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when training fails –
10 answers.

   From Train the Trainer training course

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"Learning is but an adjunct to ourself"...
William Shakespeare


Good training adds enormous value. Training fails when it is not thought of as a reproducible process. A simple training process might consist of planning, up front buy-in, positioning, self-discovery, use of real examples, accountable follow through, tracking, leverage, and incentives for planning the next phases.

10 Questions
1. What do your users perceive as needed? When you poll, are you using training jargon or "real language?" For instance, do you ask, "What are your teamwork needs?", or do you ask, "Could our working relationships with each other be improved, and if so, how?"

Everyday language has two advantages.

First, your message will be received more clearly. Teamwork, risk, empowerment, change and quality are words that invite disparate interpretation. Second, by identifying with your customers you build trust. Responses are likely to be more honest and more practical.

2. How are you communicating purpose? Are you clearly positioning training to add to existing success, polish edges and improve satisfaction while aiding in productivity? Or, is a hint of "you need to be fixed" getting to your users?

Intrusion invites defensiveness.

Moreover, if there is inadequate understanding of purpose, people are likely to fill in the blanks. With training, people often assume the worst: it's going to be an "encounter," a waste of time, embarrassing, boring or more work.

3. Are your users asked to prepare for the sessions, or do they just show up? Is the preparation germane? Understandable? Simple?

Asking for brief preparation may produce a few groans, but it also communicates worth.

State some expected results. You might ask participants to set goals for confidential facilitator review, or to write out definitions of a few key terms. You could present an intriguing problem for preview and response. Peak interest and generate early involvement. Never sponsor "more training."

4. Are examples or case studies real and current for participants, or are they theoretical?

Effective training invites participation.

Theory is much less interesting to most, and time spent here is "just more work." Time spent solving and drawing basic principles from real concerns is both work completed and knowledge gained.

5. Does your material treat primarily emotional subjects as if they are primarily intellectual?

Subjects like teamwork, risk, conflict, empowerment, sales, management and even quality have strong emotional components.

Many, for instance, are intellectual experts on good relationships. Why, then, are we often falling short?

6. Are you offending intelligent users with off-the-shelf boiler plate material that can have only general application?

The market is flooded with carefully packaged training containing formulas, platitudes, buzz words and the latest "thinking."

But does this approach do more than scratch the surface? Beyond giving people something easy to remember, does it give them something to apply that will make a difference?

7. Does the training impose advice or does it facilitate new thinking?

People learn best through self-discovery.

Behavior change follows habit change. And habit change follows motivation. People won't change long-standing habit unless they discover the need themselves. Perceived imposition stimulates our natural resistance to change. Training that does not result in natural motivation to change cannot succeed.

8. Is the implementation effort global or is it discrete? Can users visualize intended success, or are they just supposed to "get better?"

Vision means making a clear picture: "What will it look like when I get there?"

When the implementation focus is fuzzy, success can only be random. Ask your vendor or designer for more than those tired "training objectives" (`participants will be able to...'). What actions will result? What savings? Increased productivity where, and how much? And what are the guarantees?

9. Is follow-up planned? Does the follow-up include facilitator and participant accountability for accomplishments, action plans and assignments? Is follow-up positioned to build on success, or was the whole effort "just training" after all?

10. How are training results tracked so that successes and failures can be leveraged? What incentives have your facilitators and/or training vendors for catalyzing continuous improvement in the target areas?

A "hit and run" approach may do more harm than good, as users' cynicism builds, trust erodes and the organization freezes at funding "training activity".

In Summary
Good training is the glue that integrates all other work in the organization. When participants distill basic principles from real work sessions, then implement and track, the organization can learn from both successes and failures.

This article was reprinted in part from the Learning Center High Performance Teamwork training course facilitated by Learning Center faculty members.
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