Merge's Blog

Category Archives: Training Tools

What school teachers already know about employee training

classroomAs a leader, you recognize the value of investing in training for your employees.  A skilled workforce leads to improved performance and productivity, which means that your staff can do their jobs more effectively on a day-to-day basis.  When people understand their roles, they know how to achieve positive outcomes, and operate more productively.  When you equip your employees with the skills they need to embrace new techniques and procedures, you also maintain your competitiveness.  And when you invest in employee training, you positively impact employee morale and commitment, and eventually performance levels.  All of which means that you want your investment in employee training to not only be useful in the short-term but also last in the long-term!

What makes employee training effective?

So what does it take to make employee training effective?  What is it that ensures that your people are able to understand what is being taught AND influences them to take action?  The answer, not surprisingly, can be found in the education profession.  School teachers are well aware of the value of formative assessment tools to help students learn more effectively.  Essentially, formative assessment strategies are a range of procedures used by school teachers to progressively modify teaching and learning activities when working with students.  And these same tools can be just as powerful when it comes to employee training.  Here are four strategies that teachers use with school children that can be just as effective for leaders to use in the workplace with employees. Continue reading

When the policy manual is a good thing …

Last year, one of my regular columns in The Globe & Mail was titled Three reasons to ignore your company’s policy manual and in it, I made the case for being flexible in the application of company rules and policies.  Which might lead one to think that I’m against policy and procedure manuals.  But regular readers of the blog will know that I’m not; in fact, I happen to think that procedure manuals are definitely worth the effort, particularly when it comes to training employees, or dealing with crisis situations.  CombinationLockThe best way for me to explain this apparent contradiction is to use the metaphor of an old-fashioned combination lock.  If you know the correct numbers and the right sequence for a specific combination lock, then you can be guaranteed that the lock will open.  Sure, you may get a little confused, or your hands may shake while you’re spinning the dial, but if the numbers and sequence are accurate, and despite the fact that you may need several tries, the ultimate outcome is that the lock will open.

Think about your procedure manual as the established record of the required numbers and sequence in a combination lock.  When needed, employees can gain access to this information, and even if they are inexperienced or unnerved, they can still deal with the situation; they can still open the lock to get the outcome they desire. Continue reading

“Learning by doing” outshines “teaching”

As a leader, you know that employee training is important. And for most people, training translates to “teaching” – a structured or unstructured process to convey information from an expert who knows to those who don’t. But as someone who has worked for years to help people develop and hone their leadership skills, I can tell you that the best training is not “teaching”, it’s “learning”; in fact, it’s “learning by watching” and “learning by doing”. I know this sounds like I’m splitting hairs, so let me explain. Actually, instead of trying to tell you, why don’t I show you? … Rather, why don’t I let this very illustrative video do it for me …

Watching, and learning by doing, means that people learn how to think. They understand the logic; they comprehend not only the how and the what of their actions, but also the why. And when employees grasp the why, they are better able to deal with things that are outside the norm; if you understand the reasoning, you then GET the implications of taking atypical actions. Continue reading

Training employees – GPS or paper map?

GirlMapGPSDo you remember when Global Positioning System (GPS) devices were not as ubiquitous as they are today?  I do.  I remember having no choice but to use paper maps; studying one before I went somewhere important, turning it sideways and upside down while standing at a street corner in order to orient myself in the right direction, and looking for other landmarks around me to pinpoint my location (once I realized that I was hopelessly lost).

Yes, I admit it, I love GPS devices!  After all, what could be easier?  A pleasant voice telling me to turn left, drive for 6 miles, turn right, make a U-turn and then arrive at my destination.  And if I happen to miss a turn, the just-as-pleasant reprimand — “recalculating”.  Continue reading

Measuring the value of training

If your training expenses are significant, it’s not unusual to have senior leaders in your organization question whether the money spent is worth it.  And it’s not a bad question.  After all, just like every other cost you incur, you should be able to show that the dollars you spend on training your people has a positive return on investment.  But that’s the challenge … it can often be a struggle to evaluate the effectiveness of training.  After all, not every learned skill can be measured quantitatively.  Things such as customer satisfaction ratings or the average time to complete a client’s file can be calculated, but it’s much harder to compute improvement in communication or leadership!  In the latest issue of CGA Magazine, I take you back to a model (that was first developed over 50  years ago) that you can use to demonstrate that training your staff is effective and has impact.

Training Justified

Take a look and then come one back to the blog and tell us how you’ve been able to demonstrate the value of your training initiatives to the senior folks in your organization. Let’s share what works (and doesn’t work)!

Procedure manuals are worth the effort

About sixty minutes into a recent ten-hour trans-Atlantic flight, our plane encountered an unexpected mechanical problem and the pilot announced that we were going to make an emergency landing at a nearby airport.  He went to some length to reassure us that it was not a crisis situation, but more a prudent precautionary measure given that the majority of our journey was over water.  We landed safely, the problem was fixed, and within another three hours we were on our way.  End of story.  What caught my attention though was what happened earlier in the plane, immediately after the captain’s announcement.  While passengers remained calm and composed, almost three-quarters of my fellow travelers leaned forward, pulled out the emergency procedures card from the seat pocket in front of them, and proceeded to carefully read the instructions.  It was interesting to me that merely an hour ago during the safety demonstration, the flight attendants had asked them to do exactly that, and almost nobody had complied.  But now, because of a potential crisis, everyone was concentrating closely on this very same information.

It got me thinking about the procedures manuals and check-lists that exist in the various departments in so many organizations.  Many managers and supervisors I work with advocate eliminating these documents.  They’re outdated most of the time, no one ever looks at them, it takes effort to keep them current – these are just some of the reasons I hear from those who would do away with them.  But the real worth in such documents comes during times of crisis.  It’s when things start to go wrong that people seek out the manuals and check-lists.  It’s when the unexpected happens that people turn to the security of what has been documented in writing.  All of which suggests that perhaps there IS value in job handbooks and process guides, even if it takes work to keep them current and even if they get outdated the moment they are completed.   What do you think?  Waste of time, or worthwhile effort?

Training employees – process or logic?

When training employees, which do you think is more important?

  • Teaching the process – what and how to do the individual tasks and steps that make up whatever it is that needs to be done, or
  • Teaching the logic – not only the what and the how but also the why – why things are being done the way they’re being done.

Before you answer, let me submit some points to consider.  The value in teaching the logic – the how, what and the why – is that employees are better able to deal with things that are outside the norm because they understand the reasoning and thus the implications of taking atypical actions.  However, teaching logic takes much longer than just teaching a process.  It’s far easier to give an employee a step-by-step task or instruction list that they can follow every single time.  This instruction list can then also be placed in a “desk binder” or equivalent reference source for employees to consult every time they need to.  In fact, this process orientation is the foundation for many well-recognized (and well-regarded) quality management standards and systems. The thinking behind this “process” approach is that once employees master the process, then understanding the reasoning behind the actions and decisions can come later.

I pose this question because of an informal discussion I had last week with a group of leaders at a large multinational client organization.  Over the past few years, they have been actively centralizing many of their “routine” operational activities (such as contract set-up and administration, accounts payable, and first-level telephone customer service) to lower-cost corporate locations outside North America and Western Europe.  To simplify and fast-track the transitions, they chose the “teach the process” approach.  However increasingly, sometimes even two to three years later, they are finding high levels of errors, due mostly to employees executing transactions without fully understanding the logic behind them.

So, the question is – process or logic?  Where is the balance (and how does one achieve it)?  Have you had first-hand experience with such a situation?  Please share!