So you’ve got your training plan in place, and you’ve arranged some training courses for your staff. You’re doing everything you need to motivate your staff and to equip them to do their jobs as well as possible. Your job is done, right?
Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. Training is just the same as any other item of business expenditure: you need to know what you are getting, and to ensure that it is right for your business and for your employees.
The Right Training at the Right Time
I was once at a training course where the presenter handed out the customary evaluation sheets at the end. Three of the attendees replied that it had been “excellent” and “very helpful,” while the remainder (about ten people) gave replies ranging from “hard to understand” to “of no practical use.” They had all been at the same event, so why had their experiences been so different? And what could the employer have done differently to avoid wasting resources on unproductive training?
Such a scenario is not unusual. The training may not be appropriate for a particular individual, or that this is not the best time for them to learn this particular subject (this is where it helps to involve staff in drawing up their own training plans). Or the problem may lie with the training itself: Is the trainer presenting the subject in the most effective way?
Get the Delivery Right
A person may qualify as an expert in his or her subject but is unlikely to deliver effective training unless he or she understands the basic principles of how adults learn. Those principles include checking understanding, reinforcing learning, and varying the style of delivery.
It is good practice for a trainer to find out how much people already know at the start of a training session so that they can pitch it accordingly. After all, the training will be a waste of time if it only covers familiar ground or, conversely, if the participant has insufficient prior knowledge to understand what is going on (particularly with technical subjects). And it is equally important to check (perhaps with questions or exercises) that people have understood the subject matter at regular points throughout the session.
As Dr. Mirna Safi points out in “Knowing and managing different learning styles,” experts in learning recognise that there are several different learning styles, including auditory (learning by listening), visual (learning by seeing) and kinaesthetic (learning by doing), and that individuals tend to favour one style over the others.
Varying these approaches during a session helps to retain the attention of the audience and caters for the needs of each individual. For instance, a mixture of talking (perhaps with slides), video clips and practical exercises will cater to all styles and help to engage the participants.
Follow Up Your Training
Training does not take place in a vacuum: What happens before and after the event is equally important.
As Eduardo Salas, Professor of Organizational Psychology at the University of Central Florida, told the Wall Street Journal, “The first myth [of training] is if you send an unskilled employee to training, when they come back there is immediately a changed, improved, skilled worker.”
The training will be much more effective if you and the staff member set clear goals as to what you expect to achieve from it, and agree a plan to put the new learning into practice as soon as possible.
The employee may need support from a colleague or supervisor while they are learning to apply their new skills. If the learning relates to a situation that is not a regular feature of the job (such as customer service training for back office staff with only occasional customer contact), you should try to expose them to that type of activity on a regular basis immediately after the training.
Similarly, if you are developing someone for a future role, try to let them work in that role for a while after training. For instance, if you have given a shop floor worker some management training, you could let them shadow a manager or even cover during a manager’s absence.
Get the Best Value from Your Training
The earlier example of the training session with mixed feedback was a classic example of how not to provide effective training. Firstly, the trainer simply spent two hours talking: He had no slides or handouts, and did not interact with the audience through questions or exercises.
Secondly, he did not check understanding either at the beginning or during the course of the session. And, thirdly, many of the participants went back to their desks with no opportunity to put the knowledge into practice and simply forgot what they had learnt.
As an employer you simply cannot afford to make mistakes like this. Make sure that your training is fit for its purpose and that you deliver it at the right time, and in the right context. Doing this will help you to get the best possible value from your training programme.