Sam Varghese, Talent Development lead for GENPACT, recently shared his experience on why many employee training programs are ineffective. His top reason was that they are not linked to business goals. His second is that they consist of mostly classroom training which is just the beginning of learning.
All managers want their programs to be effective, but the keys to good staff training often lie outside the classroom. Below, I’ll describe 7 essential steps for effective learning. These are broken into four basic stages of training development and delivery.
Four Stages of Effective Training
First Stage: Identifying training that will impact your business objectives.
Step 1: Determine key business objectives:
Begin any training exercise with a crystal clear understanding of the business objective you’re aiming at.
These could include:
- increased appointments
- higher participation in rewards programs
- lower shipping costs
- faster sales cycles
- lower rates of customer complaints
This first step assumes you’ve developed some business goals for your company. If not, don’t go forward with training until you look at your current business performance and determine what you want to do with the company.
Step 2: Identify key behaviors that help you achieve those goals.
Effective training is focused on the actions your employees will be able to take once the program is finished. So when you’ve identified the target business objective, describe the actions that will get you results.
Here are some examples:
- Customer service representatives ask for an appointment when someone calls.
- Call center representatives offer rewards programs to customers who aren’t enrolled.
- The shipping department follows pre-defined efficient packing processes.
- Sales people create prospect needs assessments before offering solutions.
- Managers coach employees once a week.
As you consider these actions, think about the equipment or work environment necessary for employees to complete them. You might find that you can reach your business goal with improved resources or workflow and save training for other issues.
Second Stage: Ensure employees have required information
Step 3: Make sure employees know specifically what they have to do.
Write down a detailed description of the behavior you listed in Step 2. Don’t assume that “everybody knows that.” You’d be surprised at many ways one simple instruction can be misinterpreted.
It’s important to formalize the behavior in writing, pictures or video:
- Avoid misunderstandings.
- Lower the mental load for people learning the skill.
- Maintain company standards.
Here are some examples of instructions you might provide:
- scripts for asking for appointments
- details about what the rewards program offers
- written instructions for packing and shipping
- prospect needs assessment form with a sample filled out
You may be thinking that you’ve already provided explicit instructions and people still don’t follow them. That’s because providing the instructions alone isn’t enough.
We’re only on step three. Keep going . . .
Step 4: Introduce the instructions and clarify understanding.
Ask each employee to absorb and understand the instructions. Be sure you answer questions and if needed, do some demonstrations yourself. But ask employees to take accountability for their own understanding as well.
There are many ways you can ask for accountability. You can ask employees to:
- give you a written declaration that they understand.
- demonstrate the behavior for you or a colleague.
- teach it to another person or explain it to you.
- explain it to you or another person.
- do it once on their own and show you the results.
Having asked employees to own their understanding of the behavior and even demonstrate their mastery of it, you still need to hold them accountable for turning it into a habit.
Third Stage: Keep employees accountable for practice.
Employees will go through a period where the new behaviors feel weird and uncomfortable. That’s when your work in associating these skills with business objectives will come in handy. It reminds them why they’re going through this icky learning phase.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review addressed this point elegantly:
Learning is not a spectator sport. A recent study by researchers from Bucknell University found active learners perform better than their passive peers in mechanical and electrical engineering. When learning new concepts, it’s one thing to grasp the “big picture” but it’s another to implement skills or new knowledge.
Step 5: Ask them to work with peers, mentors, or on their own to practice the new skills.
Give practice assignments and ask employees to complete them either on their own, with peers, or with mentors, depending on the complexity of the skill.
Here are some example practice tasks:
- Ask at least two callers for an appointment today.
- Practice the rewards program offer with a peer.
- Work with a mentor to go through the packing process.
- Create a needs assessment for your most recent prospect and review it with your manager.
Employees may need several practice tasks, each one a little more demanding. Or they may just need one practice session. Where it makes sense, have a coach or mentor provide feedback and approval.
For more complex skills, the learning process may be bumpy, so ensure that someone is supporting the employee’s practice time and don’t freak out if they seem to forget what they’re doing mid-stream.
Also, make your original detailed instructions available in the work area so people can easily refer back to them anytime they have a random lapse in memory.
Step 6. Keep employees accountable for new actions
When someone is watching what you do, you’re more likely to step up and follow through. This phenomenon, known as the Hawthorne Effect or the Observer Effect, has been seen over and over in performance research.
So if you want people to put your training into action (which is the key to improving your business results), you’ll need to keep track of what they’re doing.
The problem is it’s hard to do. But you can use technology, such as online checklists, to make it easier. Other labor-saving options are self-reporting or audits by peers, managers, or coaches. Plus, you can send out automated reminders to help keep people on track.
Fourth Stage: Measure your results.
You can’t have effective training unless you can track the impact you’ve made. For most people, this is the hardest step, but if you’ve followed the process laid out here, it will be simple.
Step 5: Compare adoption rates to business metrics.
You’ve identified the business objective you want to impact and the behaviors that are necessary for reaching that goal. Then, after training, you’ve tracked how often people are doing those activities.
So you can see the rate of adoption of new behaviors and the change in business objectives.
If the change is positive (increased appointments or decreased costs), continue training and developing these behaviors in your staff.
If there’s no change or if the change is negative, perhaps that behavior doesn’t have the impact you thought it would. It may be time to re-think step one. At least you know that it’s not worth your time to focus on developing these behaviors at this point.
Note of caution: employee actions are a huge part of your success, but other circumstances may impact your results. For example, if you’re asking people to set up more appointments, but you don’t have the staff to handle more appointments, you won’t see improvements. Or if you’re asking people to use a postal scale to weigh packages for shipping, but the scale is never working, you’re not going to see costs drop.
Classroom not required.
You’ll notice that in our 7 key steps to effective training, there’s no discussion of good icebreakers to use in the classroom or best practices for how much text you can put on a Power Point slide. That’s because the heart of effective training is in the action. And the action occurs at work. The classroom or instructor part of training, which is the explanation and review of the detailed instructions, is just one step to getting people to take the action.
If you can refocus your staff development on actions that support business metrics and follow-up with employees until those actions become habits, your bosses will never ask you again why they need a training program.
Pract.us is an application that can help you teach, develop, and track the behaviors that make a difference to your business. Learn more.