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What Will It Take Before You Learn?

The excitement and dread of school-aged children is palpable this time of the year. It is “Back to School” time and all of the hopes and promises of good outcomes still have the potential to come true for students. The results of last year’s tests quickly fade (for better or for worse), and it is a new year. A new opportunity to prove oneself.  Commitments to “really buckle down and learn” or, “do better this time around,” or, “keep up the good work” are shared.  And while we as adults can see it so clearly with our children, do we take the time to self-assess ourselves on the same criteria?

We Have Been There

We have all seen it. In the frenzy and fury of our days that contain too much to do, and too little time to do it in, somebody at headquarters or in Human Resources makes the pronouncement that there is training available that you may voluntarily attend (or, in some instances, are mandated to attend). The groans can be heard throughout the field organization. The complaints are well-known, “How can I do both my job AND be in training at the same time? Am I being paid to (sell/market/service/etc.), or to attend training sessions? The training is rarely relevant, is boring, and just a waste of time, etc.” And, you know what – all too often – they are right!

Among the problems that get in the way of training being successful are:

  • Who performs the role of “Trainer”
  • Objective Setting
  • Opportunity to Apply
  • Reinforcement by Management

Who is the Trainer?

SMEs are not always natural-born good trainers.

SMEs are not always natural-born good trainers.

It is common for organizations to rely on their internal subject matter experts (SMEs) to perform as trainers to address their particular area of responsibility. However, left to their own devices, SMEs will not always be equally proficient at the science and art of training as they are in their professional expertise. SMEs (IT, Marketing, FInance, or other functions) may feel out of place in the role of Trainer. Given that training is a skill and a profession with a skillset of it’s own, SMEs may need some guidance to direct how to maximize the benefit of their experience and insights into training.

Objective Setting

Too often, there is no clear definition of what the expectation is for the training in specific, concrete, behavioral terms. Training is expected to make the trainee(s) better, more proficient, capable, etc. However, if we use the example of training someone to be able to perform car maintenance – does that mean that a specific training is designed to make someone a capable of performing as an auto mechanic or as a driver/operator of the car?

Further, a frequent desire of trainers (professional and otherwise) and executives is to try to maximize the opportunity to “get in front” of trainees. The end result is that they attempt to convery far too much information or skills into a single training event or intervention. A skilled trainer knows the importance of curriculum design and how to properly develop courses that help the trainee master new skills in an organized and well managed way over a series of interrelated or connected trainings, and not a single training that only serves to overwhelm, confuse, and ultimately, frustrate the trainee (and require subsequent follow-up or remedial trainings for those that “didn’t get it the first time.”).

Lastly, trainees want to know how the training will help them do their jobs more effectively or help them in some way. If the training is not directly going to impact performance, trainees will struggle to view it positively and want to use the training. Well designed and developed training links the new behavior, skill or knowledge to the trainees’ concerns (WIIFM – What’s in it for me).

Opportunity to Apply

Trainees need to practice, apply, perform within the context of training to confirm that they have it “right” and develop confidence in their ability to use the newly trained content. If training is equivalent to a SME or Trainer “lecturing” to them, most Trainees will become frustrated and will doubt that they can correctly perform the tasks with the new skills or knowledge. Allowing time for; exercises, practice with new tools or processes, simulations, role plays, case studies, even Question and Answer sessions that force Trainees to apply the training back to their jobs would be helpful.

Reinforcement by Management

Training does not end when the intervention is completed. Supervisors, managers, and executives may default to thinking that training is to be done by “specialists” (HR or dedicated functions within the company, or even external resources), however; if there is no ongoing reinforcement, monitoring, modeling, etc.once Trainees are “back on the job” by the organization’s management function, training will cease to be effective and new skills will not be integrated into the performance of the Trainees.

So, when HR or headquarters-based people exasperatedly exclaim, “What will it take before you learn,” the answer may just reside in another question: “What will it take for Training to be Done Correctly?”

David Zahn