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Communicating with Program Stakeholders

Submitted by on January 27th, 2014

Trainer figure with flipchart out front of traineesYour major employee training initiative has got approval from the executive. Congratulations! How and when you communicate with all of the key stakeholders will play an important part in whether your training program meets its mark. Elsewhere, I shared my thoughts on why and how to create a Program Communication Plan. Your communication plan effectively sets the agenda for program communications with all of the major players involved in your program.

Communication requirements will vary from organization to organization and from program to program. In this post, I want to share my general recommendations borne of experience and the learning that comes from the making of many mistakes. The general principles and techniques I share here apply just as well to change initiatives in which there is no major training component.

Let me begin with a general rule that I have worked with over the years: Arrange for higher level managers to send out information about the training program to program participants and their immediate managers. Involving senior managers in the distribution of program information not only increases their commitment to the program, it also imparts a sense of importance to the program participants and their managers.

In some cases, I have found this approach to be overly optimistic. Where information is passed down, sometimes the filtering process leaves the original message unidentifiable. If there is a risk that the message will not get through or will become distorted, communicate directly with those affected, letting the higher levels of management know what you are doing.

This applies especially to detailed information, such as the program purpose, pre-reading requirements, program schedule and participant list. Nonetheless, for optimal training transfer for major programs, it is essential for you to conscript the support of your senior managers. If enlisting them as a communication vehicle is not viable, consider the following actions:

  • send out a program introduction newsletter in the name of a senior manager, and
  • conscript them to attend and introduce a program kick-off session, and
  • plan for them to introduce the trainer at one or more training sessions

For these actions, identify the key messages that will help to enlist the support of program participants. Where higher level managers communicate these messages, you will maximize employee buy-in to the program. Explain to senior managers that by performing these tasks, participants will be more motivated to apply the skills learned during the program.

There will be many times such as these where you will need to recruit the support of senior managers and other key stakeholders. Using email and written memos to enlist support for your cause will often result in their quick disappearance under the delete key or finding their way straight into the rubbish bin. These are poor media for gaining attention and commitment. Two-way methods of communication, such as face-to-face meetings and telephone, are much more conducive to gaining attention and backing.

A mistake I often see supervisors and managers commit is communicating key messages only once. Important messages will need to be repeated many times to convince the skeptical and disillusioned. Repeat messages using a variety of mediums and styles. Use, where and when appropriate, program kick-off sessions, newsletter and web site postings, emails, team and one-on-one meetings.

Make as much of the communication as possible two-way, giving the prospective participants an opportunity to ask questions and clarify understanding. A powerful way to build commitment is by involving employees in the design of the program. This does not mean that employees need to become instructional designers. However, they should at the very least be consulted during the needs analysis phase of the program.

The importance of a personal element to the communication, two-way dialogue, repetition and involvement in decision-making is equally applicable to training an individual employee as it is to conducting major programs involving whole groups. Here, the employee’s supervisor or manager will need to communicate clearly to the employee any changes in policy and procedures, role and performance expectations, course particulars, personal incentives and, of course, ongoing performance feedback. Our PRACTICE Approach™ sets the structure for what needs to be communicated to each employee. Be sure to check it out to ensure that you are communicating the right information to the right people at the right time.

High Impact Training Guide

If you want to engage effectively with your key stakeholders and create the right learning environment for participants, then check out our 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 Change, Communication, Training | Comments (0)

Case Study (Roles): Harassment Prevention

Submitted by on January 23rd, 2014

business man with boxing glovesI see clarifying roles and performance expectations with employees as a necessary activity before training starts. Where this is not done or done poorly, training can quickly go off the rails. My reason for highlighting this factor is that in some ill-prepared training programs, employees return to their jobs after the training confused and disheartened.

This confusion and drop in morale arises when the impetus for the training is some change in the workplace. New tasks may be introduced or some tasks are discontinued as a result of a merger, system upgrade, product expansion or any of a host of other reasons. With the change comes new employee roles and changed responsibilities. It is when these changes are not communicated and agreed with the training program attendees before the training starts that the trouble begins.

