Senior Consultant EEF
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Training for advantage (Part 2)

24th Mar 2010
Senior Consultant EEF
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In part 1 of this article Garry Platt outlined the general strategy for ensuring an appropriately focused and relevant HR development function that is achieved by answering the following questions arranged in this nine box model. We now begin to exam complimentary systems which will ensure a successful outcome.

The process starts at the beginning with a very simple question; why do you want the training? The need or the requirement for the training can sometimes be difficult to express but must go beyond the vague or indeterminate.

It is essential to isolate the key result training your leaders, managers or staff need. Your position might be that you have no clear picture of the training that you would like to undertake but feel that some form of development would benefit the individuals. Alternatively you may have a clear view of what areas you would like the development to be delivered to but would like to see the content specifically tailored for your organisation.

Finally you may know exactly what you want and how you want it: a competent deliverer with adequate support systems. You can approach all of these challenges in several ways, your choices being influenced by the culture, size and complexity of your situation.

Amongst the methods you can employ for defining need there is:

  • Representative sample interviewing

  • Focus groups

  • Direct observation

  • Assessment centre

The results of this analysis should be an unambiguous definition of need directly linked to the training proposed and the resulting organisational outcomes. In other words the knowledge and skills encompassed on the learning events are directly associated to the goals and objectives of the host organisations.

Focus the need

There is no 'standard' content, no 'off-the-shelf' material, everything is focussed on what is needed. As we have a very clear picture of what the outcomes are in the workplace this hones the course content into precise results-based input. So a previous programme with the generic (and meaning anything) title like 'Leadership' is actually concentrated into specific, definable skills with real measurable outcomes. This could be any number of things, e.g. absence or turnover reduction, improved returns against budget, better service levels, increased customer satisfaction as measured by complaints, a reduction of set up/response times, higher levels of target achievement. The list is actually endless, but the outcomes are specific, measurable.

Programme design should also carry three concurrent feedback streams which ensure a quality of delivery. The first are the reactions, views and opinions of people on events. Second are tests, quizzes, Q&As, learning logs and work indicating knowledge acquisition i.e. assignments and verbal/written responses. Finally skill assessment through simulation, practise and rehearsal. These three areas combined provide a constant stream of feedback on the progress of the training delivery and where changes might be appropriate and beneficial to the learners.

Keep things simple

Next, the orientation of the learner prior to involvement in the learning process. It is not unknown for participants to be unclear about what they hope to gain from the experience; this is despite in some cases having asked for the training in the first place. A simple and effective way of preventing this is to alter administration schemes. Managers are essentially helped to brief and prepare the candidate prior to participating in the developmental process. The procedure can be a face-to-face meeting or telephone conversation lasting no more than 10 minutes.

A simple document can drive this process and is completed by the candidate themselves in conjunction with their line manager. A pre-briefing document can be a key part of the programme and is used to ensure the preparation of candidates for programmes and the transfer of training back into the workplace. Poor or no use of this system by candidates and line managers can be factually recorded and reported back.

Line managers subsequently need to prepare for the return of the learner by lining up appropriate tasks or projects which will help the candidate apply what they have learnt and put into use the skills and knowledge they have obtained. It can also be a good idea for the line manager to brief the candidate's colleagues so that they know where the person will be focussing their actions on return and where they might offer help and support. An optimal return is now achieved from the course rather than the learner just 'burning up' on re-entry.

It can be helpful to build into events a 'learning log' which requires candidates to keep a record of key pieces of learning and just as importantly where it could be applied back in the workplace. This process can be integrated into the programme. At the conclusion of the event, the logs can be reviewed for content to establish what has had significant impact for the learners. They should then be shared with the candidate's line manager with suitable guidance to help them sit down with their staff and review the experience.

Know your objectives

They should also set some specific objectives to apply the learning acquired and provide support and help to achieve these objectives. It is sometimes a misconception by line managers that having participated in a developmental process the participant is competent in whatever field the training was concentrated. This is a falsehood as candidates on completion of a programme have typically achieved a basic level of competence.

Like recently licensed drivers, they have achieved a minimum level of competence with a risk level the community is prepared accept, but their abilities still have to be developed and nurtured. A child who passes their first swimming test is not yet ready to swim the channel and yet so many managers expect their staff to 'get on' with the job with little to no support. The investment in training is almost certainly lost.

On application to the workplace the performance gap/s which were identified before the programme should begin to reduce. The old adage 'if you don't measure it, they don't do it' can be wholly true. Line managers therefore should be supportive and facilitate the learner's transfer of the learning but they should also set clear SMART objectives against which the performance of the learner will be measured. This is your real evaluation of the training, has the organisation's performance now improved?

The results of adopting these strategies is that training feeds directly into the organisational strategy and contributes to the competitive advantage of the organisation. Can you in all honesty say your training is currently achieving this?

Read 'Training for advantage (Part 1)'

Academically qualified to Masters degree level in education, training and development his work combines current research and study in human resource development with a pragmatic and workable approach. Visit the EEF website for further details: www.eef.org.uk. Gary writes the Platt's Puzzlings blog here on TrainingZone.co.uk as well as managing the Transactional Analysis discussion group.

Photo credit: Jrives

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