Posted on April 25th, 2011 in - Rob Zell, Learning, Lessons Learned, Management, Resources | No Comments »
By Rob Zell
This is part 1 of a 3-part series. This article is aimed at learning organizations.
I’ve worked in several organizations supporting schools, restaurants and retailers, and in every one the question is always, “How do we make the learning stick?” In schools, the goal is to make sure students can remember the information to be prepared for college level work or at least to be productive members of society. In business, the goal is to be prepared for challenges in the work place. I’m going to tackle this topic over the next three blog posts: first, what should learning departments do to impart knowledge; second, what should learners do to enhance their retention; and finally, what should managers do to reinforce learning.
1. Build a Better Mousetrap
Learning organizations spend countless hours figuring out the best way for people to learn new knowledge and behaviors that will drive the success of the business. Unfortunately, many organizations get stuck in a rut and find it difficult to break out of their routine of delivering training the same way, time and time again. They produce job aids that look the same or more booklets in a series. The problem isn’t one of creating an internal brand; the problem is that given the available resources it is often easier to use an existing model than to branch out into new territory. For example, the job aid created to help new employees navigate the company intranet is not necessarily the best template to use for other skills.
2. Start With the End in Mind
It doesn’t matter if you are training project management or selling skills, the same set of rules apply to create highly effective training materials.
- Identify the behavior that you desire and ask what the person needs to know to perform.
- Design tools that present that information in a way that appeals to multiple learning styles.
- Provide learners a chance to process the information and try it out through problem solving or experimentation.
This is a very high level look at the tasks of designing the right training tool and there are many steps in between.
3. Provide a Total Solution
You may have an elegant solution in mind but to really serve the organization you should look at the whole performance picture. What obstacles keep people from performing? Are their barriers in terms of time, technology, or other resources? Is the desired behavior currently being rewarded or is it unknowingly punished? For example, while working for a retailer we identified that employees rarely moved onto the sales floor to provide service or suggestively sell. The operations team came to us wanting more “Selling Skills” training. As part of our review of the performance we gave the operations team feedback that the highest priority in the store was placed on “reducing the wait time in line” and customers often became agitated if employees on the floor didn’t open a new register. So along with training materials we also recommended a dedicated floor person and staffing solutions that would keep them on the sales floor helping customers. We also recommended making a change to the Mystery Shopper questions such that on peak nights, the presence of a floor person was a critical success measurement.
4. Don’t Get Caught in a Rut
Learning organizations often go back to the well of ideas when presented with a new challenge. There is comfort and stability in using the tried and true methods: they are easy to use and modify; they are familiar to management and to the end users; and they have proven effectiveness. As long as you have sound success measures in place and you can prove the value of the training, there is no concern. But if you do find yourself in a rut and you seem to be training and retraining the same skills, you should consider challenging yourself and your learning team to develop some new ideas or exploring new spaces.
Reflect on the solutions you have provided your organization in recent months. Do they target the desired behavior or did other non-relevant info sneak in? Are there other factors contributing to poor performance besides lack of training? Are you delivering a hammer because in the past you created great hammers so you keep modifying the hammer design? You fix these things in your organization and in the next post I’ll look at how learners can enhance their own learning experience after they’ve received your elegant solutions.