Is Training Always The Solution?

In spite of a well planned training strategy do you find that you occasionally get corralled  putting out fires and dealing with last minute demands?  This can be very frustrating for the entire training team who are trying in vain to accomplish their goals as set out in their performance management plan. Last minute requests usually need to be dealt with in a rush which leaves little time for the requirements of assessment, design and delivery. Plus training is not always the best solution to the problem.

I can recall an example from my past, working for a large eastern Canadian health care institution.  I received a call from my boss telling me to drop everything and come down to his office for a meeting.  The CEO was there and was visibly upset because of a complaint he had just received from the wife of a dignitary who had cause to visit our Emergency Centre.  She personally complained to our CEO about the rude and unacceptable treatment she had received from some staff.

He directed me to create a comprehensive training program, not only for the Emergency Centre but for the entire organization on “Customer Service.”  And he wanted to see a draft plan on his desk by the end of the week.

We are talking about a staff of 3000 employees and our Training Department only consisted of myself, the manager, and two Training Specialists.  Where too start?

First I had to put all existing projects on hold.  I did a quick needs assessment with the Emergency Centre by interviewing both the leadership and 25% of the employee population. As the old saying goes “there is a reason for everything”, and I soon found out what was at the bottom of this unrest.

The staff of the Emergency Centre had just been provided with new uniforms and were mandated to wear them on shift.  They hated the uniforms and were angry that they were not involved in the selection process.  They felt that the uniforms were unattractive and made them look unprofessional.

As coincidence would have it, the day that the VIP came into the Emergency was the first day that staff were required to wear the uniform.  And the VIP made a few less than generous comments on the uniforms which led to some  less than flattering feedback about keeping her opinions to herself.

So this was the catalyst to suddenly drop everything and bring out a  corporate wide Customer Service program.  In my opinion this was sort of like “killing a fly with a sledge hammer!”  I reported back to my VP and suggested perhaps we address the uniform issue and conduct a Client Satisfaction Survey to confirm whether there was a significant customer service issue that could be remedied through training.  

In the end we did the Satisfaction Survey and received  very positive reviews from our clients which we shared with our CEO.  We explained the unhappiness with the staff uniforms that was at root cause and he agreed to let HR set up a Committee with staff representation to select outfits that everyone would be satisfied with.

Hence a training emergency averted and a problem solved!

Do You Have A Training Strategy for your NonProfit?

Training is more than offering a bunch of courses.  I have worked with a number of organizations that develop a training budget in January and then in September are in a panic to get it spent by year’s end.  Results are usually mixed because there are no clear objectives as to how or what this training is going to do to further the interests of the organization. Employees may have appreciated attending the training sessions but no one is asking the bigger question: “what value has this training provided to your organization?”  

Before slipping a number into your budget that you think will meet the need, I suggest that you develop a strategy .  Then cost it out in terms of the training delivery cost and more importantly the cost of having your employees off work to attend the training.  Your executive team is more likely to support your strategy when they understand how it positively contributes to and impacts the organization.

As the person in charge of the training portfolio you will have to do your research.  Carefully review the upcoming year’s strategic plan to suss out whether there are any major change initiatives being planned that will require skill development or change management.  The cost of a major change whether it be restructuring, retooling or new systems implementation will greatly overshadow the cost of effective training.  And a training strategy linked to this change initiative will be easier to sell to those who hold the company’s purse strings.

Your research should also include reviewing the 3rd quarter performance management results to search for common gaps and deficiencies in performance.  Come up with a training solution and add it to your training strategy.

And don’t forget to check out the climate (employee satisfaction) survey where you will often find useful data on the shortcomings of your organization’s collective leadership.  Identify training solutions to coach your supervisors, managers and directors to create a more hospitable work environment where employees become inspired to deliver higher levels of service.  These surveys can also identify common communication gaps that are causing unrest among the employees.

Finally determine what training you are equipped to deliver in-house and what will have to be farmed out to external vendors. Is there an opportunity to train internal champions and experts to become effective facilitators particularly for skill development?  Is it time to develop a formal mentorship program to share knowledge internally?

These days classroom training is being partnered with eLearning and online learning to create a blended approach to make learning more accessible and in many cases more affordable.  But initially, setting up a learning management system can be expensive and require new staffing resources.  Is this something that should become part of a multiyear strategic plan for you?  Online learning is a great way to provide policy and procedure training and does not need a sophisticated learning management system so it is often a good place to start.  Then you can add complexity each year as these new delivery systems prove themselves.  This is especially a great sell if your organization works from multiple locations.

Talk to your senior leaders. Set up a meeting with each of them individually and  share with them what your research has revealed.  Find out if they have needs unique to their Divisions. Ask for their support in getting the budget for your strategy.  If you’ve done your homework they will listen.