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

Timing Is Everything

short term, "event" focused training can minimize impact

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

Timing is a key element in effective training. A good deal of training effort is wasted because it is applied when the employees aren't ready for it, when the company's work environment won't support it, or because a lot of training is lumped together to "save time," when that really just ensures that best practices never truly take root.

This came to mind when I read the following comment by David Maister in his online article , "Why (Most) Training Is Useless":

" . . . training is a wonderful last step in bringing about changed organizational and personal behavior,
but a pathetically useless first step."

Maister isn't saying that training is a bad idea. He is saying that most of the time it is applied in such a fashion that it generates a much lower Return On Investment than it could, and should.

My own view is that many of the disappointments businesses experience stem from a failure to approach training and employee communications as behavior change programs, rather than as events. Management is too quick to think of training as an "educational experience," typical of a class or course, instead of a continuing effort, in a carefully constructed environment, that will sustain best practices after they have been explained to employees.

I often use the term "workstyle change," directly analogous to "lifestyle change." If you want to lose weight or eat a healthier diet, watching a half-hour program on TV, reading a good article in your newspaper, or buying a book on the topic can give you the information you need to design your program. But none of these actions will produce much "return" for your efforts, by themselves. You need to restructure your environment (hide the snacks!), get support from family and friends, monitor your performance, and make course corrections along the way.

Too often, in the business world, all the hope for change is packed into the event. But the work environment still supports the old behaviors; other functions, and even employees' own supervisors, may be working against the change in direct or indirect ways; and there is little monitoring and follow up to ensure that best practices are executed as planned.

Working well is a performance skill, and we need the kind of progressive, sustained attention to how employees work that we apply to other performance skills.

When students learn to draw and paint, to dance, to speak a foreign language, or to play a sport -- all performance skills -- we don't dump the whole body of knowledge and expectations on them at once. We start with first steps, mastering some fundamental beginning concepts. When they can perform those well enough, we take them up a level.

But in most work environments, management thinks it is less expensive and more efficient to wrap everything the employee needs to know about a best practice into a single event, whether that is a meeting, an online course, an orientation session, or a seminar. Instead of spreading the training over several sessions, so that staff can develop skill at one level before moving on to the next, we just do the grand information dump. And we rarely take the time to prepare the environment, to plan follow up and support from supervisors, before lauching the training. We think we're saving money by ensuring that employees spend less time "off the line," but because this approach to training is so often ineffective, we are actually wasting resources by taking the quick and easy path.

There are many reasons why training is often deployed to little effect in business environments. But learn to look at employee behavior, and what it takes to make changes in behavior that truly last, and you'll be able to sidestep most of the potholes on the road to a more productive workforce.

© 2008 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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