Posted by Chuck Csizmar | Posted in Articles, Universal Compensation | Posted on 01-08-2012
When it’s a waste of time and money.
It is often viewed in the workplace that training employees is a critical requirement for upgrading skills, developing future leaders, and in general improving the competencies and abilities of those being trained. The common format is usually internal classroom sessions, but the effort could also include attendance at seminars, workshops and even professional conferences.
The need for developing employees is a concept hard to argue with. I fear though, that in its application those who oversee the responsible training areas often miss the mark, failing to provide behavior-based training programs that deliver as advertised.
My concern is not with technical knowledge, learning about Windows 8, SAP HR Modules, or the latest social media applications for business, but the subjective side of employee development; i.e., leadership, motivational principles, improving your career prospects, etc.
Ask yourself, can we measure the effectiveness of our training programs? Or do you simply equate effectiveness with the number of employees trained? And do you count “trained” as having attended a training / education session?
Therein lies the rub
Recently I attended a self-improvement workshop and during the course of that experience found that my attention continually wandered off topic. Does this sound familiar? Why does it happen?
- Too many buzz words and catch phrases: The presenter used several phrases that I didn’t understand (i.e., “resonant relationships”). Such language bombs disrupted my link with the presenter as I struggled to figure out what the term(s) meant; while the flow of the presentation moved on, I’ve fallen behind.
- Conceptual overview vs. practical advice: We’re all in favor of basic principles like “Motherhood, the Flag and Apple Pie,” but how do similar generic concepts help us today? Pontificating in broad generalities, or using vague and confusing corporate-speak language may sound like one is a credible speaker with a point to make, but that won’t benefit participants when they return to the office. They want practical advice.
- Little direct connection to rest of your day: A personal favorite complaint, where the participant can’t make a connection as to how the presenter’s message is going to help them on a practical level. The dialogue sounds good, but doesn’t move the practical knowledge meter very far.
Can the training event pass an effectiveness test?
If your intent is to avoid a headcount measure of training success (we trained / educated “x” employees this year – aren’t we wonderful?), ask yourself a few questions before setting up that next “opportunity.”
- Can you measure the impact? Will you know upfront what will be gained from the experience, and what practical applications can be taken from attending?
- Is common sense a focal point? Understanding broad based concepts has its place in the employee education process, but unless the discussion of those concepts is connected to the real world you face daily, you should question the practical value of the session.
- Can you spread the learning? Would a participant be able to explain to other employees what they learned and how practical applications might be forthcoming?
- New vs. rehash: How much of the presentation would be new information, vs. a rehash of what has been heard before? Is there a value to repetition?
- Boring presentation: Being a subject matter expert is not the same as being able to talk to an audience about that expertise. A read-from-the-podium lecture style, when combined with a dry topic and a monotone voice can kill audience engagement within minutes.
How to do know whether an audience is paying attention? All it takes is watching how the participants act during the session.
- Watching the clock: When is this session going to end? When is lunch? Are we having a break?
- Checking email: Everyone’s smart phone has an email feature. Some employees try to be subtle when checking in, while others are more blatant. None are paying attention to the speaker.
- Day dreaming: Fixing the eyes on a distant spot and letting the mind wander far afield from the topic at hand. The eyes glaze over and the head starts to nod, indicating that a mid-day doze isn’t far off.
- Planning this article: Or conducting other mental activities, where the mind is engaged elsewhere.
The speaker should be aware of these activities, and try to modify their presentation to keep engagement as high as possible, but too often their prime goal is dispensing the material at hand. The room could be empty.
Btw, I confess that the key elements of this article came to me while attending that self-help presentation. I was guilty of several of the above “activities” – instead of paying attention to the presenter.
When is Training a bad idea?
So be careful. No one would disagree that training employees is a worthwhile investment of company time and effort. Likewise for attendance at workshops, seminars and conferences. Affording employees the opportunity for personal and professional growth is a valuable part of your Total Rewards program.
However, not every offering sold under the guise of training or self-development is a worthwhile effort; worth the time, effort and money. Often times these external events are more boondoggle than learning exercise, offered more as rewards and networking exercises than actual learning experiences. If that’s your intent, well and good. Just don’t kid yourself that your employees are being “trained.”
As to internal training sessions, avoid the knee-jerk headcount metric of assessing the value of your training efforts by the number of employees exposed to the material. That sort of assembly-line “training” is more about process than results. Find a way to measure whether your training is effective, or isn’t.
Bottom line? Fluff training is a bad idea when your time and money is wasted in the process. Know the difference.