Training the mind/mind the training

When properly conceived and carried out, corporate training programs can spell the difference between an organization’s stellar success and lackluster performance.

Unfortunately, some companies view personnel training as a mere afterthought after having bought a new machine, deployed an application program or introduced a new process when it should be among the very first considerations even before any change is contemplated.

Here are a few suggestions from workplace education experts on how to implement corporate training programs that passes with flying colours.

Appoint a training administrator
All too often a company’s training program is passed on the human resources department. This is understandable since the HR department is primarily concerned with employee issues.

However, for a more focused employee education program a full-time training administrator or team is needed, said Jack Probst, consultant for Pink Elephant, a Burlington, Ont.-based management and training firm.

“For most organizations, HR’s plate is already full. You’ll need an individual or group that can concentrate solely on the training and education needs,” said Probst.

The key responsibility the team or individual would be make sure programs are “aligned with the overall objectives of the company and the needs or employees to carryout their duties, enhance performance and in some instances meet career goals.”

Some firms approach professional coaching and training outfits like Pink Elephant to deliver the modules, but an in-house administrator who is attuned to the company’s pulse is essential.

Focus on the trainee
When trainers focus solely on the new procedure or tool being taught, there’s very little chance that maximum course content retention can be achieved, according to Bob Yang, director of education for Symantec Corp., based in Cupertino, Calif.

“Right off the bat, a training program should include an assessment of the strengths, skills and challenges of the trainees,” Yang explained.

The properly done assessment will help trainers determine such issues as: where emphasis should be placed, what topics can be left out, when and where classes should be held, and what means of instruction should be adopted.

Determine expectations
What does the company want to achieve through the training program? Answering this question will provide a road map that will help trainers and trainees chart their course and track their progress, according to Yang.

By setting clearly defined goals, administrators lessen the possibility of the program getting off track and provide a “means of quantifying ROI (return of investment).”

It’s also essential to set measurable metrics that will chart a student’s progress. “This way, administrators can determine where a trainee needs more help or whether the program needs to be revised,” Yang said.

Find the best channel
To keep trainees tuned in and turned on to the course material, administrators should determine the most appropriate method of instruction.

From printed to online manuals, instructor-led physical classes to interactive Internet-based sessions, the choices about for instruction delivery abound, said Vic Melfa, CEO for The Training Associates, a corporate training outsourcer based  in Westborough, Mass.

“The challenge is to find which method fits the student, the course content, the objective and the budget.”

Pick the right trainer
Finding the appropriate instructor is as important as the finding the right channel of instruction.

“Getting the perfect fit in terms of skill level, training style, budget and even culture is essential,” said Melfa, whose firm develops and facilitates training programs for countries around the world.

He said no matter how good the course content is the program is still bound to fail if its delivery is not handled well.

Another common pitfall is to view training as solely a means of learning to master a set of procedures and processes, said Probst.

For instance, he said, one client that was rolling out a new process distributed a manual about the implementation fully expecting all the workers to immediately apply the new procedures to their jobs. What the client got was a barrage of questions, complains and operational glitches.

“The better employees are aware of the significance of a new tool or process to their jobs the more likely they are to be prepared to adopt and implement it,” Probst said.

Lack of context also arises when firms train personnel on operating a machine or software without explaining how the process around the new tool applies to their work environment.

Providing context can “enable workers to think critically as opposed to acting by rote” so that when something unexpected happens they are more prepared to rectify the situation, Probst added.

Management buy in
All three experts agree that even the best thought out training programs founder for lack of management support.

“Lack of financial resources, time and management backing will stunt any training effort said Pink Elephant’s Probst.

“Decision makers will always demand quality of course content, speed of delivery and perfect match with their needs. But they’ll often want these at the lowest price possible,” cautioned Melfa of The Training Associates.

Management must be convinced that a training program will bring benefits to the organization, according to Yang of Symantec. “Management has to buy into the idea that training is essential and will contribute to the bottom line.”

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