Steven Cesare provides advice on keeping things simple when designing training programs.
An industry-wide sage contacted me the other day on LinkedIn to discuss training programs. During that interesting conversation, we agreed that many so-called “experts” typically complicate training program development to the point they fail to reach the desired outcome, waste inordinate time and money, and leave a negative impression that training is an underperforming function. In response to this common problem, I informed the executive of the following four-step model to ensure training design is kept simple, efficient, and results-oriented.
Step 1: Identifying the empirical goal
The first thing to do when designing a training program is to not think about training. But rather, think first of the empirical goals the company is trying to achieve (e.g., increase sales by 15%, improve gross margin by 5%, decrease employee injuries by 10%). These goals should be easily recited by all employees, be found in the company’s written strategic plan, and be part of every staff meeting.
All too often training programs are developed without a business goal in mind, and as such are destined for failure. If a training program does not directly impact a company’s business need, it should not be developed. Developing a training program without an empirical business goal in mind, is like buying an expensive piece of equipment the company knows it will never use.
Step 2: Specify behaviors to attain the goal
The second thing to do when designing a training program is to not think about training. Instead, specify all of the behaviors that lead directly to accomplishing the empirical goal. This list of efficacious behaviors satisfies multiple criteria: defines best practices, allows for process re-engineering, underscores performance management (e.g., recognition, discipline, performance appraisals) and has implications for training, development and compensation.
This list of behaviors must be generated by representative employees; employees who will be responsible for holding others accountable for performing these behaviors on the job. For example, if the goal is to improve job quality by 10%, then appropriate foremen, supervisors, and account managers must be responsible for identifying the goal-directed behaviors. To be clear: human resources employees must support the process; though they cannot and must not own the content of any non-administrative training program.
Step 3: Develop training content to perform the behaviors to attain the goal
With the business goal and aligned behaviors now defined, a group of representative employees must develop the training content to ensure the trainees will learn to perform the desired behaviors. Here again, the representative employees must own the training design, development and delivery in that they are the resident subject matter experts for ensuring the business goal will be achieved.
With these first three steps completed, the “why,” “what” and “how” questions have all been answered. Moreover, the active participation of the subject matter experts implies de-facto buy-in verifying the training content is targeted, organized, and transferable to the job setting.
Step 4: Hold trainees accountable for demonstrating the new behaviors to attain the goal
The fourth step is the weakest link in every training program. Supervisors must be steadfast in holding employees accountable for demonstrating the behaviors they said were instrumental to directly achieving the business goal. To solidify the effectiveness of the training program, supervisors must continually: coach, offer feedback, supply encouragement, deliver constructive criticism, celebrate success, document satisfactory and unsatisfactory behaviors, role model the newly-trained behaviors on the job, and capture each employee’s performance in an annual performance evaluation.
In like fashion, company executives must track the rate of change in the desired business goal by holding supervisors accountable for achieving the desired outcome. After all, that was the sole reason the training program was developed in the first place right? Inability to do this final step, more often than not, predetermines the training event utterly ineffective.
Due to the inherent ownership by the subject matter experts (e.g., foremen, supervisors, account managers) throughout each aspect of the four-step process, the level of accountability, achievement, and action is easily discernible in determining the key drivers of training program success or failure.
Training is a key element in all organizations. Unfortunately, it is frequently viewed through an academic lens, rather than a behavioral focus aimed exclusively on an empirical business goal. To improve the chances of success, key representative employees must own the training content, its delivery, and level of accountability for achieving the goal back on the job.