Whether your company is large or small, you’re probably growing, and you probably have some turnover to deal with. In all likelihood, you have veteran employees with many years’ experience; and you have newly hired “rookies” who must step into the shoes of persons who have been promoted, who have retired or left the company for other reasons, or who are taking on a new route created by growth.
In all of these instances, you would very much like your newest employees to perform at the same level as your experienced veterans, and you’d like to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible. That’s where a thoughtfully designed training program comes in, and that’s why you need to design each and every training activity with maximum efficiency in mind.
Creating training is a lot like a journey. Did you ever leave on a trip without first looking at a map to find out how to get there? If you start out without a road map to where you’re going, you’ll get there, but you won’t have any idea where you’re going, and you won’t know when you’ve arrived. Worse, you might not like the place where you end up.
There are many different kinds of training: training on a single topic or skill; whole-day training events with multiple topics divided into shorter sessions; and training programs that go on for many days – for example, a training program to prepare new technicians for certification and licensing. No matter what kind of training program you need to make, you must follow these guidelines – or get stuck because you failed to plan. It’s as easy as Get Ready, Get Set, and Go!
Get Ready: Business-Needs Statement
Do this simple exercise before you start any training activity: tell yourself that your people lack a skill or some knowledge they need; describe what you’d like them to do or say that they currently do not do or say; and then tell yourself that a training activity will accomplish the desired result. Why do this? You must do this because training is not always the answer to a problem. For example, let’s say you have an employee whose rodent work is sloppy; he fails to clean traps to your company’s standards, and sometimes skips a trap or “pre-dates” traps, writing an entire month’s worth of service dates on the traps’ dating tags or stickers at the beginning of the month. Does this employee need to be trained in how to service a trap? No, he knows how; he just chooses to cut corners. This is a discipline problem, not a training need. Writing a simple statement, called a rationale or a business-needs statement, proves to you that there is a lack of skill or knowledge, and that training will fix the gap. Here is an example of a business-needs statement that one might write prior to beginning work on a training exercise:
Each technician has a sprayer, and is responsible for its care and maintenance. Currently, many technicians do not care for their equipment, with the result that the sprayer doesn’t work when they need it to. A 45-minute sprayer maintenance and repair clinic would result in technicians paying attention to their sprayers and would enable them to diagnose problems and repair them before they cause problems and service delays.
Try this yourself. Think of something you wish your employees would do, or would do more effectively. Tell yourself that there is a deficiency, and then identify what the desired outcome or behavior would be. Then say that training will solve this problem. Rationale or business-needs statements do not have to be fancy; they don’t even have to be good. But you must do this step, or you’ll be in the dark as you design your training activity.
Get Set: Performance Objectives
In order to focus your training on the right content and to avoid wandering all over the place, you must next write a small number of performance objectives. Performance objectives are descriptions of what your learners will do or say as a result of having taken part in training. When writing performance objectives, be specific. Avoid phrases like “learners will understand” or “learners will be able to.” Instead, use verbs that describe an action they will do as they demonstrate competency with the material on which you trained. Describe the conditions under which mastery will be measured, and state the criterion for acceptable performance. Here is an example:
Upon completion of this training exercise, learners will do the following:
• Given a sprayer with one or more parts malfunctioning, the learner will observe the sprayer’s operation, determine what part is faulty, and will replace the faulty part and restore the sprayer to working order.
In this example, notice that we (1) stated what the learner will do or say as she or he demonstrates mastery of the skill (we used the verbs “observe,” determine, replace, and restore); (2) described the conditions under which mastery will be assessed and resources with which the learner will be provided (“Given a sprayer with one or more parts malfunctioning”); and (3) explained the criterion for mastery (“restore the sprayer to working order”). Do these three simple things for each training activity, and you will benefit from the laser focus of well-planned training.
Keep the number of performance objectives to a minimum – six to eight is probably reasonable. If you find that you have significantly more than twelve, you should consider breaking the material up into multiple activities. Remember that a normal adult’s attention span for a single learning activity is around 15 minutes.
Now, you give it a try. Using the same imaginary training need as the one for which you practices writing a business needs statement, write some performance objectives. Remember to use verbs that describe what the learner does or says as she or he demonstrates mastery of the skill.
Go: Create Content
Keep the performance objectives you created in mind as you design content. Content can come from a subject matter expert (SME), which simply means you find someone who is good at the topic or skill you want people to learn, and let that person write some “talking points.” Subject matter experts are not teachers or trainers, though. You’ll have to guide your SME through the process of distilling their knowledge or skills into content for your training activity. Prepare a list of questions and interview the SME: What are the most important talking points? What do I need in order to do this skill? What steps do I follow? How do I know I’ve been successful?
Content can also come from many other sources, such as a textbook, training manual, demonstration, pesticide label, government regulation, inspection standard, or from approved company procedures.
Content can take many shapes as you turn it into training or learning activities: you might create a PowerPoint presentation for a meeting; an online training module using one of the many authoring tools available (Lectora, Adobe Presenter, etc.); a video presentation with a pre-test and a post-test; or a demonstration with hands-on practice.
Content might involve a single, twenty-minute activity; or it might amount to multiple sessions over the space of a day or more. You may even be tasked with responsibility for creating an entire training program spanning several weeks or months. Whichever is the case, keep this in mind: All training is more meaningful when it is interactive. Adult learners don’t want to be lectured to. Instead, find ways to keep them active. If you want to teach a skill, provide opportunities for everyone to practice the skill. If your activity involves facts and knowledge, include a quiz, a roundtable discussion, or some other way for people to “operate” on the material.
Adult learners retain only about 5% of what they hear in a spoken lecture; when given an opportunity to discuss a subject in a group, they retain ten times as much. They retain 75% of what they practice by doing, so always offer lots of practice.
The most powerful learning method of all is “teaching back:” If a person learns something, and then immediately has a chance to teach the skill or knowledge to someone else, retention is 90%. This is another reason why every training event should have some roundtable discussion. People take the material being taught and “run with it,” sharing their own relevant experiences and getting answers from each other. Peer-to-peer interaction trumps instructor-led PowerPoint presentations every time.
Use this magic formula for all training programs, large and small:
• Start by writing a business needs statement so that you are sure training is the answer to a real problem.
• Write a limited number of performance objectives, telling what your learners will do or say as they demonstrate that they have mastered the skill or knowledge.
• And don’t be shy – let your own company’s subject matter experts provide grist for the training mill.
Jay Bruesch, BCE, Plunkett’s Pest Control, Inc., Fridley, MN