sure that your employees know a preferred answer to those questions. New research often changes what was once SOP or common knowledge; a training day is a good time to let employees understand which long-given advice is still golden, and which customary responses are now known to be inaccurate or ineffective.

Two quick examples of “old school advice” include coating broken limbs on trees and amending a planting hole with peat moss and manure. Back in the day, when a tree limb fell or broke, the freshly exposed wood was painted with special wound paints or tar products. But research showed that this prevented trees from forming calluses, the plants’ natural ways of healing from injury. Similarly, some years ago it was demonstrated that trees and shrubs grow better when planting holes are refilled with native soil, and that any amendment with compost should be done with a layer of compost over the top of the ground instead of mixing organics in the hole. Unfortunately, these out-of-date practices continue, and employees may not be aware that what they were taught 20 years ago is no longer good information to pass to the public.

Remember to check and update your IGC’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) fliers or blog posts. Reviewing your FAQs is also a great way to train and keep employees up to date on the latest plant care information.
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Write up a Q&A sheet that lists your customers’ FAQs and includes the up-to-date responses your company prefers. This, too, can be turned into a group-participation exercise by reading out the question and asking your staff to imagine how they would answer. (Don’t ask staff to respond out loud — if their answer is wrong, they may feel humiliated.) After giving them a moment to think about how they might have answered this question, read how company employees should respond. Since products for problem-solving also come and go, be sure your staff also knows what preferred solutions are on the shelf.

Selling excitement

Employee training days are also the perfect time to remind staff that their excitement and passion for certain products or plants is important to customers and the company’s bottom line. Your staff’s excitement is the best sales tool they have, and there are several ways to encourage their fervency.

After introducing new products or stock at the training event, allow each employee to choose one to use or grow. When your team has personal experiences with what you stock, they will pass that on to your customers. Poll staff members about which merchandise or plants they already use or grow, and list these “staff picks” on a whiteboard. There is any number of “Ask me about” stick-on name tags or pins available online; consider using these for your training event so that staff members can practice communicating their delight about the plants or products they’ve listed. Such labels or pins can also be worn during special marketing efforts such as a “Spring Into The Garden Week” or “Passionate About Plants Weekend.”

Showing them the goalposts

At your training events, don’t neglect to pass on management’s latest thinking about marketing and sales goals. Are you focusing on particular promotional messages in the coming season? Have you identified a theme or marketing message for the next year? What are the specific goals for how each department moves forward? It’s good for everyone to be reminded that the entire company has common purposes and goals, and that everyone, in all departments, contributes toward reaching those objectives.

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at 

January 2023
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