It's often viewed in the workplace that training employees is a critical requirement for upgrading skills, developing future leaders, and in general improving competencies and abilities. The common format is usually classroom sessions, but the effort could also include seminars, workshops and professional conferences.
Developing employees is a concept hard to argue with. I fear though, that in its application the goal is often missed, failing to provide behavior-based training programs that deliver as advertised.
My concern is not with technical knowledge, learning about Windows 10, HRIS Modules, or the latest social media applications for business, but the subjective side of employee development; i.e., leadership, motivational principles, improving competencies, etc.
Ask yourself, can I measure the effectiveness of our training programs? Or do you simply equate effectiveness with the number of employees trained? And do you count “trained” as having attended a training / education session?
Therein Lies The Rub
Recently I attended a self-improvement workshop and during the course of that experience found that my attention continually wandered off topic. Does this sound familiar?
The presenter used several phrases that I didn’t understand (i.e., “resonant relationships”). Such language bombs ("What did they just say?") disrupted my link with the presenter as I struggled to figure out what the term(s) meant. Meanwhile the flow of the presentation moved on without me.
Another complaint is where the participant can’t connect the presenter's message to direct assistance on a practical level. The dialogue sounds good, but doesn't move the practical knowledge meter very far.
Passing The Effectiveness Test
If your intent is to avoid a misleading measure of training success (we trained “x” employees this year), ask a few questions before setting up that next “opportunity.”
- Can you measure the impact? Will you know upfront what employees will gain from the experience, and what practical applications will reward attendance?
- Are they speaking common sense? Understanding broad based concepts has its place in the employee education process, but unless the discussion of those concepts is connected to real world challenges, you should question the practical value of the session.
- Can you spread the learning? Would a participant be able to explain to other employees what they learned and how practical applications might be forthcoming?
- New vs. rehash: How much of the presentation would be new information, vs. a rehash of what has been covered before?
- Boring presentation: Being a subject matter expert is not the same as being able to engage an audience about that expertise. A read-from-the-podium lecture style, when combined with a dry topic and a monotone voice can kill audience engagement within minutes.
How do you know whether an audience is paying attention? All it takes is watching how participants act during the session.
- Watching the clock: When is this session going to end? When's lunch? Are we having a break?
- Checking email: Everyone’s smart phone has an email feature. Some employees try to be subtle when checking in, while others are more blatant. None are paying attention.
- Day dreaming: Fixing the eyes on a distant spot and letting the mind wander from the topic at hand. The eyes glaze over, the head starts to nod and the ears close up shop.
- Planning this article: Or conducting other mental activities, where the mind is engaged elsewhere.
The speaker should be aware of these tendencies and try to modify their presentation to keep engagement as high as possible. Too often though, their prime goal is dispensing the material at hand. The room could be empty.
When Is Training a Bad Idea?
So be careful. No one would disagree that training employees is a worthwhile investment of company time and effort. Likewise for attendance at workshops, seminars and conferences. Affording employees the opportunity for personal and professional growth is a valuable part of your Total Rewards program.
However, not every offering sold under the guise of training or self-development is a worthwhile effort; worth the time and money. Often times these external events are more boondoggle than learning exercise, offered more as rewards and networking exercises than actual learning experiences. If that’s your intent, well and good. Just don’t kid yourself that your employees are being “trained.”
As to internal training sessions, avoid the knee-jerk headcount metric of assessing the value of your training efforts by the number of employees exposed to the material. That sort of assembly-line “training" is more about process than results. Find a way to measure whether your training is effective, or isn't.
Bottom line? Fluff training is a bad idea when your time and money is wasted in the process. Know the difference.
Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations. He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant. Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation. He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a clowder of cats.
Creative Commons image,"People Waiting for Olive's Talk," by Eduardo Habkost