Management 101 – Part 3 – Training

After I sold my business in the Caribbean, I took a job at a major home improvement retailer (the one with the blue, gray, and red logo not the orange one). I had owned and operated a millwork business in the islands so I was very familiar with doors, windows, trim, and custom work so when I was offered a job in that department I thought it would be a simple transition.

The training process my new employer offered consisted of a series of computerized modules intended to introduce new hires to the processes and procedures of the company’s products and the methods of placing orders.

The morning I “graduated” from the training and was escorted to my spot behind the millwork desk on the sales floor. As the HR guy left, he said, “You’ll catch on.” That was it.

I soon discovered that the computerized training had two flaws. First, it did not effectively simulate life in the real world. The training modules had obviously been created by people who, talented thought they were in creating computerized training systems, had obviously never worked on the sales floor. Second, it failed to consider the complexities of an unfamiliar system. It did not introduce new hires like myself to the intricacies of the company’s outdated and convoluted computerized ordering system.

The third element in Management 101 is training after planning and organizing. The concept is simple enough – give someone the skills and information they need to get the job done. The problem is in the execution. The problems stem from two flawed assumptions.

Assumption #1 – that the trainee knows a lot already. Usually this comes from people who are too busy to invest the time and effort into effective training so they assume their charge knows what they need to know and a brief or summary training is sufficient. But it may not be that you’re too busy. It might be that you just assume too much. They did this on my job. They assumed that because I owned and operated a millwork business that I knew the subject already. I knew the subject. I did not know the company’s products, the local codes that affected the customer’s choices in products, nor the wacko system the company used to process an order. Every company or organization has a particular product line and even old product lines come out with new products. Every company or organization has its own peculiarities; its own ways of getting things done that may or may not mesh with what your trainee has learned. The solution: Find out. Ask questions, watch the trainee’s performance, assure them that you assume nothing so that they have ALL the tools they need to get the job done, but they can move through the process already if they’re covering familiar ground.

Assumption #2 – that the trainee doesn’t know anything. If you’re going to err, err on the side of this one. It is better to be over-prepared than under. Nonetheless, you don’t want to insult them either so be sure to communicate both your intent and why covering old territory. Everyone needs to review the basics now and again (Just look at you. You’re a seasoned manager or leader and you’re reading through a series called Management 101). In today’s litigious climate, many companies are covering all their legal obligations by having employees follow a systemized training program so that everything is covered and everyone goes through the system. In your company there may be little you can do about this assumption, but try to fast track the quick learners and the experienced pros.

Abraham Maslow’s now famous study of human behavior and learning suggested that the trainee should be exposed to what s/he does not know, their level of conscious incompetence, so that they are motivated to acquire the knowledge and skill.

Since this article is more on training as a concept that training as a practice, I must leave the tasks and techniques of training to another series. Here are the key concepts of training:

  • What does the trainee need to know?
  • What do they know already?
  • What new skills do they need to acquire?
  • What old techniques do they need to unlearn?
  • What is the best way to get the trainee from where they are to where they need to be?
  • Where will you begin? Where will you end?
  • How will you know that the training is completed?

A plan is primary. Organizing people, time, and stuff to execute the plan builds the structure of permanent accomplishment. But it is training that populate your organized plan with the animated figures who make it happen.

The first two installments in this series are:

Management 101 – Plan

Management 101 – Organize

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