When I first became a trainer many years ago, I worked myself up about whether my trainees were learning anything useful, whether I was using the right approach, and so on. And these were fair questions to ask, as any trainer worth their salt will reflect critically on their own practice. After working with a number of organizations as both an internal trainer and external consultant, I began to condense all of the lessons I learned along the way into the five "rights" of training.
I see these "rights" as the basic requirements that need to be satisfied for a training program to have a real and positive impact on an organization. As you read my description for each, consider how the training you design and deliver is meeting these necessary elements. These five "rights" are:
1. Right Trainees
-employees genuinely requiring skill development are nominated for training
There is no point wasting employees' time and your organization's resources shuffling people into a training room or making them complete on-line modules if training will not help them perform any better. Conduct a proper training needs analysis up front and only prescribe training where imparting new skills and knowledge will help lift performance. Be especially wary of managers that see every performance problem as an opportunity to put people in front of a trainer. During your performance diagnosis phase, get managers to appreciate that a performance shortfall can occur for a variety of reasons. When an employee does not do as their manager expects, it may be because they:
- don't know it's expected
- think they're already doing it
- don't want to do it
- can't do it
- don't know how to do it
Training will only help where all or part of the performance shortfall is because of reason e) above. Use the employee performance diagnostic flowchart to help you and your managers determine the reasons for poor performance. Try also to avoid the waste that comes with resorting to a "scattergun" approach. Some managers feel that because James and Judy require training in handling difficult customers, it's an even better idea to subject the whole department to the same training. Not only can these resources be better used elsewhere, employees will resent having their time wasted on useless training.
2. Right Learning
-program content and activities closely match organization and learner objectives
Get to the heart of what problem or opportunity your organization wants training to assist with. And then design the learning to match those objectives. Don't fall into the trap of asking supervisors or employees what training they would like. This approach more often than not misses the real business needs and is typically the result of superficial performance appraisal discussions and employee surveys. Trainers then find that the "smorgasbord" of training programs they present in the annual training calendar has few takers as employees find work priorities taking precedence over "discretionary" learning.
In addition, with no clear learning objectives tied to organizational imperatives, the temptation is to fill out training programs with all kinds of superfluous content and exercises. Focus on the "must haves" for the program to meet the organization's goals. With the time that you have left over, include the "nice to haves".
3. Right Time
-training is neither delivered too early nor too late
There is a window of opportunity in which to teach employees new skills. Miss that window and the training will be nowhere near as effective. If the training is conducted too early before the new systems are implemented in their workplace, when they return they will have limited opportunity to practice their new skills. Without repeated application on the job, they will quickly forget what they had learned.
Conversely, if the training is conducted too late, they are at risk of picking up or continuing wrong behaviors. Not only can this lead to costly mistakes, it will take a lot more time and resources to correct such bad habits once they become ingrained. Delivering the training in a timely manner is also important for maintaining employee morale and efficiency. If new systems are implemented that leave employees floundering without the right skills, they are more likely to become disengaged or to leave the organization altogether.
4. Right Method
-methods and delivery modes match learning objectives and learner preferences
Use established training methods that are guaranteed to aid learning. Depending on the subject matter, start with simple concepts and activities, building up to the more complex. Or begin with an overview of the subject before delving into the detail. Likewise, chunk the content into easily digestible portions that make sense to the learners.
Pacing is also important, allowing time between chunks for assimilation and practice. The opportunity to practice is critical to mastering new skills, so make sure that your practice sessions are not treated as a short addendum to the program. Where there are budget or time constraints, avoid the pressure to cut back on opportunities for trainees to apply the new skills.
Consider the learning styles of your particular trainees. However, do not go overboard and eliminate all ways of learning bar one or two. A group of engineers may prefer a lot of theory presented verbally and in writing. Lectures with an abundance of supplementary reading may be the dominant choices here. This approach may not suit a more tactile group that prefers to learn through trail and error. Using a problem-based approach to learning may work better for this group.
The characteristics of the group should also influence the media you use to deliver the content and facilitate the activities. Using reading lists of books and other resources will not work well with trainees with low literacy skills. Similarly, delivering content and facilitating chat room discussions over the internet with trainees not versed in these technologies will prove to be a frustrating learning experience for them. Live demonstrations and audio or video tape recordings will be a better match here. Weigh all of these factors into the design of your training programs.
5. Right Environment
-training and workplace settings are optimized for learning and later training transfer
If trainees are physically uncomfortable, their learning will be hindered. Make sure that the training room is sufficiently lit, the room is not too hot or too cold, seats are comfortable, trainees are given sufficient breaks and the seating arrangement allows for optimal interaction between trainees and trainer.
Just as important for good learning outcomes is the emotional environment. Set the conditions for interpersonal relationships that foster learning by encouraging trainees to take risks and respect differences. Prompt lots of questions and encourage discussions that allow participants to learn from each other.
What happens before the trainee begins the training and after they return to their workplace will largely determine the impact of your training program. Workplace environment factors that you will need to design into your program include ensuring ongoing and visible support from the trainees' managers and supervisors and meaningful rewards that encourage the application of the new skills on the job. Other factors include the provision of on-the-job support in the form of job aids and coaching from recognized experts.
How many of the five "rights" do you firmly have under your belt? How many could do with some attention? Find yourself a mentor that can help you identify your strengths and your greatest opportunities for improvement. If you have a college in your local area, enroll in a beginning trainer's course or take the next level up. Make sure you write out an improvement plan with your action items so that you can compare your capability in six month's time. Be proud of your achievements as you hold a pivotal role in your workplace. Organizations can only get things done and goals achieved through the efforts of people exercising the right skills. Without skill developers such as yourself, organizations would stand still. I wish you well on your journey.
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager, consultant and trainer for organizations large and small.
He is also the author of five books on training and change management and is the creator of various training tools and templates. Leslie is a member of the Australian Institute of Management and the Quality Society of Australasia. He is also a member of the Divisional Council of the Victorian Division of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). Leslie may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about how to improve the impact of your training programs. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Visit the From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.