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Is Training the Answer?

As a Training Manager in a contact center, I was always of mixed emotions when a manager or director came to me saying “I need training for my group.” I loved that they were coming to me, and I loved the opportunity to design new training that meets a real need. On the other hand, training was sometimes the “easy” answer and it wouldn’t realistically solve the problem identified. The manager or director was just trying to pass the problem along to training in hopes that we would miraculously solve their issue.

My first response to a training request is always, “What’s up? What’s going on?” I want to focus on the current situation/problem that the requestor is trying to solve rather than on training as a solution. I want to know what the problem is, what is happening currently, and what results they expect before I ever began thinking about designing training since training is not always the appropriate answer.

Is training the answer?

How do you know when training is the appropriate answer? Personally, I use Cathy Moore’s Action Map Flowchart.

Basically, training can help with knowledge and skills issues, but it is not generally helpful with motivation and environmental/systemic issues. Occasionally training can provide practice that supports these areas, but generally motivation and environment issues are not helped with training.

Three situations when training is not the solution:

1.    Any time a job aid or a video would work just as well as training. If the video exists, is accessible to learners, and will fit the need, use it instead of pulling people into a classroom. And a job aid is usually much easier and faster to put together than a training session. If users need help on using the job aid, it might be incorporated into a team huddle rather than pulling them into a classroom.

2.    When it would be better to fix the system rather than try to “fix” the users. This is particularly true with many work-arounds since they are often subject to human error that is nearly impossible to eliminate. We can teach the work-around (and often must), but that won’t eliminate all errors if people are trying to do many things at the same time. Fixing the system so that the error is not possible would be the better solution, but it may take more time and/or money than is available, so we train the work-around, along with tips for avoiding natural errors, for at least the time being.

I once was preparing training on a client’s new, web-based system. In one field, agents were to never select one particular option. It would freeze up their screen and the user would have to restart the application. Those are some pretty severe consequences when you have a customer on the phone. So I contacted the client and they thought it would be expensive to remove it, but asked the application vendor anyway. 15 minutes later the option was removed from the dropdown list at no cost. Problem solved and the point was eliminated from the training. The morale – always ask as you never really know what might be possible.

3.    Any time employees are not receiving feedback or are not being incented to do what is required. By incenting, I don’t mean money, but rather acknowledgement, recognition, praise, avoiding trouble, avoiding penalties, and other things that incent people to good performance.

Every contact center trainer has tales of training people to follow a certain process but when they get on the floor, a co-worker says that is not necessary and encourages them to take shortcuts or just ignore the process entirely because no one will say anything or QA does not monitor for it. This is an example of a missing incentive. The employee is not incented (through feedback or through quality monitoring) to do the right thing. Of course if the process is really not necessary, then why is it being trained? Training always needs to verify reality with actual users and their supervisors.

Usually, by the time I walk the requestor through some questions to determine if training is the right answer, I have them in agreement on the conclusion. It may not be what they wanted to hear, and if I can suggest possible other solutions, that certainly helps.

Once I understand what is happening and we’ve determined that training is the right approach, I have another BIG question I need answered: What’s the goal? What will participants in the training do after training? How will their behavior change? What participants should know is not the answer. What are they supposed to do with that knowledge?

I want the requester to help identify the measurable business goals for the training so that I know from the very beginning where I am aiming. I know the requester will use that business goal to determine the success or failure of the training, so I need to know what it is up front to be sure the training meets that goal. The requester may struggle to express the business goal, but I must have one in order to know what needs to change, and for everyone to know if it did change after training..

Training needs analysis may involve much more than these questions, but I always start with these:

  • What is happening now (the trigger for the request)?
  • What do people need to do (not know but do)?
  • Why aren’t they doing it now?
  • How will we know that the training was successful? (In other words, what behavior will change with the training and how will it change? This is the measurable business goal.)

Once I have these answers, then I know what direction to go into – designing training, creating a job aid, or making suggestions for something other than training. This process makes the training function a trusted advisor and partner rather than just an order-taker. And asking these kinds of questions helps ensure that limited training resources are used to their best effect. This benefits the contact center’s training function as well as the requestor who can then focus on finding a real solution when training is not the right one.

Determining if training is appropriate is a topic in ICMI’s Trainer Development Workshop which will be offered in June at ICMI’s Alexandria Symposium and again in November at ICMI’s Orlando Symposium. For more information on these events, go to http://www.icmi.com/symposiums.