Documentation

What is a Training Manual? Tips, Tools & Warning Signs.

What's a training manual, and when are they more effective than courses? Nine out of 10 employees are more engaged at work with the right training. Learn how to get manuals done right.

Introduction

Many of us may have had our fair share of IKEA horror stories. Still, it’s hard to dispute its reputation as the most user-friendly producer of ready-to-assemble furniture. 

IKEA’s entire brand would not be what it is today without the help of its famous training manuals. 

So, what’s the secret to their success? 

An IKEA training manual designer tells Fast Company that the philosophy for making the magic happen is prioritizing two components on every page: clarity and continuity. 

Companies have an opportunity to model employee training manuals after the same IKEA philosophy. 

Employees learn differently based on their needs at a given time. There will be moments when your team finds themselves in a similar situation as any IKEA customer — eager to assemble something, but prone to make mistakes without proper guidance. 

Employee training manuals support your team with concise information that shows them just enough to get the job done. In this blog, learn what it takes to create a training manual that leaves a real impact on your team.

Okay so...what is a training manual? 

A training manual is a set of instructions that help employees perform tasks at the highest level of precision. Training manuals come in different forms and are tailored to suit a particular job function's learning and working styles. 

In many workplaces today, training manuals are delivered to employees digitally. They could come as electronic files, visual walkthroughs created with screen capture and recording software, video tutorials and more. 

Training efforts come with different forms of documentation, each serving their own distinct but complimentary functions. 

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are documents that help companies and employees align on overarching goals, process structures, mandatory requirements and hazards to avoid. 

You could create job aids to document a short process for employees to refer to when executing a task, like how to securely access shared company logins without having to ask busy colleagues. 

On the other hand, a training manual compiles instructions for different processes into a single source of truth. A training manual for DevOps engineers could explore several parts of the function, like:

  •  How to communicate effectively within a team. 
  • How to use developer tools. 
  • What the company defines as an effective deployment process.

And so on.  

Think of training manuals as a core component of any employee onboarding and ramp-up process. If new hires aren’t given the tools to become experts at what they do quickly, how are you setting them up for success? 

Why invest your time in creating training manuals? 

Imagine assembling IKEA furniture without a training manual.

It’s not a far-fetched scenario. Some of us may have encountered moments where we felt a task was easy enough to do without help. 

Or maybe you just couldn’t find your manual; it happens! That’s what happened to me while putting together a relatively simple three-piece desk organizer. 

What I thought would take me under five minutes ended up taking thirty instead — thank you, YouTube tutorials. 

I learned a few things in the process: 

  1. The time you spend trying to figure something out adds up.
  2. This extra time doesn’t add any more value to the result you end up with.
  3. The frustration of wasting time on unnecessary thinking lowers productivity.

Training manuals alleviate the pressure of memorizing those minute details for operational tasks that don’t demand strategic thinking. 

The lessons I learned from my IKEA project also apply to any team in the workplace. 

Having a training manual prepared helps your team: 

Prioritize high-impact tasks

It’s hard to focus on meaningful work when large chunks of your energy go to fixing avoidable mistakes or scrambling around work (or YouTube) for answers. You'll want to emphasize process documentation if you work with multiple stakeholders to manage high-stakes projects.

Eighty-five percent of organizations say they run into challenges implementing functions like DevOps because of legacy infrastructure, team silos and poor collaboration with other teams. This is a perfect example of when to use training manuals. 

These manuals define and guide employees through tools, collaboration and communication. The less you’re stuck in a cycle of communication limbo and back-and-forth reviews, the more time you can allocate to tasks that impact your KPIs. 

Build organizational trust internally & externally

Fifty-one percent of employees say they see a boost in self-confidence with effective workplace training. When teams feel like their leaders are setting them up for success, they’re motivated to take on more responsibility while showing respect to their colleagues.

Training manuals help employees complete tasks following a specified quality standard. Ultimately, it’s a blueprint that empowers your team to meet stakeholders' expectations and continuously improve their mastery of a particular procedure. 

It creates a culture of efficiency that people can depend on, leading to higher trust in your brand and what it’s capable of doing. The best part is that this confidence shows in real, tangible results.

Boost employee satisfaction and retention

Ninety-two percent of respondents in a study of 1000 US employees say they’re more engaged at work when training programs are properly implemented. 

It makes sense. Who likes going into work feeling unprepared? When teams lack the necessary support to get work done at the highest quality, they can get increasingly frustrated with company leadership and culture. This can easily set the tone for low employee engagement. 

When your team doesn’t see any investment into improving a poor foundation, they’re less likely to invest in their responsibilities. Employee turnover is high for companies that don’t show their workforce how they value their growth and development. 

 If you’re not helping your team overcome the same old bottlenecks with a standardized approach for success, they’ll start their search for a company that can. 

Do you need training manuals? 

There are a few warning signs that signal a need for training manuals. They might initially seem like insignificant bottlenecks, but as time passes, these signs add up and impact overall team culture, morale and work ethic.

Identify and understand the warning signs for a better outlook on the goals you’re trying to achieve. This helps you build the right business case for stakeholders.  

Long training courses aren’t helping 

Over 40 percent of employees say their workplace training is ineffective. 

The problem we see here is engagement, which has much to do with timing. 

Alex Khurgin, the Director of Learning Innovation at Grovo tells HR Dive about the concept of high motivation “moments of need.” These crucial moments happen when you run into a problem at work or forget how something works. 

