Mistake No. 1: Spending an Entire Day When an Hour Will Do
This is like getting your hair and makeup done to go to the beach or wearing a ball gown to a picnic. We think this may have evolved because management measured training departments by the number of hours they delivered each month. Or perhaps it’s due to the need to schedule classes in half-day increments to justify the student’s trip to the training facility, rather than focusing on efficiently meeting the business need.
Developing an entire course when quick reference cards or an hour-long meeting will do the trick is going to hit your company in the pocketbook. And overkill perpetuates the idea that training is always a waste of time, or provides minimal value at best.
Mistake No. 2: Producing a 400-page Manual When a Quick Reference Card Will Do
This goes hand-in-hand with Mistake No. 1. It’s almost an ego thing with some instructional designers—look how big of a book I produced and how many colored tabs I have. Just as in fashion, sometimes less is more. A sleek, streamlined, quick reference card can be highly superior to the multiple bulky layers of a full training manual.
Here again, indulging in overkill can also cost you a lot of money. Reproduction costs are high for those large manuals that later become shelf-ware. It is true that slimming your materials means that you may not be able to use all the fancy reproduction accessories you have become accustomed to. But do the color-coordinated binders with full-color pages and laminated tabs truly add to the ultimate effectiveness of your training? In fashion, it’s all about the look. In training, it’s all about the ultimate business results—cost versus return on investment. Think of it as buying a classic and versatile piece of clothing you’ll use for years, rather than the trendy, expensive fad item that’s good for only one season of wear.
Mistake No. 3: Badly Tailored
Just because your subject-matter experts find the product life-cycle management aspects of your inventory control system absolutely fascinating and want these details included in class doesn’t mean that you should force the staff on the shop floor to endure it. Just as with a fine suit, a nip here and a tuck there can greatly enhance the fit of a training class. Fit the materials to the audience. Be sure to do an independent audience analysis of your target audience and take extra care to offer guidance to your SMEs when they are on the wrong track or are taking the long road to the end goal.
Mistake No. 4: Too Small
We’ve all seen someone in too-tight jeans, and it’s not a pretty sight. Don’t cave in when someone wants to do quick and dirty training if you know that proper training is going to take some time. For example, if rigorously followed and documented clean-room procedures and a sterile manufacturing environment are critical to producing a safe and effective product, then don’t skimp in that area. Calling a one-hour PowerPoint presentation “training” does not make the learner able to do something after the event that they could not do before. And if you are not changing a behavior to meet a business goal, then why are you spending the learners’ time? If the topic is mission-critical, consider developing a certification program to ensure that all learners are really up-to-snuff.
Mistake No. 5: One Size Fits All
Those one-size-fits-all caftans aren’t the most attractive items to have in your wardrobe, and wearing them in public is seldom a wise move. The one-size-fits-all approach to training can be just as deadly. This includes training courses that try to be comprehensive and cover everything you ever need to know about a particular topic, as well as topics that are not right for the audience. For example, the field technician is going to need a different set of details than the salesperson will about your products or services. Don’t try to get away with a one-size-fits-all course. Make sure you understand what your audience needs and then break the course down into smaller, topical chunks that you can mix and match, depending upon their training needs. This will make the training you offer more relevant, targeted and much more valuable to your target audience. Think of this as building a mix-and-match wardrobe that includes six pieces instead of spending all your money on one suit. Just as your learners will get more value out of the training you provide, you’ll probably wear the separates more than the suit.
Mistake No. 6: Last Year’s Content
Just as there are items in your wardrobe that have aged rather quickly, some course content can become outdated. You know which classes they are. These are the courses affected by regulatory concerns, legal requirements, health and safety topics, policies and procedures and application-related training. Too often we see application manuals that haven’t matched the system in three years, or whose step-by-step transaction descriptions no longer match accepted procedures.
Mistake No. 7: Pack-Rat Mentality
Every training library has it. It’s the stuff that no one has touched in years. It’s the course that makes everyone who has to attend suffer from the worst case of eye-glaze they’ve ever experienced. If the course is that bad, chuck it. If there are some valuable elements in it, surgically remove those items and dispose of the carcass. Just as you clean out your closet each spring and fall, tossing the items you haven’t worn in a year or more, take a good careful look at your inventory of learning assets and let the losers go.
