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Notes from an ex Training Manager – Angela O’Connell


Ex Training Manager? How come? I hear you ask, well read on and all will be revealed!

I’ve been reading the day in the life of/week in the life of/ 10 questions to Training Managers articles and been struck by what a similar bunch we all are (or was in my case). Training Managers have busy, varied jobs, love making a difference, are full of enthusiasm and as ever wrestle with evaluation and getting training a bit higher up the organisational agenda. Nothing new here but interesting to see things have not changed much.

I went into training back in the 80s and although there have been some dramatic changes some things remain the same – getting people, their managers and organisations really involved in learning. I spent 5 years as a Training Manager and generally loved every minute of it. Especially the “you cannot be serious”, “it will never work here”, “we are not ready for this yet” to the quiet look of ‘ah ha’ now I understand.

So what have I learned? Quite a lot and I’d like to share some of my learning with you – a sort of “Notes from an ex-Training Manager”, with apologies to Bill Bryson.

Getting training up the organisational agenda, in part, requires that elusive ingredient “senior management support”. So what have I learned about senior managers? Well from my experience they share some characteristics like:
- being extremely busy (making me feel guilty for taking up their valuable time)

- balancing competing priorities (immediate demands push out long term thinking)

- “big picture” thinkers (they only want detail on their terms)

- concise information requirements (at max 3 issues at any one time)

- to know training is making a difference (they have plenty of other ways to spend their budget)

- looking for fast results (especially to immediate problems)

- verbally supporting training (but not always “walking the talk” themselves).

As Training Managers we share a number of these characteristics. So why do we sometimes find senior managers so daunting? A quick stakeholder analysis showed me just how important senior managers were to training. I decided it was high time I worked on my relations with them. As we had Investors in People the senior management team reviewed training twice a year and in preparation I decided I would book a slot with each of them to go through what training had been doing and what they wanted from training over the coming months. This meant I knew what to expect at the review and had thought through any likely issues well in advance. I knew I was on the right track when a senior manager phoned me to ask what support he could give me at the review and other senior manager’s secretary phoned to arrange a meeting before I had phoned her.

Evaluation, just where do you start and end with it? It can be an enormous subject that can take over your working life if you let it. Secretly I do not think many Training Managers really like or understood it – I certainly did n’t and can remember initially struggling to evaluate every course at Kirkpatrick’s level 1, 2, 3 and 4. Looking back I was exhausted, frustrated and ineffective. Finally, I did some excellent training on evaluation and everything clicked into place.

My top tips for effective evaluation are:
- do not mention the “e” word unless you want to see that glazed look in the other person

- make sure you and your clients are clear about the changes they want to see as a result of the training you will be doing – agree this in advance of any training and ideally in the training needs/design phase

- only start evaluation that you can finish and have a use for. A filing cabinet full of “Happy Sheets” is no use if they are not used (and I would argue that Happy Sheets for all training is not necessary)

- identify how much time you can devote to evaluation. On average I guess I spent no more than 2 days per month analysing training information. To do this I divided the training into “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Of my 2 days I would allocate 5% of my time to The Good, 60% to The Bad to see what issues needed to be tackled and 35% to The Ugly. Remember ugliness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and the training might well be fit for purpose

- look for things to celebrate especially about improvements resulting from training

- be honest about what you want to improve on and ask for help in finding out how that might be done

- do not rely on just tick boxes, include space for comments as these give you valuable additional insights

- “chunk up” the information to help you identify issues to discuss with senior managers. In the evaluation I did of Induction I was able to show that 95% were pleased with the training side of their induction but that 45% wanted more on the job training and support.

Sometimes it can feel as though training is out there ahead of the organisation by exploring new and innovative subjects. I always enjoyed this but realised the importance of making sure what I was doing had a place in the organisation and was not so far ahead that it was out of place.

Then there is learning, the manager and the individual. I hated it when managers said the training had not worked because the individual had not changed, or individuals said the training would not work in the workplace. No quick fixes here, it was just down to communication, communication and more communication with the intention of getting the manager and/or the individual to take responsibility for their learning and its implementation.

The transfer of learning to the workplace was the subject of my Post Graduate Dissertation and was really the springboard for me to move on from being a Training Manager. Over the last couple of years I have trained extensively in Coaching as all of my experience shows that this is a tremendously powerful tool in helping people learn, become motivated, set goals and take action to improve how they work, live and relate to others and themselves.

Angela O’Connell


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