I wrote about the importance of clarifying roles and responsibilities in my Expert View: Training Expectations: Roles and Performance. I now want to flesh out my approach with some real-life examples. For this, I will return to the company I used in my previous case study illustrating the importance of policies and procedures to the success of training. In this example, the partners of a medium-sized accounting business had implemented anti-harassment training to its employees after a middle-manager engaged in some questionable interactions with an employee.

Roles and Responsibilities is one of eight factors in Leslie Allan’s PRACTICE Approach™ for improving the impact of training. Find out more and get Leslie’s high impact training guide.

Fearing litigation, and with the help of the Human Resources Manager, the company hurriedly conscripted an external training company to roll out harassment prevention training. In spite of more than 90% of employees attending the training, the case went to litigation, with the company making a substantial payout to the aggrieved employee.

A later review by an independent consultant found the harassment prevention program was not backed up by the organization’s systems and processes. The program lacked a supporting infrastructure. An interview with the harassing manager revealed that they considered the program a “one hit wonder” and that everything would be back to “business as usual” in no time.

If you were one of the partners with this firm, what would you do to bolster the program and prevent a similar occurrence in the future? Compare your notes below with the steps the partners actually implemented.

One remedial action the partners took immediately was to update each manager’s role description to include the following responsibility:

– not subject any employee to harassing or discriminatory behavior

Their second action was to require each manager’s manager to sit down with each of their direct reports to discuss the organization’s expectations. The newly revised role descriptions provided the necessary support for each manager for this important conversation. The two-way dialogue that ensued allowed for a common understanding to develop and reinforced the message that the organization is serious about stamping out harassment.

This conviction followed through to changes in how the Human Resources department was organized. The independent review uncovered that after employees completed the training, the aggrieved employee had approached the Human Resources department with their complaint of harassment, only to be met with delays and indecision.

None of the Human Resources consultants approached saw it is as their responsibility to see the complaint through to final resolution. The complainant gave up, realizing that the organization’s internal processes were of no help. Following the review, the Human Resources Manager created a new role of Harassment and Discrimination Officer. She moved an existing consultant into the role and delegated some of their previous responsibilities to other consultants. Finally, role descriptions were updated and agreed by all concerned.

What do you think of the partners’ actions? What more would you have done or done differently? Share your thoughts below. With this case study, I hope to have illustrated just how important it is for you and your managers to discuss and agree changes in employee roles and responsibilities before employees undertake your next training program.

Managing Change in the Workplace guide

Do your managers need help in communicating with your employees in times of change? Download Leslie Allan’s popular Managing Change in the Workplace guide and workbook. His guide covers every aspect of communicating change and leading a successful change project. As you work through the guide, you will complete a series of practical exercises that will help you plan and manage your change initiative for maximum impact. Find out more about Leslie’s Managing Change in the Workplace and download the free introductory chapter today.

Posted in Change, Training | Comments (0)

Case Study (Procedures): Working in Teams

Submitted by on January 15th, 2014

team work written on red tilesIn my previous blog posts, I shared two examples illustrating the importance of getting your organization’s procedures right if training program participants are going to apply their new skills back on the job. (See harassment prevention and inventory management examples.)

In this blog post, I want to share another case study to illustrate my Six Lessons on Integrating Policies and Procedures into Your Training Program. My intention in putting up these six lessons is to help organizations maximize the impact of their training programs. Much training resources are wasted because organizations neglect to support the training effort before, during and after the program rollout.

One way that training goes off the rails is by ignoring the importance of policies, procedures and systems for enabling training program participants to apply their skills once they return to the workplace. In particular, I want this case study to illuminate my Lessons 3 and 5.

Procedures is one of eight factors in Leslie Allan’s PRACTICE Approach™ for improving the impact of training. Find out more and get Leslie’s high impact training guide.

