Thursday, August 20, 2009

8 Tips for the Training Department

Given below are two views on training:

Jaya: I have a list of courses that I am supposed to take. Most of them are irrelevant as I know most of what is covered. These elearning courses are updated regularly. But this typically means that that they change the names in the scenarios and then ask us to take the course all over again. There are a few courses that we are required to take every year because of some rules set by the U.S Government. It seems pointless to go over the same course over and over again.

Ravi: I attending a classroom training when I joined. This session was on product knowledge. I found it very useful as it helped me understand the products we were dealing with. I am sure I will benefit from any other training my organization wishes me to attend. I would like training on communication skills.

Here, we have two individuals with completely differing viewpoints on training. Interesting, isn't it? The first individual works for a big software company and the other works as a shop floor marketing personnel. Most software professionals will give you a similar response. Why are the viewpoints so different? Jaya hates training, while Ravi is open to it.

Let us look at the reasons why Jaya is against training.

1. Learn About Everything Under the Sun
The training/HR department has about 200 courses on their LMS. A huge list of courses is shared with an employee and they are asked to take it in their own pace. This is mandatory. A person will check if employees are completing the course. Therefore, Jaya clicks next on most of the courses and therefore, manages to finish her list of courses. Does the training department do any research at all? Do they know they know how their employees feel about training? Do they have any clue as to what their employees need and what they don't? Do they consider the employees motivations? Employee says: Why do I have to learn about communication skills? I don't interact with clients anyway! Having employees take courses that are not relevant does not help the cause. It does more harm actually.

2. I have enough work, Thanks!
Most employees (and not necessarily software professionals) will tell you this when you ask them whether they have time for training. This is because:
a. They do not see value in training. They do not feel the need to invest time in training as they are sure they know all there is to know.
b. They do have lots of work. They have pressing deadlines, but the training department insists that they complete specific courses within a given period of time. They are distracted as they are more concerned about a deadline looming over their heads.

3. It is just sooo boring...yawn!
Most software employees will tell you how boring the eLearning sessions are and how they click them away! The course do not interest them and therefore, they do not give it a moment's thought. An hour long course is over in a matter of minutes. What is worse is that they would have done extremely well in assessment section. Therefore, they feel confident that they know everything.

Let us look at the reasons why Ravi is pro training.

1. I benefited from it last time!
Simple! Ravi has a positive attitude towards training because he very clearly benefited from it the last time. He feels confident that any training that his management suggests will help him work better.

2. Thirst for Knowledge
Ravi feels he will benefit from a course on communication skills. He obviously realizes that he has lots to learn in this area and that a training program may be a great idea.

I have already blogged about How to tackle a demotivated learner? So, now I am going to share a few tips for the training department.

STOP churning out courses because you have to!
The training department has a budget allotted for training. That's great! But, please do not churn out unnecessary courses! Stop trying to fill in your employees' calenders just because you HAVE to! Most employees in the corporate world are over exposed to training. Remember Ravi? Another reason he likes training was because it was new to him. Try newer ways of teaching. Avoid stuffing eLearning/ILTs down the employees throats! Avoid packing their days with unnecessary training.

START investing time in research
The training department (especially of software companies) has no excuse for not trying to understand their employee's needs. Do some research. Understand the skills sets required for a particular role, map the competencies of employees, and suggest courses. Understand what your learner's motivation and attitudes are. Use this valuable information to design a powerful course that will make a difference.

PLAN well for training
Ensure that your employees do not feel the need to balance work and learning. Ensure that you have their deadlines, schedules, and time in mind when you plan training. This way neither work nor learning gets affected. DO NOT make them choose between the two. The employee will always choose work. If it is a core skill, give them time off work to take it. Ensure that you make their training as smooth as your possibly can.

DESIGN a powerful course
How? The learner is taking an hour or so from his/her work to learn. Give them something that excites them and makes them think. After a full day's work, it is extremely tiring to go through boring training. Give them a breath of fresh air. Make their learning experience a memorable one. Ensure that they do not feel like they are putting in extra effort to take and finish the course. Do not make them regret the time they have invested in this.

STOP ruining it for others
There are so may demotivated learners and the main reason for this is lack of respect for learners. Value their time and treat them with respect. Please do not hold a gun to their heads and say LEARN! Encourage a climate of knowledge sharing. Make them want to learn. Bad training programs poisons the employee's mind against learning itself. A job of a trainer/ID is tough as it. The job is made twice as hard with bad experiences with training.

START exploring newer ways of teaching
See what works for your employees. Avoid resorting to tried and tested modes of delivering learning. Try newer ways of teaching things. Explore how you can encourage social learning at your workplace. How can you get people to learn from each other? Use effective combination of solutions to deploy learning.

DO NOT insist on employees taking the same course over and over
The learner should have the option of revisiting a course if he/she wishes to do so. Do not impose this on them. If you have a rule saying certain courses have to be taken every year, use different ways of refreshing their memories. This could be in the form of handouts, discussion, quick games/scenario-based checks, and so on.

CUSTOMIZE your courses
Most training departments buy off-the-shelf products for soft skills and for technical training, they arrange classroom sessions. If soft skill such as communication is a core skill, then no off-the-shelf is going to cater to the needs of your learner. If soft skill is not a core skill but a concern, no off-the-shelf is going to help! Why? If your employee does not communicate with client face-to-face but only over emails and audio conference, the scenarios in off-the-shelf course may be very general and may not cover these. You need a course that will include scenarios that the learners face in their day-to-day lives. Therefore, off-the-shelf is anyway a bad idea. If you are buying a ready made course, ensure that you have it customized for your needs. Technical training, on the other hand, can be very dull. Ensure that you decide a mode of delivery that will allow active participation. Also, ensure that it is not theoretical and you give information that the employees can actually use.

Think about the effect your courses are having on the learner's psyche. If it is a negative one, stop what you are doing immediately and rethink your approach. Please do not ruin it for other who are trying to do their jobs right. If it is positive, pat yourself on your back and continue to change lives for the better.


Lyn Azzopardi said...

These are basic rules for training that are often neglected due to pressures on trainers and sometimes complacency. We need to remind ourselves of these issues as training becomes a wasye of time otherwise.

Archana Narayan said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lyn. The characters I described right at the beginning are real people with real views. Every software professional I know hates training and has very little respect for them. I used to think the primary reason for this is bad courses. But lately I have realized that too much of training is detrimental. It has to be spaced out and well planned.