Don’t start your training program in the training room.
Suppose you notice that your employees could be doing things more professionally. You notice emails with missing contact information or Excel files that cut off the end columns when printed. Perhaps you overheard a phone conversation that could have been handled better.
Your observations tell you that it’s a good time to do some training. Given the common examples above, it would be hard to put a training program together. If you bring in someone to teach Excel, most of your people will complain that they know enough Excel to do their job and they probably do. But some do not have the proficiency with Excel you wish they had in spite of their self-appraisals. A few will want advanced Excel tips that would be over the heads of many.
Some of the problems have nothing to do with software skill; you notice a lack of polish in the way things are handled and want a greater level of professionalism. You’d like customer service improved.
So how do you go about setting up a training program to address these diverse needs?
The job of setting up training is usually handed over to the HR department. Someone in HR tries to arrange classes they can “sell” to the boss and then the employees. The boss groans about the cost. The employees groan about the time these classes will consume. HR groans about the logistics of getting enough people together at the same time to “fill” a class. The whole mess usually yields weak results because the goal gets misplaced in the process. 
HR, having the task of setting up training focuses on that as the objective. They must set up training sessions. The goal shifts from the myriad of minor tunings that would greatly enhance the whole of the business to the goal of filling the classes. There’s “mission drift” that happens as the task of arranging training becomes more and more expensive and cumbersome. HR will want to just get it scheduled and you can’t blame them.
High quality training can be fruitful and cost-effective if properly planned. You must start with a needs assessment. Supervisors should make a list of items they would like to see improved in individual employees. The employees should make a list of things they would like to learn. The lists should be reviewed and given to the trainer. A good trainer will be able to build group sessions where appropriate and plan private training for quick tip sessions. Flexibility is the key to success and cost savings. Having a trainer on-site for a week rather than a day will give plenty of time to work through new skills and give follow-up. Your people will get to know, and therefore, open up to the trainer. Once the trust is established, the employees are more willing to reveal what they do not know.
This requires a great trainer. [Okay, there’s a hint to call me] This approach, of mixing group and private time, is very effective both in terms of what “sticks” and total cost. A large group class can cost between $4,000-$10,000. The classes lean toward the higher costs when subjects such as improving customer service or better email communication are added to the mix. A diverse and experienced trainer can give you a week of service for that amount of money. Because so much of the training by a great trainer is provided on a one-to-one basis, there is little or no scheduling nightmare.
One last important point about training. Training is a process, not an event. You must allow for follow-up sessions at 30, 90 and 180 days after the initial training. The trainer can circulate and follow through for a day or two without the need to schedule any big sessions. Training dollars are wasted if you don’t see training as a continual process.
In my next post I’ll tell you who NOT to train.
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog