How to Train One-On-One

An Edward Lowe In-Depth Business Builder

Training is an ongoing process that takes many forms, from assigning new members to functioning teams to retraining workers to learn new and different skills. Gain the tools and techniques for a systematic approach to training employees on the job, regardless of the situation.


This Business Builder is designed to help managers, supervisors, and designated peer trainers increase their effectiveness in training employees on a one-on-one basis. This Business Builder provides the tools and techniques for a systematic approach to training employees on the job, regardless of the situation.


Today's workplace is a rapidly changing environment. Complex technology has increased the need for more skilled workers. As the skill level has increased, fewer qualified people have stepped forward to fill these jobs. Haphazard training methods such as shadowing, in which a new employee follows another employee, often have proven inadequate.

At the same time, financial constraints and staffing considerations have made it difficult for small businesses to send employees to off-site training programs. As a result, these concerns regarding time, money and lack of qualified personnel mean that companies have placed a greater emphasis on on-the-job training to shorten the job-related learning cycle. With the emphasis on doing more with fewer people, many companies cannot afford employee time off for formal classroom training. Consequently, on-the-job training has become a principal means by which changes and learning new jobs are integrated into the workplace.

To put this in the proper framework, think about a situation where you were new to a job or had to learn a new task. What was the situation? How was the task presented to you? How did you feel? How successful were you in learning the new task? Do you wish the learning experience had been handled differently? If so, how? Training is an ongoing process that takes many forms, from assigning new members to a functioning teams to retraining workers to learn new and different skills.

Most one-on-one training is handled poorly. The process, for the most part, is sink or swim, with very little help or guidance from the supervisor or co-workers. In order for the process to be successful, barriers such as time constraints, chaotic environment and poor employee attitudes must be overcome.

Watch Out For… Training is time consuming. However, an investment in training will result in increased worker competence and motivation. The employee gains in self-esteem and employment security. The organization benefits through increased productivity and profitability. Everybody wins.

In many cases, employers think they're providing training by using the "shadow-Sally-or-Sam" approach where the trainee is placed with a seasoned employee for a short period of time. During this so-called training period, the trainee watches and supposedly learns from the veteran. What's wrong with this approach? First of all, because there is no system, the trainee may or may not learn everything he/she is supposed to learn. There is no consistency or uniformity. Secondly, the trainee will probably learn the trainer's way of doing the job, which may or may not be the right way to do it. Also, the trainer's way may not be appropriate for that particular trainee. For these reasons, it's important to approach one-on-one training as a systematic process.

Training is not always the answer to a performance problem. There may be other causes such as poor management or conditions beyond the employee's control. Make sure you are addressing the cause not the symptoms.

Management support is critical to the success of any structured on-the-job training program. In addition to the allocation of time and money, including resources and materials, rewards and recognition, managers must stress the importance of training as a means of meeting the bottom line, beating the competition, and developing employees.


To learn how to train one-on-one using a systematic process, you will examine the following areas:

  • Defining One-On-One Training

  • Qualities, Characteristics, and Skills of Effective Trainers

  • Understanding How and Why People Learn

  • Planning and Preparing to Train

  • Presenting the Training

  • Evaluating and Transferring Training

Defining One-On-One Training

One-on-one training is also called on-the-job training, job instruction training, hands-on training and job-methods training.

Training is different from coaching although some people use them synonymously. One-on-one training is conducted at the employee's work area. Such training is structured to provide the employee with the knowledge and skills to perform job tasks. Coaching, on the other hand, is a process designed to help the employee gain greater competence and overcome barriers to improve job performance in his or her current position.

One-on-one training traces its origins to ancient times when apprentices learned their crafts through informal programs with master craftworkers.

Both on-the-job training and on-the-job coaching are conducted by the employee's supervisor or a designated coworker focusing in a one-on-one, non-classroom approach, either in place of or in addition to a group classroom training program.

Situations that require training:

  • Employee does not know how to carry out his or her job due to lack of knowledge, skills and/or experience.

  • Job procedures are new or have been changed.

  • Equipment or tools are new.

Situations that do not require training:

  • Employee does not have the mental or physical capability to do the job.

  • Employee has motivational or attitudinal problems that impact his or her performance.

Identify a situation in your work environment where an employee needs one-on-one training.

Qualities, Characteristics, and Skills of Effective Trainers

The manager or supervisor does not have to do the training. You may find that this is a task to delegate. However, not everyone is cut out to be a trainer so, you need to be careful in selecting the person who will conduct the one-on-one training.

If you select someone else to do the training, be sure to communicate why you have selected him or her, emphasizing the benefit to that individual. Otherwise, the designated trainer may feel "put upon" and resent this additional responsibility. Often the designated trainer is identified as the person who has been around the longest, does the job best or has a little extra time. These are not the appropriate criteria. The most obvious qualification is the ability to do the job well. Look for people who have appropriate levels of technical knowledge and experience. But remember: Technical proficiency alone does not a trainer make.

Professionalism: Trainers serve as role models, so they should be mature, confident and enthusiastic. Identify employees who view training assignments as opportunities for professional development rather than as intrusions on their daily routines.

Good communication skills: This is an absolute must. A learning environment in which trainees feel comfortable taking risks without the fear of ridicule depends on the trainer's ability to create open lines of communication. Not only must temporary trainers be able to explain tasks and procedures clearly, they must also know how to listen actively and be sensitive to the importance of body language and nonverbal communication.

Rapport: In choosing part-time trainers, look for people who demonstrate good interpersonal skills when they interact with customers and coworkers. Friendly and congenial, qualified candidates for training assignments also exhibit the ability to handle conflict without losing their cool.

Good organizational skills: The ability to balance various responsibilities and manage time are critical to training success.

Other personality characteristics include patience, flexibility, empathy, ability to nurture others, creativity, commitment to the job and ability to be a team player.

Identify someone on your staff that you think would be a good trainer. List the qualities, skills, and characteristics that make him/her a good trainer.

Understanding How and Why People Learn

Before you train or designate someone else to do so, there are certain principles to keep in mind about how adults learn: One person, for example, may learn better by listening. Another person, however, may be visual and prefers to read instructions.

  • People learn best by doing, not by being told how to do something. For example, a person learns more quickly how to get to a new location when he/she is driving the car rather than merely being a passenger.

  • Telling is not teaching or training. How many times have you said to yourself, "I've told him and told him how to do it, but he still gets it wrong?" Just because you tell someone how to do something doesn't mean he/she understands it or has developed the skill to do the task.

  • Adults base learning on past experience. That experience may be good or bad, but it will certainly impact the way in which your employee approaches the new task.

  • Adults prefer the concrete to the abstract. The days of theories and concepts are over for most adults. They want the learning experience to be practical and realistic.

  • Adults are concerned with how to apply what they have learned. Adults need to be able to apply what they have learned within 24 hours; otherwise, it's lost. To be effective, deliver just-in-time training and emphasize how the training is going to make their job easier.

Above all else, remember that you are training adults so treat them as such.

Planning and Preparing to Train

Creating the climate. In one-on-one training, the training climate is very important. How you plan and prepare sets the tone for the entire process.

Keep the following in mind when selecting or creating the actual site where the training will take place:

  • Set aside a time that is free of interruptions as much as possible.

  • Try to minimize distractions.

  • Try to make the setting physically and aesthetically

  • Set aside unwanted current work.

Use the following guidelines to select and assemble the materials and equipment for training:

  • Make sure there are sufficient materials for practice.

  • Neatly arrange the materials in order of use.

  • Have all materials and reference manuals on hand.

  • Create examples of completed work.

  • Provide trainer notes, aids, resources.

  • Make sure equipment is in working order.

The trainer also needs to think about what he/she needs to do with the trainee to prepare him or her for the training experience:

  • Put the trainee at ease; establish rapport.

  • Find out what he or she already knows about the task.

  • Relate the training to something that the trainee is familiar with.

  • Express confidence in the trainee's ability.

  • Show enthusiasm and accentuate the positive.

Setting objectives. Part of the planning and preparation involves setting performance standards for a particular task or job. These performance standards then become the means by which the training objective is met.

Standards of performance must be measurable, observable and attainable.

For training purposes, standards are written as objectives and include:

  • An action or behavior that refers to the content or object. It must be an action verb such as "write," "assemble" or "build."

  • A standard or criteria by which performance will be measured. These criteria include speed (within 15 minutes), accuracy (100 percent), quantity (minimum of), quality (no errors), and time or frequency (daily, weekly and so on).

