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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
612-978-3050

Building A
Corporate Core Curriculum

connecting the audience to the message with careful delivery design

nutshell imageIn a Nutshell . . .

A regional banking firm struggled with inconsistencies in the way their employees made, and processed, lending decisions. They knew what they wanted bankers (and support staff) to do, as they had developed their message into clear policy and procedures guidelines. And they had in-house experts, mainly in the form of experienced and successful staff, who were effective presenters and committed to that message.

But by themselves, these staff didn't have the training or experience to pull all their various topics into an effective plan that would progressively build the needed knowledge and skills. And while they were accustomed to speaking on their given topics, they did not generally assess participants' application of what they learned, or evaluate how well staff had mastered the material.

I provided the design for effective delivery of a clear message to a well-defined audience. That included structuring the topics in an effective order, and providing application exercises and assessment activities.

Now grown to nearly 160,000 employees working in 23 states, this bank still depends on this "core curriculum" to train commercial lenders. Even though this curriculum takes nearly a year to complete, there is a long waiting list to enroll, and the training has been delivered to nearly 100 "classes."

Case Study Summary

Business Function:

Commercial credit, that is, making loans to businesses. The client was a major regional banking company, engaged in many acquisitions on the way to significant growth.

They Said:

The company was moving from fairly independent regions to a consistent way of doing business at all locations. They also wanted a standard approach to instilling best practices among employees acquired in acquisitions of other banks.

They had developed strong credit policies, a model way of doing things, and knew who, within the company, exemplified those best practices. They had the message fairly well figured out, in other words, and they knew that they wanted to focus on young, but experienced, staff, not raw rookies, so they had a clear audience.

My Take:

They needed help with delivery design, figuring out how to use their internal talent to deliver their carefully crafted message (policies and best practices) to this particular audience.

In particular, the people delivering the training were not professional trainers. They were good presenters, generally, but tended to deal with specific topics in a meeting setting. They were not accustomed to coordinating their work with other topics, assessing learning, and so on.

Solution:

I designed a curriculum that placed their staff presentations within a series of case studies, exercises, and activities that ensured application of what participants learned.

As part of that process , I worked with the client to optimize the content structure, to ensure that topics were covered in a way that systematically built knowledge and skills. And I guided them in balancing "information dump" lectures with more interactive activities, balancing dispensing information with application of that information by the participants, and with assessment of learning.

The resulting curriculum required just under a year for a participant to "graduate." Participants completed three weeks of classroom activity separated by "homework" to be completed on the job, in the field. It combined lectures and discussions with computer-based activities. And it required simulating key steps in the decision process , including loan write-ups and realistic role plays. Evaluation of participant performance involved exercisese focused on specific policies and procedures, as well as a "mock trial" presentation and justification of a detailed loan decision to a committee of "approvers" drawn from management.

Outcome:

Since it is up to individual managers whether they send participants to this curriculum, one measure of its success is the level of enrollment.

In fact, demand has been strong, and there continues to be a backlog of participants (at 20-30 per "class") waiting up to a year to get in. This bank is nearing its 100th offering of this curriculum, having trained thousands of participants over the years. Scheduled offerings had to be increased from a couple of times a year to near year-round operations.

And "graduates" are found in management positions not only with the original client, but stolen away by competitors who value the knowledge and skills they bring with them.

Effective Delivery Doesn't Happen By Itself

This client was off to an excellent start, compared to many situations I've encountered over the years. They knew which employees needed to change their practices, and they knew what best practices they wanted them to execute on the front lines.

In short, they had a good handle on the message and on the audience. They also had experienced staff in various functions who could serve as presenters.

What they lacked was the expertise to coordinate all of these topics and balance them with activities to encourage retention and application of what was learned.

They needed a lot of help, in other words, figuring out how to maximize the impact of the presenters who delivered their message to this audience. Just lining up these staff presenters to talk about their topics wouldn't have done the job in the least.

Keeping the Emotional Components

Both the client and I saw the value of using their "amateur" presenters from the start. Rather than develop a tightly scripted "lesson plan" and turning it over to professional facilitators, we decided to build additional tools around these in-house experts to create a complete learning experience for the participants.

When employees hear about "best practices," they sometimes cringe. In some organizations, this just means the employees are about to be scolded for what they are doing wrong. (see my Training Tipsheet reprint on "Best Practices: Gain, or Just Pain?")

The bank's presenters were exceptional in their enthusiasm, in their personal commitment to standard practices, to the agreed-upon message. Participants became more and more receptive to the overall themes of consistency and standardization as they heard them endorsed by more experienced, highly successful, employees.

While replacing these presenters with hired training professionals would have simplified some practical elements of this curriculum considerably, the modeling and encouragement these staff presenters offered produced a positive impact that considerably outweighed the advantages of professional facilitators.

Putting It All Together So It Makes a Difference

Most of these presenters were accustomed to talking about their given topics, but in isolation. They might be invited to say something at a regional meeting or conference, or even in the context of a formal class.

But developing a core set of skills and knowledge required a coordinated effort from these various presenters. We couldn't leave it to the individual presenters themselves to decide which topics were most important, which should come first, which should get the most time.

A major component of the design process was structuring the content to efficiently build the core skills and knowledge. I worked with the project leaders to develop a sequence of topics that improved learning by:

  • paying attention to the hierarchy of skills and knowledge being developed. In other words, we figured out what participants had to know first, to make it easier to learn the next thing they needed to know. And we allotted time based not just on the importance of the topic, but on its complexity -- how hard it was to master -- and on the types of activities used to teach that skill or material.
  • balancing delivery of information with its application. In between presentations by experienced staff, work on case studies, role plays, and other activities would force the participants to use what they had heard and seen.

Maximizing Retention and Application

As mentioned, many of the presenters were familiar with their topics and good at speaking and discussions, but they didn't have a similar level of experience with activities designed to ensure that what was learned in the classroom was practiced on the job.

Among the activities I designed for this core curriculum were:

  • Negotiation role plays, simulating the conversation between banker and customer over loan terms and conditions.
  • Loan decision case studies based on videotaped borrower interviews and realistic customer documents. Participants prepared complete write-ups, with financial analysis, risk assessment, and so on.
  • Policy application exercises, in which participant knowledge of key lending policies was compared with their actual ratings of several potential borrowers. This revealed inconsistencies in application, where they knew what they were supposed to say about a given aspect of a transaction or borrower situation, but did not follow the guidelines in actual practice.
  • Straightforward knowledge testing, with a multiple-choice exam.
  • "Mock trial" presentation of small-group decision and recommendations on a realistic lending case study, delivered before a panel of managers accustomed to approving loans.

Results

There can be little doubt about the success of this core curriculum:

  • From early offerings of once or twice a year, demand has pushed this training to ten or more classes annually.
  • In spite of the significant volume of work required to complete this course, participant demand is strong enough to maintain a substantial waiting list to get into the curriculum.
  • Managers continue to direct participants into the curriculum even though it takes their staff away from their desks for long periods of time. They see the return on their investment of some inconvenience as more than payback. (And see my "think piece" on the inconvenience as a measure of commitment.)
  • Changes in management, acquisitions and growth, and other company-wide shifts have not diminished the position of this curriculum as the standard way to inculcate best practices in commercial lenders and support staff.
  • Graduates of the curriculum commonly move up in the management hierarchy, and they are also to be found in management positions at many competing banks, who know the value of this training.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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