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

Be the Canary in the Coal Mine

as a professional trainer , you ARE your company's early warning system

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

You all know the notion of the canary in the coal mine. Miners carried their little feathered friends in cages into the mines because the birds would succumb to poisonous gasses much sooner than would the miners, giving them a chance to escape. (I suppose, from the bird's point of view, the miner wasn't much of a "friend" after all.)

Professional trainers often find themselves functioning as "early detectors" of more general problems in an organization. What they do with the symptoms they detect depends largely on the relationship the training department has with management and with their internal clients.

For example, training is often one of the main tools used to ensure standard practices across the organization. Management wants the same task performed in the same way in each department, and in every location or region of the company.

So you start a series of training sessions on a new procedure or updated process, and what do you find? Different subsets of participants accept or reject different parts of the training message. Some of the comments that tip you off that all is not well, or at least not consistent, across your organization might be:

  • "We do it a little differently in our region."
  • "Do I have to attend the part on X? We have our own process."
  • "I'll have to check with my manager before I do that."
  • My favorite: "But you don't understand ..."

The real question is what you do with the results of your intelligence gathering. Do you directly tell the appropriate level of management -- the level that is striving for consistency across branches and departments and regions -- that they have a problem? That's ideal, but it takes building a good relationship with those managers.

You might innocently ask for more guidance, heading to the appropriate level manager and asking, "Should we be revising our training to reflect regional differences? We have been delivering just one version, but the participants are telling us that we need multiple versions." That could be enough to do the trick.

Of course, it isn't just consistency that's in question, here. You may discover, from participant comments, questionable practices, or supporting systems that simply do not help as they should, or other problems.

And at what point do you cross the line between supporting management values and tattling on front-line employees?

Being the canary in the coal mine is not your primary function, as a training professional. But it is one that can be valuable to the organization, handled properly.

The question is, do you know in advance what your options are for handling this kind of information? Do you understand your relationships, how far you can go and where to be discreet?

Do not leave this role to chance. Sooner or later, you are going to come across information that management really needs, but does not have, from your interactions with participants in the classroom. Knowing what you plan to do with it before that happens can save you from some serious missteps in your relationships with all levels of your company.

© 2012 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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