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Make Training Count: Tip #1

In my previous post, I indicated that I would take each of the ten training tips and provide details on each one...starting with number one:

Make sure that training is in fact the right solution. Training can’t “fix people.”

For us trainers, when a manager comes to us in search of training, our initial reaction is to be excited because it is an opportunity to do what we love and be of service to our customers. However, before we leap forward, both parties have an obligation to determine if training is truly needed.

Consider the following situation…

I was once asked by a client to develop and deliver a stress management program for a group of contact center representatives. When I asked what prompted this request, I was told that during a recent employee meeting, several contact center representatives were quite open in expressing their dissatisfaction with the “workplace and the way they felt they were being treated.” As a result, the senior management team concluded that these individuals were “stressed out” and needed some stress management training. When I asked about the actual performance of the contact center, the response was that results were satisfactory.

However, my own observation made it clear that morale and interpersonal relationships had and were continuing to decline. After discussing this with the potential client, I requested that prior to moving forward with any training, we should perhaps do a few focus groups with some of the contact center representatives. The client agreed. After conducting several focus groups, it became clear that the stress was a symptom; the root cause was the fact that the contact center representatives felt “out of the loop” and always the last to hear about what was going on in the organization.

In other words, the communication process was the root cause, and stress was the symptom. Rather than treating the symptom, addressing the root cause was the recommended solution – creating a better communication plan and process that addressed the unique needs of the contact center.

What this situation should make clear is that training isn’t always the answer. Both the trainer and the management team have to work together to create the best solution to a potential performance/business problem. So, what are the respective responsibilities of the trainer and the manager (or other requesting party) in determining if training is the solution?

The trainer’s responsibility is to conduct a needs assessment. The first step is to work with the management team to identify the business problem or need the training should address. Problems or needs generally are the result of gaps between desired outcomes and current outcomes. Once the problem or need is identified, the next step is to define the specific objectives the training program should meet. Like any objectives, training program objectives should state the desired performance and be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely.

The manager's responsibility at this stage in the process is to enable the assessment. He or she  should work with the trainer to assist in defining the problem and linking the training objectives to the organization’s goals. The manager  should also enable the needs assessment by assisting the trainer in finding the true causes (not the symptoms) of the problem/need by providing access to individuals, groups (for interviews/surveys) and/or process and procedural documents.

Once the needs assessment is complete it may become clear that training isn’t the best solution, that perhaps changing the metrics and evaluation process, improving communication and/or streamlining call handling procedures, as examples, may be the more effective and appropriate approaches to improving performance.

At this point, the trainer’s responsibility is to have the fortitude to communicate the findings to a requesting manager and make some recommendations on potential alternatives to closing performance gaps.

The manager’s responsibility is to be willing to accept that training may not be the best solution and to be open to considering other improvement strategies.

If, after the needs assessment, we all agree that training is the best and most cost effective solution - fantastic - training will move on to the next step in the training instructional design process with a great big smile!

Click here to view my second tip: Make Sure the Reason for Training Has Been Communicated to the Audience.