In professional services, managers play the most important role in training. Not the trainer or expert. Not the participants themselves. Managers – the person to whom your staff report to on a daily basis. Yet…
Clearly, the role of the manager in training is critical. Managers ruin training all the time. However, it’s not all on the shoulders of managers! Training participants have a role too and can’t sit there blaming management for their poor training outcomes. The problem for most staff when approach training, is that – frankly – they are not good learners. Staff ruin training all the time too.
Training for adults usually involves (a) learning new, unfamiliar knowledge or (b) changing long-term habits. Your staff are no longer children. They are adults with embedded beliefs, attitudes and habits. The learning process can, therefore, be confronting, challenging and frustrating as staff often feel their beliefs are being challenged, that their way of doing things may not be optimal or they are not used to feeling a lack of control or expertise.
Excuses, excuses, excuses
While some staff will instantly see the benefits and push through any short-term pain, many staff will experience some uncertainty or fears during training. It is natural for participants in training to, therefore, seek excuses to avoid these difficult feelings.
- “I just don’t have the time to implement this”
- “I don’t see the value or point in changing my current skills/habits”
- “I tried it once and it didn’t work, so I am giving up”
- “I will give it a try when all the tools and processes are fixed”
- “It’s all too confusing and I don’t know where to start”
In all these statements, the participant is turning away from the training because they are finding it hard at the start, often when they are used to being on top of everything. This is a pivotal moment in learning and a failure to push through this moment will almost certainly result in a failed training exercise. Staff ruin training simply because good training isn’t always easy. In professional services firms, where staff are educated and used to feeling in control, this is a particular problem.
The problem is that unless the participant is quite self-motivated, they may not be able to overcome these barriers on their own. So, yes, once again, managers might have to step up and do several things to help deal with these situations.
Set the correct expectations upfront about learning
Learning is a journey, not a day or a session. Staff need to know it’s about exploring some new knowledge and then spending some time AFTER to implement it. Ideally, managers should tell staff that in addition to the time spent learning at the training event/module, staff are also expected to set aside time to review, test and implement their new knowledge.
Make a safe environment to learn
Managers need to be sure participants feel safe to ‘make mistakes’ with their new knowledge. If staff feel they need to be ‘perfect’ immediately at the end of a training event or module, they may never actually have a go afterwards for fear of failure. When we learn something new, we are usually bad at it for a little while. Practice, repetition, adaption and reflection are needed to embed our new knowledge and become good at it. Managers need to encourage this spirit and allow not just success sharing, but also sharing of hurdles or difficulties.
Keep the training alive
A key responsibility for management is to keep training alive beyond the event or module. As noted above, staff need time to implement. If the training is seen as an event – finished in one go and never spoken of again – then the training will be defeated. Managers can help keep training alive by ensuring its on the weekly team meeting agenda for a few weeks/months, asking for success or problem sharing, asking staff to debrief with them about the training or setting a medium-term goal for staff to achieve from the training.
Most staff don’t set out to defeat training. It’s a subconscious outcome because learning is hard. Learning doesn’t come naturally to most people. If it was easy, then why would your staff even be doing it?
As a result, staff ruin training easily. They end up defeating training, even when it’s not in their best interests! When management is aware of this and takes additional steps to create a better learning environment, the difference in outcome can be striking.