Khurgin says a company should surround these moments with training resources because that’s when people want to learn the most. “Using longer training and learning formats may mean you miss the motivational window,” he adds. 

For example, if a new hire is unfamiliar with Mac and is motivated to learn, they wouldn’t want to spend more than a few minutes familiarizing themselves with a few settings and shortcuts.

Instead of sending them a course or long YouTube tutorial, you can create a quick training manual with tools like Scribe and Scribe Pages

Scribe is a step-by-step guide generator that instantly documents any process. With Pages, you can compile several guides into a single Page and add text, video and more to create a complete training manual. 

You’ve noticed some process inconsistencies

You’ll work with people from a wide range of professional experiences who’ve picked up different habits along the way. It’s only normal that everyone has their own way of going about processes and may be completely unaware of how your team does them. 

But result inconsistencies tend to snowball.

What starts as a small misunderstanding can turn into major errors that impact your team’s quality of work and collaboration. All this only breeds more stress and less productivity. 

Unsurprisingly, 80 percent of employees say poor workplace communication can cause these headaches. 

Training manuals are a helpful approach for communicating details in a standardized way. You’ll be able to codify a tried and true practice your company uses to guarantee task efficiency and quality. Most importantly, your team members have a reference they can turn to if they need a refresher on how they should do things. 

Information is your team’s biggest bottleneck  

Sixty percent of an employee’s work day goes to unproductive tasks — like looking for information in communication channels and waiting for colleagues to respond to questions. 

If you want your team to complete tasks independently and confidently, you need to empower them with information that’s easy to access. Training manuals are available to everyone, and especially provided to the people who need them in their day-to-day. 

When you create your manuals, note the processes your team inquires about the most in your team and across different departments. 

You’ll want to document the most frequently asked questions and arrange your manual to cover them as comprehensively as possible. 

A playbook for creating training manuals your team will actually use

The hardest part about creating a great training manual is figuring out where to start. 

To start building engaging and informative training manuals, you need a plan that encompasses these factors.

  • Who are you creating content for?
  • What’s the best way to educate your audience?
  • How do you build a habit of using training manuals?
  • When should you improve your content?

As you create your training manual, here are a few tips you can use to supplement your strategy as you: 

1. Get your team involved 

Forty-two percent of companies say it’s difficult to create a learning culture. 

Our work ethic and values are motivated by the environment we’re in. If team leaders and members find training manuals unnecessary, there’s little incentive to push back and advocate for higher engagement.

To get everyone on the same page, you have to make it less about you and more about your team. 

There’s no better way to create an engaged learning culture than by getting your team involved in the manual creation process. You can hold feedback sessions regularly at team meetings or stand-ups where you ask your team questions like:

  • Are you running into any issues with how processes are done? 
  • Are there any tools or workflows you would like more clarity on? 
  • Has your quality of work lately been impacted by inconsistencies or errors related to workplace procedures and systems? 
  • Would you like to get more detailed walkthroughs or instructions on any tasks you’ve been assigned recently? 

2. Format your training manual for high accessibility

It’s only natural that different people learn differently. Think about how your team might interact with any training material. Pick a learning format that suits the “point of need” where an employee would refer to a training manual. 
Remember our IKEA example? Their manuals emphasize graphics instead of text because it’s a universal way to relay complex information quickly. 

The same goes for workplace training manuals, especially if you want to educate employees about software systems and applications. People may learn differently, but you can be certain about what your team can expect to see on their screen if a process is done correctly. 

Visual instructions like screenshots and screen recordings are helpful because they show employees exactly what needs to be done. This leaves little room for misinterpretation. You can use screen capture tools like TechSmith Capture, Monosnap or Scribe to take clear images and videos of your browser window. 

Scribe takes things one step further by automatically turning your screen recording into a tutorial with a rich text editor and advanced sharing features. 

3. Use documentation systems that are easy to update

Have you ever spent time looking for a document in your company databases only to find out that all the information in there is outdated? 

You’re not the only one. 

Nine out of ten employees lose time to versioning issues in documentation. 

You don’t have to be discouraged by the workload of keeping training manuals up to date. Gone are the days of clunky legacy software slowing down database navigation. You’ll want to invest in a lightweight system for work devices so you can quickly refresh and reference information when needed. 

Use digital collaboration tools like Airtable, Scribe, or Notion to store your training manuals as editable files instead of PDFs that are difficult to amend.

4. Optimize your manuals for easy distribution 

The idea of committing resources for long-term distro might make you think it’s not worth digging into. 

But the best part about digital documentation tools is you can take advantage of advanced sharing features — like saving documents as links that live until you choose to delete them. 

It’s extremely helpful if you want to pin links into Slack channels, Asana boards or Word documents.

When you make training manuals with Scribe and Scribe Pages, you can even embed them into other tools in your team’s technology stack, like Hubspot, ClickUp, Monday.com or WordPress. 

This lets you drive interactions to training manuals from the spaces your team engages most. 

Training manuals help teams replicate success — & then do it 10x better

There’s a big way in which your training manual should differ from an IKEA training manual. 

Your manual is a foundation your team can build upon, improve and implement into an even better document. 

Great training material is never static. In today’s digital work and learning environment, disruption happens fast. Our employees are consistently adapting to new things and learning ways to move productively in a noisy environment. 

With the tips and tools that we’ve provided here, you have everything you need to create a scalable and flexible knowledge base that can evolve as your team and technology stack evolves too. 

Try tools like Scribe and Scribe Pages to hit the ground running.