Monday, March 2, 2009

Making training better - exercises in common sense

A great MIT Sloan School of Business Magazine article has some interesting results from a training / lessons-learned analysis program*. The results of the analysis are:
  1. Write it down
  2. Measuring results
  3. Peer meetings
  4. Supportive superiors
  5. Access to experts
Write it down
Writing down the material helps (notes), but writing down an action plan to use the material is even more powerful. They don't though, recommend a compulsory implementation of this. Rather, allow people to do it informally and use the plan as they see fit.

They recommend answering the following five questions:
  • What will you do to implement a concept from today's session?
  • When will you do this?
  • What results do you expect and how will they be measured?
  • When do you expect to see these results?
  • What assistance or support will you need to implement your plan?
My one main issue with this is not making it required. I feel like a post training session (see #s 3 and 4) would really help hold people accountable to the action plans.

My current client is looking to implement a post-training or conference review concept. Basically they will have people provide a summary of the training or conference in any of the regularly occurring staff meetings. I think using the above five questions would be very helpful, and can be done less from a "how will I use this" to a "how can we use this" (we being the client organization).

We are also pushing them to adopt an internal wiki to document their business practices as well as general tips for their use. Tying the training to the business practices in the wiki would be important.


Measuring results
This was the best idea to me, as it made sure that the company/organization is really taking training to heart and ensuring it is put into use. A post training session on incorporating the lessons into the performance assessment process.

As Sloan put it "Assessment usually measures specific behaviors targeted by the training." Specific behaviors stemming from the training, that is it pure and simple.

Organizations reward the behaviors they care about (whether they realize it or not), and you must measure that which you want to reward (even though many organizations don't do this properly). Take for example a training session for an IT salesperson on the newest product. The performance assessment would be behavior that demonstrates the employee is incorporating this new technical knowledge into their sales process and opportunities. Using the SMART goal concept the employee and manager will be sure to make the goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Remembering also to ensure that you consider the "locus of control" of the employee. It is counter-productive to make a goal that is wholly dependent on others.

Like most organizations, my client is looking for more goals to include in performance assessments and they have more than they can handle already.

Peer meetings
Peer meetings are a lot like the debrief program my customer wants to implement. The key is to match the recently trained person with a group of their peers who can help guide them in implementing the training, as well as those who can learn from the training as well.

Supportive superiors
Superiors will be involved if the newly learned material is incorporated into the performance assessment process.

But more critical than that, and a required precursor to performance assessment inclusion actually, is having a superior who is open to using the lessons of training. Most bosses are ok with training as a concept, but they are not open to making changes to how they do things. So if the newly learned material requires a change on the part of the supervisor...

And it also means having a superior who will stand with the trained employee in making changes to the processes/systems (IT and other) of the company.

Access to experts
Experts both internal and external to the company. This might mean access to additional reference or trade materials, or to others higher up the food chain in the organization to learn about the "why" of how the company does things.


All these can be combined to make training and organizational learning better.

And they are all common sense.



* I encourage you to sign up for the Sloan and McKinsey Quarterly publications. They are both valuable resources.
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