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Creating Short Soft Skills Training Programs

Submitted by  on September 30th, 2011

Male trainer with flip chartYou may be tempted to run a short training program for your employees on some aspect of personal management or interpersonal relations. You know the type of soft skills training session I am talking about. It could be on customer service, team leadership, time management, assertiveness or emotional intelligence.

Managers are busy and employees are behind in their workloads. So, you are asked to deliver the training program in a one hour time slot. What do you say? Avoid designing and delivering such a program if you are at all concerned about your credibility and delivering a program that makes a difference.

Why? The way people manage their work and interact with others is the result of a lifetime of experiences. Their behaviors have been shaped by rewards and punishments over many, many years. Some of those influences no longer apply, but the behavior remains steadfast as if travelling down a well worn track. For you or anyone to expect to change those behaviors in a mere 60 minutes is a fantasy.

Saying “No” outright to such a request is not helpful. I always like to say, “Yes and …” In this case, you can recommend teaching one or two very specific skills in 60 minutes. These could be: setting personal goals, making a meeting agenda, dealing with interruptions, taking a deep breath in a conflict, and so on. So, you can say to the requesting manager, “Yes, and to make the training effective let’s decide on which two skills are the most important to improve with this short session.”

If the manager pushes back and insists on delivering more, ask them if they want the program to be useful to participants and to have an impact back on the job. When they say “Yes”, then reiterate that research and your own experience shows that training content needs to be chunked with lots of opportunity for practice if it is to have an impact back on the job.

You can also help focus the requesting manager’s attention on application back in the workplace by asking, “What is it that you want participants to do differently after the training?” “What do you want them to do more of/less of?” Then pick one or two behaviors that will be the focal point for the short training burst.

Managers asking for a mind-numbing brain dump in a one hour burst is also a signal to me that participants will most likely experience limited on the job support once they return to work. Help managers develop the support systems and practices so necessary for on the job application by asking them, “After the training session, how will you monitor and encourage the right behaviors?”

If they are struggling for an answer, offer your assistance with building performance monitoring and measuring systems, rewards for the right behavior and the feedback and coaching skills of managers and supervisors. I suspect that once they see how useful your one hour super sessions are, they will be crying out for more.

High Impact Training Guide

Find out more about creating the right learning environment for effective transfer of training to the employee’s workplace. Check out Leslie’s high impact training guide, From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance. Learn proven strategies and techniques for finding performance roadblocks, aligning training to real needs, developing training partnerships, engaging learners and maximizing learning transfer. Find out more about From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance and download the free introductory chapter today.

Posted in Training | Comments (6)

6 Responses to “Creating Short Soft Skills Training Programs”

  1. Business Skills Training Says:

    I am trying to create the right learning environment for our company using training classes. I want our members to be skilled in all aspects of their roles and I think that business skills training is a great way to accomplish that.

  2. Leslie Allan Says:

    Hello Joe. I’m interested to hear what challenges you have experienced with clients wanting a four day program reduced to four hours? How did you meet these challenges?

  3. Carla Says:

    It was great to read that my process for “saying no” was validated. Once they understand the risks to results they will, in most cases, modify their request. What I’ve found very helpful is getting the manager(s) to help me design the follow up pieces/tools. In other words, what tools will the manager need to reinforce the learning post-training. Tools might include coaching tips, observation check-lists, and staff meeting items that they can practice together. I also conduct 15-minute follow ups with the managers to ensure they are ready to coach. This creates a collaborative partnership between the managers and myself and they look to me as a helpful resource versus a hurdle to get over.

  4. Leslie Allan Says:

    Hello Carla. You have a wealth of great, practical ideas for involving managers in the post-training transfer of skills to the job. I see you work hard at building that relationship with the result that managers are engaged in the transfer process. You are a great example of what Robert Brinkerhoff, Jim Kirkpatrick and others call fostering learning partnerships. Thank you for your valuable contribution.

  5. Maurice Says:

    That was a very informative article and I too have had similar requests. As the new training manager I was leery of doing just that because of “first impression” results. While the manager requesting the training knew what he wanted, I felt the audience had different needs which weren’t being addressed. Based on research of this persons organization, I put together a 4 hour workshop that had something new for everyone (which isn’t easy for a sales team!)and reviewed it with the requesting manager and explained my rationale. He approved and it went off very well.

  6. Leslie Allan Says:

    Thanks Maurice. That’s a great success story you share. It’s a nice example of how to say “No” without saying “No”. Or as I like to put it, how to say “Yes, and …”

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