This case study concerns the owners of a large mechanical repair shop. The two owners want to reorganize the work of mechanics and support staff into self-managed work teams. The intention is that each team is to comprise of five mechanics specializing in particular types of motorcar, a parts inventory clerk and a scheduler.

By dealing directly with customers, scheduling their own work, managing their own performance issues, selecting and recruiting new members, and so on, the owners are expecting improved customer focus and increased efficiency. Each employee is scheduled to attend a Working in Teams training program over a two week period.

Think for a few minutes about what needs to happen outside of the training program. If the program is to be a success, what must the repair shop owners put in place to ensure that employees will progress to the new way of working in self-managed teams? Think about my Lesson 3 in particular. This lesson urges organizations to put in place business rules, systems and procedures before training starts.

No doubt, many day-to-day operational procedures will need to be redesigned to accommodate the new way of working. These could include how to book, track and close off jobs, how to purchase, store and dispose of parts, how to track employee leave entitlements, and so on.

How about the team aspect in particular? Once employees return from the training, being responsible for their own and their peers’ work will be new to all of them. Procedures related to working in teams that need to be documented may include:

  • how to induct a new team member
  • how and when to agree and set team objectives
  • how and when to rotate team leadership
  • how and when to conduct team meetings
  • how to make team decisions
  • how to review the effectiveness of the team

This list is not necessarily complete, and I’m not saying that all of these procedures apply to every scenario. However, without some kind of team structure and operational procedures set up, the team can quickly disintegrate. When decisions need to be made and with no decision-making process in place, anger and frustration can quickly reach boiling point as disagreements flare.

In this case, the two repair shop owners decided not to write the procedures prior to the roll out of the training program. The owners accepted the advice of training specialists and organized facilitated workshops with the trainees following the program to flesh out the new procedures. With this project, setting up team practices in the workplace became a natural extension of the training program.

In this way, they followed well the message given by my Lesson 5. With this lesson, I urge organizations to either include the actual documented procedures in the training program’s content and trainee exercises or get program participants themselves to design the procedures during facilitated workshops. This method not only uses the people most familiar with the work to write the procedures, it also has the advantage of engendering greater commitment from the employees as they have a hand in the outcomes. This is the well-known “principle of participation” at work.

This case study, along with my two previous examples, highlights another factor that is crucially important for ensuring our training programs are effective. This factor is the communication and clarity around changes to the roles and responsibilities of program participants. In fact, these two factors, procedures and roles, are the first two factors I include in my PRACTICE Model™ for high impact training. In future blog posts, I will illustrate the roles and responsibilities factor with some more case studies. Stay tuned!

High Impact Training Guide

If you want to create the right learning environment for effective transfer of training to the employee’s workplace, then 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 Processes, Training | Comments (0)

Case Study (Procedures): Inventory Management

Submitted by on January 7th, 2014

business woman holding yellow folderIn a previous blog post on procedures and training, I illustrated with a real-life example some key lessons on how to use company procedures for maximum training impact. (You can read my six lessons in my article: Six Lessons on Integrating Policies and Procedures into Your Training Program.) In this blog post, I want to continue this theme with another mini-case study demonstrating how getting your organization’s procedures right before the training begins can make a big difference to the success of your training program.

Procedures is one of eight factors in Leslie Allan’s PRACTICE Approach™ for improving the impact of training. Find out more and get Leslie’s high impact training guide.

In this case study, a company manufacturing consumer electronics recently implemented a new inventory management system. The new system involved a hardware upgrade to the company’s servers and the installation of new inventory management software. The training department invited production planning department and warehouse employees to a demonstration of the new system. The demonstration included some hands on exercises. Over a period of six weeks, the software vendor delivered the training competently to a little over 70% of the eligible employees.

Three months after the training, the training participants’ managers expressed their disappointment to the Human Resources Manager. They were upset that only a core of production planning and warehouse department staff was using the new system. They were also very dismayed that the expected efficiencies from the new system did not eventuate.

