When I was a kid, my father would come home from work and describe the training he had participated in that day. His comments were rarely positive. Training related to human relations was called ‘charm school’. And all of the training, regardless of the type, he called ‘sheep dip’ – meaning that trainers came in, ‘dipped’ people in the training, and then left. It was one-size fits all and my Dad hated it. Today’s lingo would probably call that same training ‘spray and pray’ – you spray the same standard stuff on everyone – and then pray that it works and people learn something.
As my own work moved more and more into the training realm, my Dad’s words came back to me. What could I do so that my participants didn’t tell their families that they had been in ‘sheep dip’ training that day? Anna Freud said, “Creative minds have always been known to survive bad training.” But I didn’t want my participants to survive my training — my bar was set higher. Effective, practical, usable, beneficial – those were the words I wanted hear. Some of the ways to take training to that next level are:
- Customize – It is fine to have a general outline or process for your training, but enhance it so that it easy for the audience to understand and ‘speaks to them’. The goal is for the training to feel like it is just for them and their work. So, use their language, their acronyms, their work process if possible, their data, and their applications or tools. Enhance the customization with specific, real-life examples that are relevant for the participants. For example – when working with a maintenance turnaround scheduling team, I think back to my construction projects work. While an IT example isn’t a fit, a piping installation example can.
- Practice – Teach and practice skills along with the concepts. Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Concepts can provide understanding and be given in a fairly short period of time. The downside to concepts is that participants are left to figure out what to do with the concept and how to implement it once they are out of the training. If it is difficult to figure out implementation or takes too long to figure out, many concepts get shelved and the behaviors don’t change – making the training ineffective. But if you teach skills and include practice with the skills as part of the training, that same participant leaves knowing a new and different way of doing something. With practice they will have the skill and initial confidence to use it.
- Bridge – Get the training into the participant’s world. This can piggy back on the practice with a little forethought. For example, in software training, one of my goals is to have participants avoid the after-training, Monday morning ‘what do I do?’ situation. This happens when participants, on Monday morning after the training, first try to use what they have learned with their data. They may not remember what to do first or may not know if what they are looking at is OK or not. By using their data in the practice piece of the training, the ‘training to actual use’ barrier is bridged. You also provide a natural skills review with more meaningful data, give them a chance to make mistakes in a safe learning environment, and advance their work. Different questions and applications come up when working with the participant’s real situations – all leading to supporting them in doing their work vs. just training.
- Development – This area may be the most important of all – especially for long-term capability. We don’t do training for training’s sake – that is a waste of time and money. We are doing training to enable the use of new skills and/or tools to benefit the organization. Initial training should be just the beginning. An additional commitment should be made for follow-up support and continued skills development. Many organizations only do basic training and then stop – sometimes making it difficult to see tangible benefits from just the initial training. If participants are rookies, they may not even know what questions to ask. This challenges implementation. If the questions that come up 2-4 weeks after the initial training go unanswered, the new skill or tool may never be implemented. A commitment to follow-up support enables the implementation because participants know they have a safety net in case there are difficulties and questions. Continual skills development recognizes that implementing complicated new skills and tools is hard – and humans can only take in so much new information at one given time. It is better done in layers or phases – what needs to be learned first to get the desired benefits, then what’s next, then what’s next, etc. Lastly, while continual skills development is valued by most individuals, it is highly valued in younger participants. Actively supporting continual development makes the statement that you are investing in your team and their continual growth, which can aid in employee retention. Both follow-up support and continued skills development aid participants in the immediate implementation and in identifying the next opportunity for organization’s benefit.
Transforming your training will take some time and some homework. Client participant interviews up-front are a great place to start. You need to know what they actually need, not what you would like to teach them. So, take the time and do the homework. Rather than have your training labeled as ‘sheep dip’, you will get rave reviews. The participants’ growth, development, and confidence, will be supported – helping them be more capable and self-sufficient in their new skills implementation.