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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Training for your Past, Present,
and Future

dealing with change over time is an important training function

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

A recent conversation with one of the very best trainers I know, a highly effective and in-demand independent consultant, revolved around the mission of the training function in dealing with change over time -- change in the organization, and change in the conditions under which it operates. That conversation helped me see how training deals with different kinds of information as defined by the time in which valuable knowledge is gained and shared with employees.

My friend had been part of a discussion with the education committee of a trade association, and he observed that there was a significant division in the approaches of the various committee members to training association members for the future of their industry. Some felt that the education function had a responsibility to prepare members for a new and different future, to change the practices in the industry. Others believed that that was reaching too far, that the main focus should be building members' knowledge and skills around proven best practices for current conditions. In effect, one faction looked to lead their industry, while the other felt that training is most useful for keeping people up to date with industry practices and conditions.

In the end, we have to deal with the past, present, and future for our training efforts to help our organizations succeed. I'll cover some important categories of timelines and purposes below, and we'll come back to these in coming editions of The Training Tipsheet.

Preventing Future Problems

One common function of training is to avoid the future you do NOT want. We train employees to prevent them from doing things that are going to bring significant costs and consequences to the company.

This can include safety training, or procedures that are necessary to avoid data theft, equipment breakdown, toxic spills, and the like.

This is kind of training particularly important for industries that are regulated, or that are susceptible to litigation.

Correcting Past Problems

Often training is a response to a problem. You realize you are losing customers because of how you are responding to information requests, warranty issues, or service problems. You are missing prospects because your sales representatives are missing important steps, or because key players in the sales process don't know how to talk about customer needs. You identify significant unnecessary costs due to poor purchasing practices, or from extending credit to the wrong customers.

There are many other examples for this category of training, but it is one of the dominant activities in our field. Many, many courses grew out of recognition of a problem. (And often, training is part of the fix, but not a complete solution.)

Updating Present Practices

This one is a little similar to correcting past problems, but it is more of a routine improvement to practices, rather than a correction. You're probably doing things reasonably well, but you could do them better, to achieve better results.

This includes routine training to upgrade skills, stay in touch with developments and new techniques in a given field or function, and the promotion of best practices uncovered in one part of the company through other parts of the organization. It is very similar to equipment maintenance, or software upgrades, applied to employee development.

Anticipating Future Practices

If correcting past problems is one of the main drivers of training in business organizations, anticipating future practices is one of the least common drivers, unfortunately.

Companies should be looking ahead to future conditions and planning to develop employees skills and knowledge to make the most of those conditions. But it is hard to get the needed commitment of time and resources to make this happen in most organizations. Instead, they go into the future training people on what has worked in the past. Eventually, that leads to problems, and training in the guise of "correcting problems" takes over.

Particularly after the recession, business conditions under the recovery, when it comes, may be quite different than they were before the recession. This is the time to be planning for the needed training to fit that new environment.


You really need all of these to maximize what your training function contributes to the company's success, but the appropriate balance for your organization may be different than it is for someone else. We'll explore these training challenges a little more in the coming weeks.

© 2009 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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