  • A condition or situation that describes where the task is to be performed; what limitations, conditions or constraints may affect performance; or what materials or equipment will be used.

The following model is helpful in writing an objective:

As a result of this training, the trainee will be able to…(action), (criteria or standards of performance), (condition).

Applying the model to a common everyday task such as washing a car, the objective might be: The person will be able to wash the car inside and outside (action) within two hours (criteria) to the satisfaction of the owner (condition).

Write an objective for a particular job-related task for a new employee.

Job/task analysis. After you have established the objective, the next step is to break down the task into steps or subtasks.

Create an outline with a timetable. You should include a description of the job activity (what), the procedure (how), and the reason (why).

Using the example of washing the car, a job analysis chart for the first few steps might look like the following:

    Assemble materials (what); Collect bucket, sponges, hose, cleaning agent, chamois, glass cleaner, paper towels, chrome cleaner, vacuum (how); To make the process more efficient and prevent tracking water in the house if you forget something (why)

    Position car (what); Move car close to water supply and out of direct sun (how); To prevent damage to the paint resulting from contrasting temperatures.

    Apply water to car (what); Hose entire car surface (how); To eliminate surface dirt and prevent scratching (why)

Presenting the Training

Use the following model to create a structured approach to training one person on the job:

Step One: Speculation

Assemble appropriate materials and equipment. Ask the learner to guess how to do the task or procedure or what particular things he or she would think about or consider when completing the task. The purpose of this step is to arouse the learner's curiosity and to help him or her establish a frame of reference for the actual training that will follow.

Step Two: Observation

Have the learner watch as you perform the entire task. Do not explain and do not answer any questions during this step. This step is designed to help the learner concentrate his or her attention visually on the task at hand. When people try to watch and listen at the same time, their concentration is diluted.

Step Three: Explanation

Explain the task or procedure, giving an overview of the entire job. Explain the reason(s) for doing the task and how it fits into the "big picture," including other people or departments that will be affected. This step provides a framework by addressing the what and why.

Step Four: Demonstration

In a step-by-step manner, show how the task is done, stressing key points along the way. Check for understanding by asking open-ended questions as you demonstrate — not questions such as "Do you…?"

Step Five: Role Reversal

Ask the learner to assume the role of the trainer for this step. Have the learner tell you what to do and then you do it. This step will help identify how well the learner understands what he or she is to do. If the learner says something that is incorrect, either do the task as instructed or use some negative consequence as a learning tool or stop and explain why the instruction is incorrect and what could result.

Step Six: Performance

Ask the learner to perform the operation as you observe him or her. As necessary, correct mistakes to prevent reinforcement of bad habits. Be sure to give feedback and positive reinforcement.

Step Seven: Practice

Put the learner on his or her own to practice. Encourage the learner to ask questions and to seek any necessary help. This step helps the learner become comfortable with the task.

Step Eight: Monitor and Evaluate

Schedule progress checks and gradually taper them off. Monitor the learner's progress by observing his or her performance and asking questions. Measure results against performance standards and objectives. Ensure two-way evaluation by giving and eliciting feedback.

Case Study

Read the following case study in which Jan, the designated trainer, is training new employee, Doug, in how to use a computer. See if you can identify the steps in the training process.

    Jan: Hi, Doug. Are you ready to get started?

    Doug: I guess so.

    Jan: Good. First of all, what experience have you had with computers?

    Doug: Not much. I've watched my kids use one, but I've never tried one myself.

    Jan: Well, computers can be quite intimidating at first. I remember the first time I sat in front of a computer screen. I was scared to death. I thought for sure that I was going to blow something up, or at the very least, hit the wrong key and erase all the information. I was completely computer illiterate, so if I can learn, anyone can. First of all, we're going to focus on getting you comfortable with some basic word processing. By the end of the first week, you will be able to write basic letters and reports using the PC with little or no help from me or the manual.

    Doug: I'm not so sure.

    Jan: Trust me. Okay, first of all, sit right down here in front of the computer. Let's turn it on and get started… Now why don't you tell me what you think the various keys are for. (Doug points out the obvious but indicates he is baffled by the function keys). Doug, I'd like you to just watch me as I hit some of these keys and watch what happens on the screen. I'm not going to explain anything right now. I just want you to watch…. Okay, now I'm going to hit the same keys again and I'll explain exactly what they do. (Jan explains the function keys and various commands). What questions and observations do you have about what I just demonstrated?

