One of the problems in BLOG-writing is that some of the most important ideas are written about once and then never seen again. Such is the case with our “buying process” discussion, which first appeared three years ago. So, because it is such an important subject — and, because I will be out of the country this week — here are the salient steps (with up-to-date revisions) you should undertake in “The Buying Process.”

More “live to regret it” decisions are made during the buying process than you can probably imagine. Worse, the wasted money that your company will spend — and, the wasted time your workers will invest in ineffective training initiatives — will do far more harm than good.

Let’s start with the previewing process. A process that is routine with almost all training purchases — whether it involves preview portal access with E-Learning or sample demo CD-ROM or text products.

During this initial step in the buying process, one of the biggest of all mistakes is made. And, it’s made time and time again — because the decision makers do not thoroughly grasp the ultimate goal of training initiatives: “To bring less-skilled workers to greater proficiency levels or to cross-train workers who need to move from ‘little knowledge’ to ‘proficiency skills’.”

To accomplish the above objective you need to understand the ideal “previewing committee” process: “Individuals in your organization who understand Learning, plus one content expert should evaluate the previews you are considering.”

Unfortunately, many preview evaluations are seldom performed this ideal way. For a lack of understanding of “The Learning Process,” committees composed exclusively of content experts are given the task of selecting the “best” preview product. A guaranteed way to continually make the wrong choice!

Content experts, too often, get excited about learning something from the preview that they, themselves, did not already know — totally forgetting the objective of the preview evaluation. And then, mistakenly, endorsing that preview as their number one choice.

Oops! The less-skilled or unskilled workers are going to suffer because of those misguided choices made by that content experts committee.

What you need is a committee of individuals who: 1) understand Learning; 2) the skill level of the workers to be trained; and 3) the skills required to do the tasks they will be expected to perform. Plus, one content expert to validate the information presented.

Previews should never be evaluated by an exclusive team of content experts simply because those individuals are looking at “information knowledge” and not at “basic skills training requirements for the less-skilled.”

You would be wise to think through your own situation to determine what voices will serve you well. Remember, we’re not playing “Jeopardy” here. We’re attempting to increase skills in order for your workforce to become more contributive to your organization. You will successfully do that only if your selection committee can recognize the difference between Skills Training (the simulated “Doing” of a task) and non-applicable Information Knowledge that, often, cannot be transferred to the actual job.

The second step in the buying process should be a “Readability Review.”

Ever hear of the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests?

There are two of them: The Flesch Reading Easiness and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests. They use the same core measures: word length and sentence length. It’s the latter test that should concern you when making a training purchase decision.

National studies agree that close to half of our workforce does not read above a 4th Grade level. And, even more disturbing is the fact that only slightly more than one-third of our high school graduates can comprehend and form opinions from what they read today.

Here’s an illustrative story. Some time ago the CEO of a major automobile manufacturer did a study and discovered that the written communications and procedures being used by his corporation were the cause of many plant accidents and inefficiencies. He found out that the problem was a result of two things: a) those written communications were being written, for the most part, by college graduates and b) many of his employees had difficulty in reading comprehension.

So, he ordered that every document in his corporation be re-written to a 6th Grade reading level. Only after this project failed to make much improvement in plant efficiencies did he publicly state that he should have required a 4th Grade reading level.

What does all this mean to you? Well, when making your training purchase decisions it would serve you well to ask the vendor what Grade Level Test had been applied to his products. Unfortunately, I would bet that he’ll give you a blank stare.

“Never heard of such a thing,” he’ll likely say.

Well, that will tell you all you really need to know. That vendor understands very little about the Learning process. He’s only in the business of taking your money. His products are not designed to improve the quality of life for your workforce nor to add to your company’s bottom line.

Knowledgeable corporations and the U.S. Department of Defense require either the Reading Easiness test or the Grade Level test before purchasing any written training material. So should you!

I’ll discuss the other two steps in “The Buying Process” on Thursday.

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning (Tuesdays & Thursdays)