how to train effectively
Kogan Page, 2008
Though there are shelves of books about training, coaching and development out there, this book has the virtue of focus. Rather than trying to be a comprehensive guide, Patrick Forsyth teaches you how to train effectively without getting bogged down in theory, big budgets, politics or an endless number of possible approaches. He stresses how important staff development is to your competitive position, and shows you how to carry out on-the-job and formal training. His advice is practical and offers some surprising twists. Forsyth provides bulleted lists, checklists and a sample form or two to help you implement this. Although his use of colloquial U.K. English might make U.S. readers pause for a moment or two, it provides the right touch for his emphasis on action, simplicity and focus. getAbstract recommends this book to front-line managers who want to develop their employees.
- Since your company must grow and adapt, your people must develop their skills.
- Establish superior teams by hiring the right people and fitting them to the right job.
- Sharpen your team’s competitiveness through training and development.
- When training, be positive and encouraging. Coach your employees to top performance.
- Preparation is vital to the success of your coaching and training efforts.
- Begin your class with a short, ice-breaking activity.
- Use exercises throughout your training to help people retain knowledge.
- Teach your topic from your students’ perspectives. Make them feel important.
- Try some new role-playing exercises. Go beyond the traditional two-person model.
- Converse with your employees to evaluate the training’s success.
Good Development Leads to Success
Every manager waxes lyrical about how important employees are to the company’s success. But, to take full advantage of this, you have to invest in staff development. It doesn’t matter what skills employees have when they join your firm – since the market itself is constantly shifting, staff members must continue to develop their talents. Your company must respond with new products and better services, which you must also develop, market and sell. You will be a more effective competitor when your team masters your latest offerings. Don’t wait for the world to beat a path to your door.
“‘What a waste if I develop staff and then they leave.’ To which the only logical response is: ‘What if you don’t develop them – and they stay?’”
Staff development is crucial to commercial survival, despite what reasons you find to delay or circumvent it: You might think you don’t have enough time, your budget is too tight, you lack sufficient resources, or you have conflicting priorities. Think about the connection between career growth and retention, how skill development can empower your short-term objectives and fill performance gaps. Ask yourself how you are going to keep ahead of change in your market. Weaving employee development into your company’s culture makes this easier to accomplish.
“The responsibility to develop people resides with the individual manager. It is a responsibility that goes with the territory.”
You can achieve successful development through a variety of means. So stop wishing, wrap up the talking, and start training and developing your team.
Before you start anything, assess your recruitment process. A team that performs well almost always has the right people in the right jobs. Clearly define jobs, and understand the talents and skills needed to perform them. Hire people with those abilities. Create job descriptions that are “SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed.”
“Good recruitment is an essential prerequisite to ensuring that a team functions well. Getting it wrong has dire consequences.”
Create a development plan for each job and for each person. How will you help employees be more efficient and more valuable to your firm? What are the evolving expectations of the job as your company grows and adapts?
Install a meaningful evaluation and appraisal program. Ideally, each employee should understand the process and its role in your ongoing coaching and development. Never make it a yearly ritual, void of constructive content. Employees should understand and agree with your assessment of their development needs and your plan to help them accomplish their goals. Record these appraisals, goals and means, and tie them into your department’s action plan. Your goal should be to create a self-reinforcing cycle of improvement, rather than plodding through a one-off burden.
The Substance of Development
Solid staff development begins at the top and permeates the entire organization. However, successful implementation is the front-line manager’s responsibility. Your job is not to check off boxes, but to ensure that employees maintain a high level of performance. Since you will lose and add people, and the required tasks will change over time, never be satisfied that yesterday’s definition of high performance will work today.
“Development is dependent on a thorough understanding of what must be done – no one can improve performance if they are uncertain of what it is or precisely how it is produced.”
Edit and rewrite job descriptions, and evaluate the skills of team members in relation to new requirements. Use a specific, prioritized program to address the gap between their present abilities and what you need them to do. Your coaching process should give employees a clear understanding of their progress.
“Preparation is the key to successful presentation. Do not doubt it, underestimate it, or skimp it; you will do so at your peril.”
In your annual evaluations, nothing should come as a surprise. Admonishing people for past mistakes won’t encourage superior performance. Focus on future accomplishments, behaviors and goals. The group needs to develop the right habits, so inculcate those into each team member. Use on-the-job coaching, but also consider pursuing development through films, exercises, Internet-based courses, job swapping and even sabbaticals.
Coaching at Work
Coaching your team in the workplace is a great opportunity. Helping new staff get up to speed is an obvious example. Throwing them in to sink or swim is a bad idea because they end up making mistakes and becoming discouraged. What they figure out on their own might be very different from what you had in mind. Guide them about what they must do, how they should do it and why it is important.
“On-the-job coaching must reflect the real world. It is no good to have people who can do something right only in highly artificial conditions; they must be able to do it as it needs to be done.”
Though there might be moments when you improvise and provide spontaneous guidance to your experienced staff, most of your more formal coaching efforts should be well planned. Give your staff specific development objectives and training tasks. Prioritize the goals, specify how to reach them, and make sure they align with the company’s overall aims and standards. Your training should:
- Ensure that employees understand the task.
- Demonstrate what you expect.
- Allow ample time for practice and skill development.
- Include coaching to help them master their tasks.
- Give opportunities for more practice to move from understanding to mastery.
- Provide plenty of support and encouragement to build confidence.