The Human Resources Manager organized a meeting with a cross-section of the affected employees to find out what was going on. Employees were not shy in coming forward with their complaints. I have listed their grievances below, with a note next to each identifying which of the six key lessons the complaint illustrates.

  • It takes too long to find from the “training” manuals how to perform a task. So, we just give up.

    Lesson 1: Do not rely on training manuals to act as procedure documents back in the workplace.

  • The screens are different to how they appear in the “training” manuals. System customizations are not documented anywhere.

    Lesson 2: Make sure that the procedural documents are updated to reflect the customizations added to the software.

  • The inventory data in the new system is hopelessly incomplete and inaccurate and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

    Lesson 3: Put in place business rules, systems and procedures before training starts.

  • Some supervisors are saying that the system is in use now whilst others say that it is still being implemented and to hold tight. Some of us cannot get access to the system.

    Lesson 4: Ensure that the new system has a definite cutover date and is communicated to program participants.

Do you recognize one or more of these complaints from your previous training courses? What went wrong? What can you do to prevent the same maladies happening again? Review all six lessons on integrating procedures now to see which ones you can learn from and apply to your next training program. Let us know how you fared and what improvements you made.

High Impact Training Guide

Are you struggling to make the most of your training budget? Do you want to minimize waste whilst maximizing effectiveness? Then check out our 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 Processes, Training | Comments (0)

Case Study (Procedures): Harassment Prevention

Submitted by on December 21st, 2013

business man holding clenched fistIn my article on how to effectively integrate company procedures into training programs, I shared six lessons for doing this well. My reason for sharing these important lessons is that many organizations divorce what goes on in their training programs from what employees do in their day-to-day jobs.

It’s as if employees migrate between two entirely different worlds. They leave the world of the workplace to enter the training world for a few hours to a few days. And then they return to the world of the workplace, with the two worlds never seeming to meet. The repercussions of this disconnect is that employees either hardly get the opportunity to apply their learning to their real job or they quickly get frustrated at the lack of opportunity and give up.

In this blog post, I want to illustrate a couple of my lessons with a real-life example of what can go wrong and share ideas on how to fix the disconnect. I want to start with my Lesson 3. This lesson talks about the need for the relevant management systems to be in place for when employees return to their workplace following the training.

Procedures is one of eight factors in Leslie Allan’s PRACTICE Approach™ for improving the impact of training. Find out more and get Leslie’s high impact training guide.

The case study below centers on a medium-sized accounting firm rolling out harassment prevention training to all of its employees. This training was prompted by the questionable actions of one of the firm’s middle-level managers. The Human Resources Manager advised the partners of the firm that the cost of litigation would be high if they were taken to court over mistreatment of an employee.

The partners organized the Human Resources Manager to hurriedly roll out harassment prevention training using a well-known external training vendor. In the end, even though the training was made mandatory for all employees, the company failed to avoid a protracted court case and an expensive settlement.

Even though all the parties to the harassment claim attended the training, the harassing activities did not cease. What went wrong? With no reporting, escalation and investigation structures in place, the harassing manager felt no compulsion to change their behavior. And the aggrieved party was reluctant to suffer the extreme stress they would experience in confronting the accused at a mediation session. With no outward sign of commitment, the complainant felt that the firm was just “going through the motions” with the training program.

A later review by a training specialist uncovered a number of shortcomings. Chief among these was that the training was not backed up with institutional structures and systems. The training specialist pointed out that there was no written and publicized anti-harassment policy. How would such a policy look? Here is a typical anti-harassment policy:

Acme Accounting is committed to ensuring a healthy and safe workplace that is free from workplace harassment. Workplace harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Advisedly, the policy should also include a definition of what constitutes harassing behavior. To put flesh on this skeleton, a procedure should also be written with these key elements:

  • management actions to reduce the risk of harassment occurring
  • who to see to discuss or report an incident
  • how an incident is investigated
  • what disciplinary action is taken if the incident is confirmed

At the next level of detail, work instructions should be written for use by Human Resources consultants. Two such work instructions could provide step-by-step instructions for:

  1. filing a harassment claim, and
  2. conducting an investigation

When policies and procedures such as these are written prior to the rollout of a training program, they can be used very effectively during the program. This is what my Lesson 5 is all about. In this example, employees could have walked through the actual procedures covering how to make a complaint, attending investigative interviews, and so on. Training sessions for specialist staff, such as Human Resources officers charged with managing complaints, could have worked through the work instructions mentioned above.

