Hey Managers, Stop Blaming the Trainer

I'm currently working with a client on designing a training program for their new managers right now. They’re growing like mad and this program is going to be so so awesome. My client is hyper-focused on making sure these new leaders feel cared for and well-equipped to do their jobs from day one, and they saw this training program as a important part of doing that.

And of course I agree…great training is essential. But I think they've been surprised to see how much time we've spent talking about things that will happen outside of the training itself. Namely, we’ve been focusing a lot on the systems they'll use to manage their team after the training is finished. (Some of which don't currently exist.)

This is normal, normal normal.

We often talk about training like it's the magic pill for fixing all the things. If only I had a dollar for every time I heard a well-intentioned business leader say in frustration, "But they were trained on that!"

Here's the truth: Training doesn't work unless you manage to the training outcomes AFTER the training is over. Period.

But those are annoying, jargony words. Let me give you a practical example of what I'm talking about.

(Cue “dream harp” sound from the cartoons)

A “Typical” Business Training Scenario

Let's pretend I run a web design company and have realized that we need to start being more organized about how we manage client projects. As the number of clients we support has grown, we’re increasingly making silly errors and it feels like there are a lot of redundancies in the way we do things. So I go out and purchase a license for the world's greatest project management software (“WGPMS”, for short). I even buy a training package from the vendor so my team will know exactly how to use this new software. I'm so excited. The company gives an amazing training - my team is engaged and leaves the training knowing the ins and outs of how to use the new software. Hooray! I sit back and get ready for my business to improve.

(Fast-forward 6 weeks later.)

The good news: My superstar team members have totally adopted the software and love it!

The bad news: Several of my team members seem to have completely forgotten about this new software. Also, I sorrrrrt of have no idea if I've gotten any measurable value from implementing the software because adoption is all over the place.

Does this scenario sound familiar? How many times have you planned or participated in a training where the new amazing thing or concept was supposed to change everything but just never quite took hold in your business?

So how could I have done this better?

Time for a Re-Do

In my little dream, we get unlimited do-overs, so that’s just what we’re going to do here. What would my wiser self do? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Step 1 - Write Down What’s Going to Change (Be Specific)

First, I would've started the training process by writing down exactly what my desired BUSINESS outcome was for the training. A simple way to get to the business outcome is to ask yourself, “What is the behavior I want to change in the day-to-day work-life of my team?” Bonus points if you can explain WHY that change is important to your business. It’s about defining how your team members will do things when they’re back at their desks…not what they can do during the training.

Important Note: If you can't come up with a write-down-able business outcome for conducting a training, please PLEASE don’t conduct said training. If your team doesn’t see how the training relates to their real-life work, they'll do the training and then go right back to business-as-usual.

Maybe I’d choose something like, "At the end of the training, participants will consistently use “WGPMS” for ALL client project-related tracking and communication." The point of the training isn't to teach the team how to click the buttons within the software. The point is to get them to adopt the software as part of their daily "way" of working. Of course, teaching them which buttons to click will be essential as part of that training, but it's not the point of it all. The point is to get them to adopt.

Adopt, adopt, adopt.

But we get so happy about making our nice little training outline with all the bullet points of “topics we’re going to cover,” don’t we?

Step 2 - Figure Out How to Know if the Change Happened in Real Life

Once I knew what change I wanted to see in my team, I would've figured out how to measure whether that change had taken place once they got back to their jobs. Since our example outcome was about adoption of the software and since true adoption can't be measured overnight, I would’ve had to put in place some longer-term check-ins to monitor and assess the situation over time.

It might’ve been a good idea to set up a recurring weekly "project update" meeting for the next two months where we open up the project plan together, and everyone has to give an update on their progress as documented in the WGPMS.

This type of assessment does two lovely things:

  1. It sends a message that adopting this software is actually important and they'll be accountable for doing so.

  2. It gives them plenty of time before the meeting to tinker around in the software, seek help on things they're not sure about so they can co into the meeting prepared.

  3. It forces the team to work together to define the process in the in-between time so that everyone is rowing as one.

Smart, right?

Please notice that this step is all about management, not training. Without the participation and buy-in of the managers who are to lead such a meeting, the training outcome will never fully be reached. Thus, managers must be deeply involved in all training initiatives from the start.

Which brings me to my next step…

Step 3 - Figure Out Who Will Manage It

Once I knew what I needed to do to measure whether that change had taken hold in my business, I would’ve clearly identified who would own making sure that the measurement consistently happened.

Ownership is key.

Important Note: If you don’t have someone who will take ownership of managing the change that is to happen after the training, please do not conduct the training. It’s a waste of time.

Step 4 - Design the Training to Make the Change Happen

Only then, after figuring out all of that, would I begin to design and develop the training. Because training has to be designed with business outcomes in mind. If that trainer thinks they're coming in to teach your team how to click buttons, they won't have what they need.

So yes, I would’ve given them directions on how to do the technical parts, but also…

  1. An overview of the business process (Or the essential requirements, if I were expecting the team to define the process themselves.)

  2. Expectations for how to do this thing on a day-to-day basis

  3. A heads-up about how I’d be managing things (In this case, the answer would’ve been the weekly meetings.)

Do you see how if I left out any of that, my team wouldn't have been equipped to do what they needed to do? And do you also see how, without any one of those things, I could’ve never guaranteed that this new awesome software would actually change a darned thing?

Training Starts with You

It’s time for business leaders to take responsibility for their failed trainings. If you didn’t start with how you would manage the change and then finish with actually managing the change, the problem wasn’t the training.

And listen. I’m not advocating for micro-management of your team about every little thing. I’m simply saying that your team already has a ton on their plate and the best way to signal to them that they should prioritize one thing over another is to measure it consistently and repeatedly. It’s like a glowing red sign saying, “Look over here! This is important!”

Sure, it takes more time to figure out a system to support your team in reaching your desired outcomes, but if you’re not willing to do that, why bother spending time and resources on providing training in the first place?

Isn’t the whole point of training to create a lasting change in your business?