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

The Training Function in Tough Times: Part II
When a "Pilot" Hurts Your Credibility

beware of too little testing, too late . . .

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

In the previous issue of The Training Tipsheet, I suggested that taking an ROI (Return On Investment) approach could be crucial to surviving when the economy softens, revenues sag, and your organization looks for places to save money. Training and employee communications have traditionally been easy targets in dark times -- a tradition that is often foolish, in terms of the long term success of the company, but one that we have to deal with.

When things are tight, working to spread best practices and enhance employee performance can be even more valuable to the organization. That means that even in tough times, you may propose new training or employee communications tools, activities and events that do not yet have a proven track record (either within your company, or as a frequently delivered service from an external source).

Naturally, under these circumstances, proposals for significant new events or activities can meet resistance, and you will have to make the best possible case that what you propose will really make a difference. Often someone suggests a "pilot" of the activity as a way to "make sure it works," that it will produce results.

Unfortunately, most of the so-called pilots I encounter are not worth the time and money invested in them. They tell you little about ROI because they occur on the wrong scale at the wrong time.

When I hear a company talk about "piloting" a new training activity -- let's use a seminar as an example, but it could be any training tool -- it almost always means they plan to:

  1. deliver their first offering to a subset of the target audience, perhaps simply to a class that is smaller than usual;
  2. take notes on what doesn't seem to go so well;
  3. perhaps grill the participants for their reactions in a little more depth than usual; and
  4. tweak the seminar before rolling it out to the rest of the people who need to learn these best practices.

In short, they will build the whole thing, deliver it to some participants, and ask them how they liked it. But this first "field test" occurs way too late in the development process. By the time they deliver a "pilot seminar", they have too much invested in it to throw it away and start over again. Even if the pilot event is clearly ineffective, they will be forced to tweak it a little and hope it works.

When it doesn't, credibility takes a hit. Other managers and departments, scrutinizing scarce resources, offer little support for the implementation of the piloted project and become vocal in their skepticism about the next proposal.

No other department building a substantial new product or service would be allowed to wait until the product was almost completed before testing how well it will work. Major new training and employee communications shouldn't be built that way, either.

True piloting and testing occurs earlier, and more often, along the way. It detects problems early, when corrections and improvements are easier and much less costly.

Next time, in Part III of this "Tough Times" series, I'll write about better ways to approach piloting to support your internal marketing message.

© 2008 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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Tough Times III: Developing "Communication Products"

Tough Times I:
ROI, or Irrelevant?

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