This case study illustrates how neglecting putting systems, policies and procedures in place before a training program begins can be a very expensive mistake. Much time, money and stress is avoided when managers and training program designers work together to ensure that systems are ready to roll as soon as program participants complete the training program. In future blog posts, I will visit other real-life examples illustrating how to maximize the impact of training programs. Stay tuned!

High Impact Training Guide

Do you need more impact from your training programs? Is your CEO squeezing you for better results? Then check out our 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 Processes, Training | Comments (0)

Free Project Master Upgrade

Submitted by on August 2nd, 2013

Project Master Report SelectorWe released the new version of our project management tool this week. I want to thank all of our testers who toiled to put the new code through its paces. I’m very pleased with the result. I think our developers have done a great job adding in some significant enhancements and tightening up the code.

Unlike the lightweight alternatives, ours is a serious project management planning and reporting tool. The glorified task lists that I see on the market don’t let you manage project risks, issues and changes to the scope. Ours does. It also lets you calculate task start and end dates given a particular task duration and team member load. Let’s face it. Not every team member working on a project can devote 100% of their time to the project. The up market task managers that I see just can’t accommodate this fact of project life.

In this new version, we’ve also done away with the static reports. Our new click ‘n’ go reports get built dynamically. So, if a report gets corrupted, the project administrator just needs to click a button to regenerate the report. That doesn’t mean that the reports aren’t customizable. The administrator can sort and filter the report on various criteria. They can also format the report to their liking and even create their own reports.

The various reports show detail about the project tasks, schedule, costs and budget. The performance charts, on the other hand, show how the schedule and budget are tracking. Are tasks being completed to plan? Are expenditures tracking to budget forecasts? The charts show in visual format planned versus actual project effort and expenditure. Like the reports, these can be printed or copied into a project report or into an email to send to team members.

One feature I really love about this release is the Import and Export wizards. You may have an earlier version of Project Master. Well, just hit the Import button, point to your Project Master workbook and, presto, all of your earlier data is imported into a new workbook. Or you may have your data tied up in another project management tool or workbook. Simply export the data as a csv file, organize it into columns and hit the Import button. If you need to export your project data to another tool or to another workbook to do some heavy calculations, our Export wizard also does that for you in one click.

Another huge improvement is that we have made this version truly international. You no longer need to chose between the standard version showing costs expressed in dollars or the UK version showing pounds. Project Master will detect your local currency settings in your Windows Control Panel and will display all of your cost data in your local currency.

We’ve also improved the color-coding in the Gantt Chart and Task Status indicators and added right-click functionality to some project management operations. We’ve made this the most user-friendly version of Project Master to date. And what has worked well, like our outstanding help files and support, we’ve left alone. The downloadable Project Master User Guide sets the standard in the project management field. Fully illustrated, with detailed help on all functions and with a comprehensive index and FAQ section, it covers everything you will do with Project Master in an easy to follow way. Any new issues and questions that emerge get added to the growing Project Master FAQs on our web site.

I haven’t been able to talk about all of the new features and benefits of this version in this short post. There’s more in our press release and our Project Master product page. The best news is that all current users of Project Master can get the new version at absolutely no cost. If you are a current user, send proof of purchase to products@businessperform.com and we will promptly send you Version 3.0.

If you’d like to try out the new version, download the fully-functional sample project file from the Project Master product page. Let me know what you think. If you’ve got any ideas for the next version, pop in your comments below.

Posted in Products, Projects | Comments (0)

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