A few years ago, a busy and popular fast casual restaurant came to us with a tricky problem. They were adding a line of espresso beverages. An entirely new offering with new equipment, new workflows, even a new physical space in the restaurant. The new beverage line affected everything from the back-office supply chain to front of house procedures, ordering, and assembling. The restaurant had been testing and prototyping for some time but was struggling with training program design. How could they teach tens of thousands of employees to make a dozen new products that had slight but meaningful variations?
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The problem was complex: training time was limited, space around the machine was limited, and employees needed to produce the beverages lightening fast while still maintaining order accuracy and quality standards. The temptation to cut back on the number of variations was high, but rather than simplify, the client knew it had to find a way to make the complexity clear.
ThoughtForm helped the restaurant design and implement a “station guide,” a small, easy-to-reference recipe card that used pictures and short phrases like “pour it,” “stir it,” and “top it,” to remind employees about crucial variations.
The result was a highly successful launch for the company, with order-to-delivery time quickly rising to meet metrics. The design of the station guide was so well-received by employees that the style was adopted for other tasks and menu items across the restaurant.
Station guides, checklists, and even street signs are all examples of “prompts,” quick, often visual reminders that help you navigate a task. Prompts are not a stand-in for holistic training or know-how. They can’t be the whole training program design. Although the buttons and controls in an airplane cockpit are labeled, we do not let just anyone fly a plane. Pilots must have many hours of instruction, drills, and tests before they can fly. The button labels are just there for reference.
Design your training and change management programs with prompts in mind. Sometimes people think prompts are a crutch or a stopgap measure to fill in for insufficient training or expertise. But even the best trained, most educated employees benefit from prompts. Our working memory can only hold so much—and when we are focused on remembering complex details, we can often miss big picture information.
In the case of the restaurant, having employees spend time and energy learning about minute variations didn’t make sense. Instead, management wanted them to focus on speed, up-selling, and answering customer questions about the new products. By giving employees a quick reference tool, the restaurant could refocus training to make time for more valuable information and skills.
3 rules for using prompts in your training program design
Make it short.
Remember, this isn’t the only piece of your training program. You shouldn’t be conveying any new information here. Use prompts to jog people’s memories about something they’ve already been taught. Leave the philosophy for another training piece.
Make it small.
You’re probably not reminding users that cutting the red wire defuses the bomb and the blue wire sets it off. So fight the urge to design your prompt to be alarming. A small talisman can make a recipe cheat sheet or customer service reminder feel both personal and discrete.
Make it unique.
Depending on the content, this might include an emotional appeal. Think about those construction signs that say “my daddy works here”. Don’t shy away from a humorous mnemonic, or a striking visual.
So, the next time you’re beginning a new training program or initiating a change management process, consider how prompts can ensure your success.
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