The Caveats Necessary for a Good Training Program

The Caveats Necessary for a Good Training Program

By Dan Bobinksi

Too many companies look at training as an expense, and some leaders even view it as a waste of time. Both can be true if training is merely “going through the motions.” However, if it’s conducted and managed well, training greatly improves the bottom line. The key phrase to remember is that training must be conducted well and managed well.

Consider a large company I worked with recently. For several decades, the people at the top of the organization had scoffed at training. Theirs was a “sink or swim” philosophy: Throw new employees in the pool, and if they could swim, they could stay. If they sank, they were replaced.

Then came new management. They’d heard grumblings about poor training, but because production numbers were OK, the issue got minimal attention.

Then the new HR manager pointed out that poor training was a direct cause of several very expensive accidents, costing the company hundreds of thousands dollars each. One accident had cost the company more than half a million dollars! When senior management learned that all of those accidents were a direct result of poor training, the topic suddenly had higher priority.

The following true story outlines what may be required if an organization’s training program has become neglected. As a workplace learning strategist, this is what I did for them, but any workplace learning consultancy can provide the same (or similar) assistance.

The first step is always analysis. No doctor writes a prescription without first asking a lot of questions and properly diagnosing the problem. After I was brought in, I was able to document that poor and/or non-existent training was also the main cause for excessive turnover, and was costing the company way too much in overtime.

Additionally, I learned the “training-is-a-waste-of-our-time” mindset had permeated much of the organization. Most front-line and mid-level supervisors scoffed at training, and those tasked with doing the training were not taking it seriously, either.

Thankfully, when I responded to the company’s request for proposal, I included a mandatory meeting for managers so I could go over the fundamentals of a good training program and encourage them to reinforce the value of training among all strata of their organization. At that meeting, senior management openly stated to all present that a training problem existed, and they pledged their full support to fix the problem. Such a commitment from the top is vital.

At that meeting, senior management discovered that one of their middle managers had a strong interest in training, and they appointed him to be the company’s liaison in working with me. Together, we created a comprehensive, cohesive, and strategically aligned training program. This is another aspect needed for success: Having an advocate inside the organization spearheading the project.

After that, jobs were analyzed and duty-and-task lists were created. A skills validation system was created. Subject matter experts with an aptitude for training were identified and taught best practices for on-the-job training (OJT). E-learning was created which streamlined and standardized how fundamental knowledge was taught for many positions. The project took over a year, which underscores another truth: Fixing neglected training programs doesn’t happen overnight.

Contrary to what some might believe, the costs of this endeavor came back to the company in less than a year. For example, by creating a skills validation system and teaching best practices for OJT, the time required to train new employees quickly dropped by more than 20 percent (in some cases by 50 percent). And a bonus: New employees actually learned more and became more proficient than what had occurred previously.

Also, the e-learning eliminated hundreds of man-hours formerly needed to teach basic knowledge for a position, and trainees had a better understanding of how their jobs affected other departments in the organization.

The ripple-effects of this new approach to training (all with financial implications) included a reduction in mistakes, a reduction in waste, a reduction in accidents, and a reduction in the time needed for training. It also provided an increase in employee proficiency, an increase in employee retention, and an increase in profits.

The bottom line here is that well-designed, well-managed workplace learning has a positive impact on an organization’s bottom line. Even if your organization’s training program is well-established and getting good marks, if you haven’t reviewed it in a while, perhaps now would be a good time to do so. It’s always a good idea to do an annual checkup to see if anything is fading or slipping through the cracks.

Here are some things to consider when reviewing your training programs:

Does the C-suite value training?

Do supervisors and managers deem it important and communicate that belief?

Do people assigned to facilitate on-the-job training have a good attitude about it?

Are on-the-job trainers trained in best practices for how to train others?

Are clearly defined duties and tasks identified for each position?

Is a system in place for tracking who has been trained and in what areas?

Is a reminder system in place so that people behind in their training get nudged?

Also, I’m a firm believer that companies should consider where e-learning can be used to augment training. E-learning is not a panacea, but if it’s done well, it can save a lot of time and standardize workplace fundamentals. However, allow me to underscore the caveat phrase, “If it’s done well.” I’ve seen a lot of e-learning that is not done well, because it does little to engage learners. You may need to shop and evaluate a lot, or even have it created for you, but e-learning works best if it’s highly interactive and pertinent to what people will be doing.

I think you’ll find that, if done well and managed well, training is a solid profit center, not a cost center. They key is always to make sure that it’s conducted well, managed well, and supported throughout the organization.

Dan Bobinski is author of the best-selling Creating Passion-Driven Teams, and president of Workplace-Excellence.com. As a workplace learning strategist, he speaks and consultants on workplace and training issues, and travels internationally helping organizations of all shapes and sizes. Reach him at dan@workplace-excellence.com or 208-375-7606.