January 6, 2014

Four years ago, I wrote a lengthy series of blogs intended to help the trainer sift through the noise and settle on an understanding of what training choices succeed and those choices that fail to deliver the desired results.

So, for the first two weeks of 2014, I’m going to revisit, refine and edit those blogs, broken into four parts, as their message is as true today as it was then.

Training Challenge Number One: “the failure to tie training to corporate objectives.”

Too many investments in training are made that are unrelated to company objectives. It should come as no surprise, then, that management too often regards training costs as superfluous and unnecessary.

How different management attitudes would be if training was tied to corporate objectives and training expenditures could be linked to company growth and profitability.

A CEO in a recent Business Week article said it all, “An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

So, how can you assure that your training efforts will help your company achieve that competitive advantage?

In order to successfully connect training initiatives to corporate objectives, you should:

a) study the company’s business plan
b) meet with some of the individuals who created the business objectives
c) build a sound business case for how your proposed training initiative will positively contribute to company results.

Connecting learning to the business strategy will, in almost all cases, be both a successful and a wise investment. For then, your training can be targeted, allowing only those training activities that add measurable value to company goals, while increasing the competitive position of your business. Such focused training will be both more effective and more efficient.

Training Challenge Number Two: “the failure to tailor training to knowledge gaps.”

Too often, individuals charged with spending organizational money on training needlessly squander corporate resources. One-size-fits-all is a wasteful way to go today.

No longer does a company have to assign every electrical maintenance worker nor instrument tech to the very same curriculum. The means exist today to administer a valid skills assessment in order to determine exactly just what skills a specific worker already possesses — and, which ones he or she does not.

Since the most expensive cost in training is personnel costs, huge dollars can be saved.

By far the smartest thing to do before making investments in training is to administer a Skills Assessment Test. The results of that test will clearly demonstrate the knowledge gaps for each worker who needs to be trained.

And then, of course, the individual worker can invest only that time necessary to fill in those knowledge gaps, without having to perform a seat-warming activity in those classes he does not need.

Corporations desiring to control costs would benefit significantly if they could successfully limit the away-from-my-job time that a “one size fits all” approach demands.

Organizations that implement a skills assessment system, when combined with targeted skills development, will certainly improve their business performance — because they will be making informed decisions. When an organization undertakes such a targeted program, investments in training begin to pay huge dividends.

Training Challenge Number Three: “the failure to provide training that is designed to meet the needs of the 21st Century Learning Culture.”

FACT: Today, nearly 40% of America’s workforce cannot assimilate anything written above a 4th grade reading level.

FACT: Little more than one-third of our current high school seniors are able to form opinions from what they read.

Therefore, a trainer has to first solve the problem of differing learning styles within her organization. This may not be as difficult a task as one might initially think. For example, some jobs require good reading ability. If the instructor knows this skill is required, then the networking technologies that place lots of words and graphics on the computer screen is an acceptable choice – as would also hold true for books and manuals.

But, what about the vast number of jobs that do not require exceptional reading skills in order to be successful? Are we going to throw these same books, manuals, PowerPoint presentations and CBT technologies at those individuals?

If we do, we will be wasting the resources of our organization – for little learning will be the result – and, consequently, skills improvement will be minimal.”

Years ago, I was hired by a major auto manufacturer to examine the print materials used to train their workforce. The search was short and obvious. Those print materials were being written by graduate engineers and PhD consultants — all of whom knew their subject well. The problem, however, was that they were using their own vocabulary, resulting in a disconnect between the reading level of the workers and the writing level of the authors. When the disconnect was discovered, the manufacturer’s president had all written materials redone to a 6th grade reading level vocabulary. And, when that project was finished and implemented he regrettably offered the opinion that, “I wish I had required a 4th grade reading level vocabulary.”

The message is clear. You’ve got to be alert to both participant groups with your written materials — both the vocabulary used by the authors and the reading level of those individuals to be trained.

If you need help with the writing aspect of your materials, run them through the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test, readily available in Microsoft Office WORD and Microsoft Office Outlook.

Most people are multi-sensory learners when it comes to skills acquisition. ‘Seeing’, ‘hearing’, and ‘doing’ -– in combination -– is still the best way. Stand-up instruction (with hands-on exercises); distance learning (with good facilitation), videotapes (with hands-on practice), self-paced interactive multimedia (with full-motion video and optional word-for-word audio) are all more effective media for the large majority seeking to acquire, or improve, skills.

In fact, studies continue to reveal that using “seeing-hearing-doing” learning-media (in a multi-sensory environment) will increase the majority of learners’ understanding by more than 50%, resulting in a 25-50% greater learning retention, and with a 50-60% greater consistency in content understanding -– the ultimate aim of all learning.

So, where do you turn for help?

The smartest people are those who know what they do not know! For the trainer, this is doubly important because a smart trainer will find a sales professional who puts “closing the deal” secondary to listening and supporting him with his training challenges (in other words, helping him find the answer).

Such a salesperson will not recite a litany of memorized “features/benefits” — a sure sign that you’re dealing with the wrong salesperson (someone who has little knowledge and no interest in your needs). A true sales professional will tailor only those benefits of her products/services that address your specific needs — a reliable sign that you may have stumbled on a good one who is committed to helping you find the answers.

Part 2 on Wednesday – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder
ITC Learning (Mondays & Wednesdays)