“You want people not just to say that they enjoyed your session, you want them to learn from it. The ways in which people learn are therefore important principles to keep in mind throughout.”
Use a variety of methods to help your team understand, practice and master the skills you are teaching them. Consider using demonstrations, role-plays based on job descriptions, published materials such as checklists and handbooks, and learning while doing. Use your best workers as mentors to help teach those who need help and guidance. Don’t think in terms of a set time period or method for mentoring. The relationships can be formal, informal or something in between. Just be sure the mentors provide positive results, create confidence and develop the employees’ skills.
Classroom Training Content
If you choose to use formal classroom training, give yourself ample preparation time. Begin by evaluating who will be in the class:
- What you know about them.
- How well they know each other.
- How experienced they are in their work.
- How long they have been with the company.
- Have they participated in a similar training process?
- What expectations might they have for this class?
“There is a story of someone coming home after a course. Their partner asks, ‘What was it like?’ and they reply, ‘It was good, I spoke.’ People like to be involved.”
Decide on the format of your lecture notes. Will you use cards or loose-leaf pages in a notebook? Will you hand write them, type them or use computer slides? Employ a consistent format and notation for abbreviations, slides, exercises and so forth. Do you intend to lecture most of the time (usually less effective), promote discussion (tricky to control) or use exercises that promote the objective you want them to take away (powerful if done well).
“Any managers who skimp their people development responsibilities risk giving themselves and their department or organization a serious handicap.”
Use appropriate visual aids. Make them eye-catching and memorable. Don’t turn your back on the audience and don’t read your slides aloud from the screen. You have provided them for the audience members to read, so let them do that while you explain them in more detail.
Training films can facilitate discussions if they are truly on-point and relevant to your idea. Use them as if they were case studies or “how-to” illustrations. Finally, put together the take-away material. Make it a helpful reference.
Mastering Classroom Training
Running a classroom course means much more than standing up front and reading page after page of material. People usually can’t concentrate for extended periods, and their attention spans will drift in and out. They might not understand your points the first time you say them. Worse, their preconceived notions might cause them to misconstrue your point entirely. If you are asking them to change their minds about something, understand that people resist change naturally. Help them think they are arriving at your point on their own. Once they see the objective clearly in their own minds, they will become motivated and ready to act.
“The fact that a form exists should not blind you to the merits of sitting down with someone on his or her return from training. Such a session is best planned, and even scheduled, before attendance takes place.”
Tailor your training to the audience. People want to understand how it relates to their jobs, and how it will make their work easier and better. Help them relate to your objectives personally and reinforce your concepts with repetition. Affirm the principles frequently, rather than inundating the employees with the same phrases and words, which might eventually become a joke. Come across as friendly, helpful, confident, prepared and interested in each person in the class. Create an arc in your presentation so there is a clear beginning, a substantive middle, and an end that wraps things up and leaves everyone on an emotional high point.
Get Your People Involved
The sooner you get the class caught up in doing something, the better – even if it is filling out simple name cards or introducing themselves to one another. This way, the class gets involved, rather than you playing the actor and the employees playing the passive listeners. You might also start with a provocative, relevant question. Sometimes, if the class members don’t know each other well, an ice breaker is appropriate. This can be a puzzle they solve in groups or an activity that will help them get to know each other.
“As someone once observed, training would be easy if it were not for the participants. Whilst all are understandably different, some present problems. These problems must be tackled firmly.”
Let them know your policy on answering questions. If you allow questions, they might become distracting and interrupt your schedule. However if you don’t take questions, people might become frustrated and tune out. Phrase questions carefully. Don’t risk confusion, misunderstanding or offense. The answers you get to your questions should lead directly to the next discussion point or exercise.
“Your people may, rightly, be given the credit for what they achieve; you may take credit for the fact that you have put in place an initiative taking them in the right direction and enabling them to maximize their performance.”
Exercises should provide support for class objectives, rather than diversions or comic relief. This is especially true of role playing. Don’t let a role play run longer than a few minutes. Focus on specific objectives or an exploration of skills. An interesting modification of the traditional two-person role play is to have the first pair take the exercise to a certain point and then have the next pair pick up where the first group left off. Move around the class this way.
Silent role play has one person at the front of the class in one role and everyone else in the class as the second party. Each person writes an individual response to what the person in the front of the class is saying.
Assessment and Evaluation
If people applauded at the end of the training, and the feedback sheets contained nice comments, does this mean your training was successful? Unfortunately, these impressions are not a complete assessment of your course’s impact on team development. To capture an informal view of your training, observe how your group members are applying what you taught. Hold a debriefing session to hear what people thought, or chat with team members about the training during coaching sessions or over lunch.
If you are going to teach skills, you can test your employees’ levels before and after the training to see what they learned. By following up again a few months later, you can see what they retained. Create and use an evaluation form that captures feedback for each module. This will help you improve your future courses. If you want your employees to take the training seriously, connect the skills taught to the annual review.
Sadly, some employees just don’t measure up. If, after remedial help and a sincere effort to help them, their work is still substandard, you can involve HR. The company can either reassign them to another area or arrange to part ways.
Take responsibility for your team’s development and use every resource available to you. Your company’s success depends on your team, and its success, in turn, relies on how well you motivate and develop your people.
About the Author
Patrick Forsyth consults on issues such as marketing, management, communications and associated skills. He has published widely and has more than 20 years of business experience. His other books include: Successful Time Management, Business Planning and Marketing in Publishing.