Training is a Process, Not an Event

I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to be involved in training many companies and have watched them apply new principles and skills to become very successful. I’ve also seen other companies receive the same training and then fail to have the training make any significant difference in the way they do business.

This past week, we had the opportunity to return to a company where we had provided training three months earlier. It was one of the best training experiences I have ever participated in. More than 50 technicians had been applying in the field what they had learned in class. The follow-up training was 10 times more effective than the initial training. By providing this opportunity for follow-up, coaching, and reinforcement, the techs learned much more than I could have ever imagined with initial classroom training alone.

More than 70% of the time was spent addressing specific issues extracted from live field and sales situations they had experienced since the initial training. What I realized is that each technician now knew the exact questions to ask, and was eager to solve the new problems. Most importantly, they came away with greater confidence in using the knowledge and skills they learned in the original training.

Training as a One-Time Event
One of the primary reasons training is not as effective as it could be is that many of us view it as a one-time event. You invest time and money in a class or seminar for yourself or your employees, attend the class, listen attentively to the instructor, and like magic the knowledge transfers to your business, behaviors change, and performance is permanently enhanced! Right? Unfortunately is generally doesn’t work that way.

Over the years, my experience has been that if the training is viewed simply as a one time event, questions that could only come by the experience of applying the new learning on the job may end up being unanswered. If the initial training is successful, it places learners in new situations they have never experienced before, and poses problems they have not previously encountered. The new knowledge opens their eyes to opportunities never before imagined and that may have passed unnoticed for many years. All of this can be somewhat overwhelming when the reality of day-to-day business sets in.

The problem with considering training as a one-time event is that performance will peak shortly after the training and then will fall off as the months pass by. Without additional follow up training and coaching, it's difficult, if not impossible, to sustain the higher level. As time passes, the need for additional training becomes even clearer if we’re measuring performance of those that were trained. It’s human nature to slide back into our old ways, especially if those leading us are unaware of our improvement. If we don’t use what we learn, or get support and encouragement to apply what we learned, the new knowledge evaporates over time.

Even though our company includes toll-free tech support line with our training, some individuals may not take advantage of it. In this particular case I learned that some found it inconvenient to call, or weren’t sure their questions were valid, or thought they should have remembered the answer from the original training. The follow-up training was the only opportunity that opened the door for much of the progress that we enjoyed.

Training as a Process
When training is viewed as a process, rater than a one time event, the effectiveness and value of learning is multiplied many times over. Here are several principles that can increase the effectiveness and return on investment of the training your company participates in whether it be in-house or outside training.

1. Good training requires follow up. Quality training should include some method of follow-up that can be used as a resource to answer questions, review the learning, and reinforce skills. This might include printed material, on-line resource, additional training opportunities, or a combination of these resources.

2. Coaching is essential. The purpose of most training is to produce a change in behavior and to achieve a predetermined outcome. Such shifts in direction require coaching and support to accomplish. We usually recommend supervisors or owners participate in our training with the technicians and salespeople. If not, the trained individual is left to carve out a path alone and management is unable to provide the support and encouragement necessary to excel. Studies show that good training can increase effectiveness of the learner by about 30%. Training, combined with follow up and coaching increases effectiveness by over 80%. Now which would you rather have as an ROI on your training investment?

3. Accountability is critical. If leaders in the company have no knowledge of the anticipated change, there is no expectation to be met. If there is no one knowledgeable enough in management to create a path for those who were trained to follow, no rewards or incentives can be put into place. So in order to maximize the benefit of your training investment, it is absolutely critical to measure performance and monitor it regularly. Remember the old adage “What gets measured gets done.” You’ll recognize success when new skills and techniques taught in the training are integrated into the daily business practice of your company.

What can you do to increase the effectiveness of training in your business? Be sure to provide regular opportunities to reinforce training and recognize successes. Friday morning seems to be the time for our industry to offer in-house short training sessions to reinforce and refresh what was learned in formal training seminars. Many training companies offer short training modules that can be used effectively for these 20- to 30-min. training sessions.

Give employees who have been successful in implementing the new skills the opportunity to become the trainer. One of the best ways to learn is to teach others what you recently learned. Something amazing happens when anyone is required to become the teacher. Our minds find a new enthusiasm and commitment to the knowledge when we are required to pass it along to others.

Better training companies offer significantly reduced rates when a student desires to return to the training over the following six months or so. Returning students infuse great strength and example into any seminar. Take advantage of opportunities to send employees to follow up training, or arrange for additional in-house training. Contact your training providers for these special rates.

Consider multiplying the value of the training you have received by applying some of these principles in your job or company.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company specializing in measuring, rating, improving and verifying HVAC system performance. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a free sample 30-min. in-house training lesson you can use in your company, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800/633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, technical articles and downloads.

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