Mistake No. 8: Following the Fads
Just as fashion fads can be deadly for a wardrobe, you should focus your new training development and acquisitions on classic lines and well-constructed foundations. We all know a fad when we see it, but these can be oh so tempting. If you do go for the fad item, be sure that you get it on sale.
Now that we have told you the ugly truth, let’s review some of the steps you can use to get your content in shape.
Overkill—Corrective Action: Targeted Training
Consider using reference tools or other materials that can support and reduce learning time if the items you need to cover for the course seem to be short and uncomplicated. We can tell you from experience that it takes less time to train people to use a quick reference card than to train them to be able to do a process from memory. Yes, the quick reference will be a crutch for them for a while, but what difference does that make as long as the business need is being met?
Not all training has to be conducted in a classroom or take all day. Be sure the offering focuses on the essentials that the audience needs, and strip away everything else. If the learners are genuinely interested, they will use the additional reference materials you’ve provided when they need them. A crusty old ex-Air Force mentor I once had explained it to me this way, “If you want teach someone the skill of jumping rope, there is no need to start off with a long lecture on the history of rope. Why, then, do we so often feel a need to subject learners to a lecture of the history behind the computer systems we’re trying to teach? Get down to business and teach only the essentials.”
Fit—Corrective Action: Tailored Training
To properly tailor a course, be sure that you select the correct size, and then alter as needed. Ensure that the training will support your business goals. Make sure that you consider the following key questions when you develop a training solution:
- Consider the Source: Whose idea was it to procure or develop this training program, and what were they trying to accomplish when they did? Make sure that their goals are clearly stated and that you offer help in properly selecting the solution to meet their needs.
- Consider the Audience: Who is intended to take this training? What are they like? From the learner’s perspective, what does their day-to-day job entail? If, for example, they do a lot of analysis, the approach taken to train these people should be different than what is used to teach task-oriented people. For the former, you should provide guidelines and rules that they can apply to their job on a conditional basis and lots of practice analyzing. For the latter, you should provide, clear, unambiguous step-by-step instructions and lots of practice doing those steps with corrective feedback as necessary.
- Consider the Goal: What behaviors are you trying to correct, promote or discourage? Make sure that the training or reference materials provided make the goal clear. If this training is designed to correct behavior, make sure that is the first, last and most frequent thing you address in the training. Don’t bury the goal on page 15 of Chapter 2 and mention it only once.
- Consider the Supporting Incentives: Do you have other supporting incentives in place to affect this behavior? If you have them, use them. Training is most effective when it is part of a larger corporate goal or program, so if you have incentives (carrots) or disincentives (sticks) that you can use, don’t hesitate to apply them to critical behavior changes that drive the need for this training event.
- Consider Training Administration: Make sure your training analysis is thorough, that you include pre- and post-tests, make proper provisions for remedial training and use appropriate tracking and scheduling tools to document what you are doing.
Content—Corrective Action: Topical Training
Set a schedule and review and update the content on a regular basis—perhaps quarterly or twice a year. It’s always a good idea to review the course content and make sure it is up-to-date. Make sure that all the training offered is aligned with current regulations, legal requirements, policies and procedures, and that it matches the applications you have in-house, as they work today. You should also take a hard look at attendance and usage statistics you have available, as well as course evaluations and test results. This will give you an idea of how effective the course is in its current state. And don’t hesitate to conduct yearly surveys or interviews of managers in your organization to query them on the value training is adding for their employees. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.
Your wardrobe shouldn’t frighten people or make them cringe; neither should your training offerings. A good training program, just like a decent wardrobe, has to be weeded periodically. And that favorite suit you bought in 1998 may need a bit of tailoring today to look just as good as then. The same goes for some of those tried-and-true courses that you are currently using. So do an honest appraisal of your training programs. Use the smile sheets, productivity analysis and other relevant data you can get your hands on, and decide what not to teach. This editing process will make what you do teach all the more effective.
Eve Drinis is a vice president for Technology Solutions Company (TSC). She is currently responsible for managing training and e-learning projects in the Western United States. Amy Corrigan is formerly a principal for TSC with more than 16 years of experience with highly technical computer systems. For the past 13 years, she has focused on training and documentation related to these systems. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.