Conducting a Manager-Employee Pre-Course Briefing Meeting
Managers discussing an upcoming training course with employees sets the scene for the effective transfer of skills to the workplace.
Pre-Training Activities and Training Transfer
Every trainer wants their training course participants to learn new skills and apply what they learned for the benefit of the organization. Intuitively, many trainers believe that what happens during the training course itself has the greatest impact on learning and application. However, experts on training transfer have identified the time period before training participants enter the training program and the time period after they return to the job as the most important times for instilling and nurturing participant engagement and skill use. What happens before participants start the program and what happens when they return to the workplace are the most influential periods for encouraging participants to learn and apply new skills.
Many organizations continue to concentrate almost exclusively on the training "event" while ignoring the organizational context of the training program. This omission puts their programs at considerable risk of failure. This Expert View examines one key activity that managers can do prior to the start of the training course to engender employee engagement with the learning and with their job. This is the pre-training course briefing meeting with each participant.
This activity needs to be seen in context with the other pre-training activities that contribute to successful training transfer. Our PRACTICE Approach™ provides a guide to these other potential points of engagement with the employee prior to program start. Successful training programs are typically embedded within a wider change or improvement initiative. Such initiatives can involve new or modified policies or procedures, changed role expectations and new organizational or organizational-unit objectives. To drive the new behaviors, perhaps a new incentive scheme is introduced as part of the initiative. All of these elements are prime candidates for inclusion in a genuine dialogue with each impacted employee.
It is a big mistake to leave it to the Human Resources department to lead the discussion with each employee. The above discussion points are prime opportunities for the training participants' manager to develop a deeper working bond with each of their direct reports. People work for their manager and not a nameless face from the Human Resources department. Employee engagement studies reveal that it is with their immediate manager that employees share their primary working relationship. This is where the main source of engagement resides.
The pre-course briefing between the participant and their manager is a good opportunity for the manager to answer any questions or concerns that the participant may have about any of these elements. The primary purpose of the meeting, though, is for the manager to introduce a discussion about how the principles, techniques and skills learned will be applied practically once the participant returns from the training event. Their manager is also in the best position to ensure that participants have completed any pre-requisite reading or exercises. Most important of all, the pre-course briefing sends a powerful message that the organization cares about the employee's development and is serious about seeing the benefits of training.
Ideally, the pre-course briefing will consist of a one-on-one meeting between each participant and their manager. The term "manager" in this context means the person in the organization to whom the employee reports directly and who is responsible for their performance. This could be their line manager, supervisor, team leader or project manager. If a one-on-one meeting is very difficult to achieve because the manager has many direct reports or due to geographical or time barriers, then one meeting could be organized at which all direct reports attend. Failing this, the briefing could occur as part of a regular meeting, such as a weekly team meeting or monthly operations meeting.
One-on-one meetings should be the manager's first preference because they convey the impression that the individual is important to the organization. They also allow for the particular concerns and questions of each individual to get an adequate airing, especially for those employees that are reluctant for any reason to speak up in a group setting.
Pre-Course Briefing Meeting Structure
Figure 1 below describes an 11-point structure that the participant's manager could follow during the meeting. This format is suited to a one-on-one briefing session where the program is part of a wider organizational change or improvement initiative. As a precursor to the meeting, let the employee know well beforehand the time and purpose of the meeting. Arrive on time and turn off mobile phones, pagers and any other distractions. Arrange the seating so that it does not convey a power imbalance. For example, do not sit behind a large rectangular desk. If there is a desk in the meeting room, move out from behind the desk to sit around a small round table. You may think all of this is unimportant; however, setting the scene right creates an environment that helps develop the necessary rapport with the employee.
Put the employee at ease.
"Hello Mary. Thanks for coming. How are your two children progressing in kindergarten?"
State the purpose of the meeting.
"Mary, today I want to talk to you about the upcoming Working in Teams training program."
Ask employee about their pre-existing knowledge.
"What have you heard about the program? What is your understanding?"
State the organizational context for the training and its importance.
"As I have discussed at our team meetings, you play an important part in our move to a more devolved decision-making structure. Our aim is to increase our business viability and make your work more interesting and challenging."
State the course schedule and explore possible impediments.
"I have checked your roster and enrolled you to start the program on 26th June. Are there any problems with you starting then?"
State the objectives of the training program.
"What we want to achieve with the program is for you to be able to:
– liaise with customers
– agree and set team goals
Discuss how the learnings could be applied.
"What thoughts do you have about applying these skills in the new teams that will be set up?"
Discuss possible barriers to application.
"Do you see any challenges in applying what you will learn? What do you need from me to help you overcome these barriers?"
Update employee documentation.
"Can you please update your development plan with what we discussed today and leave it on my desk?"
State the pre-course activities.
"The trainer will send though a simple exercise for you to complete before the training starts. I will check in with you one week before you start that you completed the exercise OK."
Thank employee for their cooperation.
"Thank you for making the time to meet. I am confident that the program will be a success and that you will give it your best."
The meeting structure described above should not be followed slavishly. It is intended here as a guide only. The conversation will need to be two-way, which means that it may be diverted temporarily to explore a particular issue that interests or concerns the employee. These could include one or more of the other elements of the change or improvement initiative mentioned above. The manager will need to answer the employee's questions and address anxieties as they arise. Their responses will also need to be open and honest.
It is important to record the results of this initial discussion. The results of this meeting should provide the context and the introduction to a follow-up meeting conducted with the participant after they return from the training course. The most appropriate place to record the results of the initial meeting may be in the individual employee's Training and Development Plan. (A proforma Training and Development Plan form is included in our Training Management Template Pack and our From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance guide and workbook.) Alternatively, the results may be recorded in a separate text or spreadsheet file.
If the program is not tied in with an organizational initiative and is focused in this instance on only one or two employees participating, then modify the above meeting structure slightly. Instead of the participant's manager discussing the macro organizational context for the training, they will discuss the training in a more limited context. This could be in terms of what the team or manager needs, or the specific career or developmental needs of the individual.
Provide Support to Managers
The quality of pre-course briefings varies widely from organization to organization and from manger to manager. In practice, they range from a dedicated and skillful discussion with each employee to a limited group discussion to a cursory remark made by the manager to no mention of the training course at all. In extreme (but all too common) cases, participants turn up to programs with no idea why they were nominated to attend. This scattergun approach is not only a waste of valuable resources, it frustrates and demotivates employees.
You can avoid this negative impact on workplace performance by building in manager-employee discussions and pre-course briefings. Where managers show discomfort at the thought of sitting down with employees to discuss their development, provide them with support. This can be in the form of training sessions in which a typical meeting is demonstrated, printed guides or coaching for individual managers.
After the pre-course briefings have been completed and participants have attended the training course, the next step is for their manager to conduct a post-course debriefing meeting with each participant. This follow-up meeting builds on the impetus gained from the initial meeting and sets the scene for the actual application of the skills on the job.
Find out more about what you can do to increase learner engagement before, during and after your training program. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.