Education is the cornerstone to success. However, in the small business world, it is often not done – or done so poorly that it might as well have not been done. Meanwhile, we have some frightening statistics of project failure. More than 60 percent of IT projects are said to have failed. In the CRM space, that number climbs to 85 percent.
There are many reasons for these failures, and training or even broader education is only part of the solution. However, here I want to focus on how we can change our approach to training and improve our results.
When providing or buying training for small businesses, we must consider all the different ways people learn and provide training that delivers the right results, the results that enable our team members to use the software solutions that our organizations have provided, often at a significant cost, to get the outcomes that they planned for all of these people, without costing the earth.
So how can we, as small business owners, provide training that fosters the ability to follow processes without just creating robots who repeat what they have seen demonstrated? To achieve this, our trainees need to leave the training understanding why the processes being taught are important, as well as when to use and how to follow each process. We need to create independent practitioners – people who can apply processes when relevant and make changes to them as required
If we are to create independent practitioners, there are some common training approaches that we need to avoid and some that we need to include.
Chalk and Talk / Spray and Pray
Chalk and Talk training often packs in so many topics that delegates can't remember and learn them. Covering less and giving students time to absorb the material works far better for process-based training. Chalk and Talk is the fool's gold of training practical skills, because it can look good to a buyer but delivers little if any real value.
A trainer working through – or, worse still, just reading – a huge deck of slides or an extended software demonstration will, at best, leave the delegates with a feeling of "I wish I knew all of that." They are highly unlikely to be able to take the lessons back to their work. This sort of training also creates an impression that training is a waste of time.
Novices understand little of what you say and, therefore, remember less. If no attempt is made to embed training, many delegates will forget 70 percent of it. Training should include a lot of hands-on learning, and the trainer should be there to show students how to correct their mistakes.
Within the material, there should be plenty of opportunities for the delegates to apply their learning. This means that topics and skills need to be revisited with less help. In my training material, I provide detailed steps the first time a skill is introduced, but far less detail in subsequent revisits of the skill. This also prompts some problem-solving without running the risk of each person finding their own solution to a process – which can easily lead to inconsistencies in process, which in turn lead to data issues, leading to reports and dashboards being seen as inaccurate or untrustworthy. We should also provide follow-up sessions sometime after the original training so that participants can ask questions.
Sitting With Nellie
Sitting With Nellie is where a person new to a team or to a process is asked to work with a more experienced person to learn the ropes of the job. When the nominated trainer is both an experienced doer of the process in question and an excellent communicator, this can work. However, it is rare that either of these are true. In reality, the learner gets to see the trainer demonstrate the process and is then left to apply it themselves. They rarely get any explanation of why steps are followed, much less get any opportunity to try the process for themselves in an environment where they can make mistakes, understand why they're mistakes and then learn how to correct them.
Teaching people how to correct mistakes is as important, often more so, than teaching them how to do something correctly. We need to provide exercises and let the participants do the work. I suggest providing short explanations of the material to provide background and the reasons for whatever you are teaching, then let them do it. However, the material guides in the process – it does not just leave them to figure it out.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Monkey See, Monkey Do is probably the worst sort of training for software skills. This is where a demonstration is done while the participants copy the steps. Typically, the participants are so wrapped up in where to click or what they type that there is no retention of either the detail of the task or the reasons for doing any steps.
Monkey See, Monkey Do has a feel-good factor, because participants have worked through to the end of a process. However, this is always short-lived, and this type of training quickly unravels.
Getting the software process training right
If your aim is just to tick a box to say that training was provided, your approach probably does not matter. However, if you want your team to leave the training able to apply the training to their roles confidently, you should ensure the following in your training program:
- The 'why' of the training should be explained before the training session.
- The training itself should include 'why' for each concept.
- Training should be heavily practical – to deliver the 'how' – without being copycat.
- Staff should be encouraged to take their own notes.
- The trainer should be skilled and knowledgeable in the topic to be covered, more advanced topics related to the topic being covered, and communication, including how adults learn.
- Sessions should be short enough, without being so short that the material is rushed.
- Practicals must not be so easy that they're not useful in the real world.
- Sessions should include review questions.
- There should be a review session a week or so after the training.
Providing training that meets the above points can be challenging, especially if budget is limited, as it often is in small businesses. There may be naysayers who try to convince you that training is not necessary or that they can cover all the required material in a much shorter or cheaper way. However, before you think that quality training is too expensive, what is the cost of not providing training, given that this is a big contributor to project failure?