    Doug: I really don't have any questions right now. It seems pretty simple.

    Jan: What I would like you to do now, Doug, is to pretend that you are the trainer and I am the student. Tell me how I should go about writing a letter on the computer. I'll follow your instructions. (Doug instructs Jan in how to set margins, use the function keys, delete, change fonts, etc.). Good. Now I want you to prepare this letter for me and I'll just sit here in case you have any questions or run into any problems. (Jan gives Doug a handwritten letter). Good. You really seem to be getting the hang of it. How do you feel?

    Doug: Well, I feel more comfortable then I did an hour ago.

    Jan: I hope so. I think you're ready to move on to envelopes.

Evaluating and Transferring Training

The true test of the learner's mastery of the skill or task is his or her performance on the job measured against performance standards.

One way to measure trainer effectiveness is to develop a questionnaire for the trainer and learner to complete at the end of the training period. The purpose of this questionnaire is to compare perceptions and uncover communication problems that may be sabotaging the training efforts.

Design questions to uncover the trainer's effectiveness in the following:
  • Arranging the work area

  • Providing the necessary supplies and materials

  • Putting the trainee at ease

  • Explaining what to expect

  • Asking the trainee about his or her experience, knowledge and interests.

  • Explaining how the task fits into the "big picture"

  • Explaining clearly the complete task

  • Demonstrating the task step by step

  • Explaining the reason for each step

  • Having the trainee explain and perform subtasks

  • Asking open-ended questions to check understanding

  • Offering specific and frequent feedback

  • Correcting mistakes constructively

  • Keeping the trainee interested and involved

  • Demonstrating patience and understanding

  • Providing written procedures and/or job aids

  • Using easily understood language, terms and examples

  • Giving positive reinforcement

  • Giving the trainee an opportunity to practice

  • Monitoring progress regularly


Action Planning

For training to be effective, learners must be able to apply what they have learned to their work situations. This is also true for you, the manager or the designated trainer.

With that in mind, develop a plan detailing how you will apply what you have learned in this Business Builder to your work situations. Use the following questions to develop your plan:

What one task or procedure will you target to apply the training skills you have learned in this Business Builder?

Who is the person to whom you will teach the particular task or procedure?

What obstacles might get in the way of your success in applying these training skills?

What strategies will you use to overcome these potential barriers?


To ensure that the skills you have learned are applied and the benefits realized, you need to monitor your own behavior and progress as a trainer.

Using the ideas, tools and strategies offered in this Business Builder, design a checklist or job aid to use in monitoring your own one-on-one training practices.


Defining One-On-One Training

___ What is the usual method used to train employees on the job?

___ Why does this method fail?

___ What are the benefits of a structured approach?

___ What is the difference between training and coaching?

___ What situations require training?

___ What situations do not require training?

Qualities, Characteristics, and Skills of Effective Trainers

___ What does it take to be a good trainer?

___ Do you have people training others who may perform well on the job but are not good at training others?

___ Why should an employee welcome the opportunity to train others?

Understanding How and Why People Learn

___ What are some basic principles of adult learning?

___ Why might some employees resist training?

___ What is your attitude about the training process?

Planning and Preparing to Train

___ What is important in creating a training environment?

___ Why are objectives and performance standards important?

___ What are the criteria for performance standards?

___ What is involved in a job/task analysis?

Presenting the Training

___ What are the appropriate steps in the actual training process?

___ How is this approach different from the way you are currently training?

___ What are the benefits of this approach?

Evaluating and Transferring Training

___ How can you measure results?

___ Who should be evaluated?

___ What can you do to ensure transfer of training from the practice stage to the application on the job?

___ Who is accountable for the success of the training?

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The following are articles Karen Lawson has written for the Edward Lowe Foundation's web site.

Table of Contents

What You Should Know Before Getting Started

  • Criteria for Success

The Process of Training One-On-One

  • Defining One-On-One Training
  • Qualities, Characteristics and Skills of Effective Trainers
  • Understanding How and Why People Learn
  • Planning and Preparing to Train
  • Presenting the Training
  • Evaluating and Transferring Training

Measuring Success

  • Action Planning
  • Self-Monitoring


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