I admit it - I have run my fair share of terrible, boring, ineffective training sessions that made my co-workers cringe.
When I was fresh out of college, one of my responsibilities at my new job was to get new-hires up to speed when they began working on my project. I typically followed these 10 guidelines:
- Give background information. Oh did I love to give background information - lots and lots of it. History, the dates everything was founded, a timeline of events, and important people.
- Write paragraphs of text. I assumed that if the words were written on a slide, and I emphasized its importance, everybody would remember.
- Include screenshots. I also assumed that as long as people saw a screenshot, they would remember it when they went to their computers.
- Perform demos. I told myself that others watching me click around the screen would be really helpful.
- Include laws and sources. We did compliance-type work, so I included the exact law, along with its name, page number, and paragraph number.
- Don't plan for delays. I never thought to avoid the delays that naturally come from everybody logging in for the first time or walking co-workers through basic steps.
- Spend two hours (at least). I tried really hard to make the training long because the more content I included, the more official the training felt.
- Don't teach them how to do anything. I usually focused on helping users understand high-level concepts - I figured I'd show them what to do later.
- Focus on everything. My approach was that everything was equally important, so I spent equal amounts of time showing end-users everything there was to know.
- Rely on slides. I would upload the slides to a shared folder so that co-workers could check them out later.
Looking back, it seems obvious that these 10 guidelines would lead to a pretty terrible training session - but at the time, I didn't know. I simply copied what I saw other co-workers doing when they trained me.
Modern Training Practices
In most organizations, it is impossible for HR and professional training teams to create all of the content needed to train employees. For-profits and nonprofits are made up of several departments and smaller teams, and each group has unique processes and methods for doing their jobs - which means the job of training employees usually falls to a SME (subject matter expert), somebody like a Power User, a Manager, a process owner, or an Administrator.
SMEs are knowledgeable about a particular subject or internal process, but they don't necessarily have a background in training. So, they typically do what I did - copy what others do, even if what others do doesn't really work.
What do good training sessions look like?
A good training session isn't necessarily more entertaining - terrible sessions can be very fun to attend, as well. What makes one training better than another is that employee performance improves afterward.
That's it. That's what good training looks like. You can tell a good training occurred, not by peeking into the room and seeing your co-workers applauding, but by checking metrics one, two, and three weeks later. Good training enables employees to perform excellently [Click to tweet].
When I help clients put on a good training session, one question I ask them is, "What performance metric do you want to improve?" (That's the only way you'll be able to tell whether your training was worth the effort.) Once we determine the performance metric, we can easily identify what content should be included, and strip everything else out - the background information, the demos, and the paragraphs of text.
So, if you find yourself being asked to train your co-workers, first ask yourself what a good training session would look like one, two, three weeks from now - then identify what you need to do to help your co-worker get there.