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Chris Dyer



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Train, don’t torture: how to avoid another boring, useless training session


Many employees view skills training as a waste of time – so how can you engage and inspire these people and ensure they take something useful away from your session?

Skills training is a proven draw for talent, yet it remains a source of dread for many busy workers. Common concerns include: ‘how will I fit it in and make my deadlines? Will I be able to stay awake? What’s the point?’ People may participate grudgingly, take away little and never tell the boss what a waste of time it all was.

Still, according to writers for business research giant Gallup, companies make an annual educational investment of more than a thousand dollars (US) per worker.

No employer wants to waste anybody’s time, nor the company’s money, on sessions with little learning value.

Those are reasons enough to avoid what some employees dread or disdain.

To avoid losing money and workers’ engagement with their jobs, business leaders should address practical and emotional issues before even selecting or scheduling a training session.

Speak to human needs

Fortunately, people love to learn! They crave the chance to master skills of any kind.

If you’re teaching something basic, give participants steps toward a larger, sexier goal. If you know that individuals have a knack for something particular, let them develop those strengths further.

Apart from satisfying a human desire, gaining practical expertise may soon outstrip the value of college degrees in job advancement.

Longer life spans and shorter job tenures mean that skills building will soon be the edge that lets younger generations of workers get ahead. When you offer that kind of training, you will attract the best talent.

Since people learn in different ways, you’ll want to teach from different angles. Gallup’s analysis revealed that a blend of computer-based and in-person tutorials appeal to the widest range of learning styles.

Some people prefer the flexibility of self-guided training videos and online walk-throughs, while others need interaction that allows them to ask questions and pursue threads of interest.

The best combined teaching programmes add an element of applied study after employees have absorbed the informational material.

Get your people involved

Those are the nuts and bolts of good training - but what about additional emotional components?

To combat boredom and the sense that topics are not relevant, let your staff take the helm and survey them first. They know best what they need to know in order to do their jobs better.

Don’t stop there. Come right out and ask what they like and dislike about job training in general. Then you can accentuate the positive and problem-solve your way around obstacles as you set your agenda.

One great experience can turn training sceptics into supporters of continuing education.

Can you give your people a choice in training programmes? A big gripe about mandatory training is that it’s not applicable to everybody. Explore ways to customise part or all of the information to different job needs.

If the subject is something that must be studied company-wide, such as anti-harassment, demonstrate its necessity beforehand. Find a timely news story or personal anecdote that shows how better awareness of the issues benefits everyone, not just potential victims.

Prove that it’s relevant

It can be tough for employers to make any programme appeal to everyone. Set yours up for success with a thoughtful selection process that brings in constituents from various levels: HR, department managers, and direct reports.

Each sector will have different objectives to be gained, but the employees who will attend are the ones who must be convinced of the initiative’s value.

Once HR and management have had their say and narrowed down the choices, bring in some team members who can test-drive those programmes.

Perhaps the best insurance against unfulfilling training sessions is transparency. Tell people why you’re asking them to engage in learning.

Tell them what management’s purpose is, and then let the employees define what they would like to get out of their educational time and effort. Give these people a say in the final selection.

Then, ask them to imagine the impact of what will be learned on their daily tasks. Concrete examples of the programme’s applicability will go a long way toward persuading co-workers that the effort will be worth their time.

If the training provider has testimonials of how the material worked for other companies, contact some of them and get their stamp of approval to pass along.

Line up support

Now comes the onboarding phase in which you should enlist peer teachers, mentors, and facilitators.

We may be more comfortable learning from someone we know. One option is pre-training individuals who already understand the basics or have an affinity for the subject. Let them lead as teachers, or as mentors for folks who need one-on-one help.

Another approach is to choose an enthusiastic employee as facilitator. Let that person explain the rationale for training. How will specifically tie into people’s job roles and goals? How will it add value to their resumes for future career moves?

Use a post-training practice period to let everyone work together on what they’ve learned. This will help them internalise the information and put it into action, as an exercise in mastery.

One great experience can turn training sceptics into supporters of continuing education.

Perhaps the best insurance against unfulfilling training sessions is transparency. Tell people why you’re asking them to engage in learning. Be sure to follow up with sincere requests for feedback on their experience.

They’ll appreciate being part of process and they’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that their input might prevent the torture of another boring, useless training session in the future.

Interested in this topic? Read Trainers' tips: how to tell what your trainees are thinking.

Author Profile Picture
Chris Dyer


Read more from Chris Dyer

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