Tips for Instructors

Although you might think that I am about to list a bunch of handy dandy tips for instructor success, I am not, and I will leave that to the 100+ books out there in the market to give you those tips.  No, I am going to share with you an experience I had this week with the volunteer role I am getting involved in.

A few weeks ago I talked about a program in my local community called SeniorNet which are computer classes for seniors and that I am applying to become a volunteer.  The wheels are turning slowly but my application to become an instructor or coach has been approved and so I just attended an orientation session.

During that session I was presented with written tips for the instructor and coaching roles.  Now while none of what was covered was a news flash to anyone that has been in adult learning as long as I have been, what impressed me was the organization and written handouts for a volunteer role! 

If we could only get corporations to prepare written standards and expectations this detailed for the instructor we would be light years ahead of the competition and have more focused trainers.

I mentioned to the program coordinator (who is just turning 80) that this was a professional process that seems to have left a lot of corporate organizations.  He smiled, and said that the beauty of working with a senior program is that many of the processes I haven’t seen in a while are alive and well in the program, because seniors are running things!

Wow!  As a society we are so tuned into the “Baby Boomer” generation retiring and what we are losing, that I had forgotten that most of what I grew up on was developed by the previous generation.

Basic performance management tells us to set expectations early, coach and give constructive feedback to make sure that performance is where it needs to be.  So here is a news flash for everyone – set expectations in both verbal and written forms!

If you have standards for training, if you want “adult learning principles” incorporated into your learning environments, then start providing written guidelines.  And even though the handout I was provided referred to the list as “tips” they are really performance guidelines.

If you cannot just print off a set and must create these from scratch then I suggest you team up with your staff, and your network to create some standards.  As I read through the list provided to me, I am amazed at the level of detail, and nothing is missing that I would be recommending.

Good Luck………….

CEO Closes Training Department

Earlier this week an associate of mine called with news that she and her training department that she managed had been terminated because the CEO could not justify keeping up the expense without something to prove that training returned on the investment being made every year.  In his opinion it was money being wasted.

While this associate is an excellent facilitator, she was promoted into the manager role without the necessary skills to pull it off, and over the last couple of years did nothing to improve her initial lack of skills.  So when confronted with the reason training was being closed, she lacked the ability to prove that training made a difference, she couldn’t make a case.

What was difficult for me was she was asking me for an employment reference as a training manager.  I said I could not be one since she didn’t have the skills for a training manager role.  I did my best to connect the dots for why her department had been closed, but in her mind it was the CEO that was at fault.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the CEO did the right thing by terminating this team.  The company is still very much in need of a training function, but with better skilled people this time.  I am introducing The Training Physical to the CEO so that they are better equipped to hire differently next time around.

I wish more companies would seek to fix their training department before they determine that the only option is to close them.  This is one department we might have been able to heal.

Develop The Whole Person

Take a look at your corporate training function and ask yourself if the purpose of training is to develop the whole person, or primarily to treat symptoms.  Does training apply bandages as training solutions or are they creating development plans that pay attention to the entire skill set needed?

I am attached to a training resource group that delivers me a daily email listing training request from all over the world, but mostly the United States.  Here I am seeing daily that training is a bandage applied over an over to a single employee.  Whatever the skill it is rare to see the request for a group of people.

Now it is possible that these folks missed the regular training event, or were just hired, and in some cases they could be the only person that needs the skills right now.  Yet it still smells of the quick fix training mindset rather than a proactive approach of planning out career development.

I challenge everyone reading, as well as those you may talk to that we need to start developing the whole person.  It make a more qualified and skilled employee, and it has been shown that it greatly increases employee retention.  Our newest workforce (the Y Generation) thrives on whole person development and will stay longer if they feel they are constantly learning. 

Yet to be clear, learning just for learning sake is not the point.  We must be developing the skills needed for the current as well as the future job.  Learning this way also leads to internal promotions and reduces the need to hire externally for open positions.

When I conduct a Training Physical  I really enjoy finding a full service medical center mentality, rather than the typical emergency room type training department.  Treating the whole person prevents a lot of “code blues” from ever occurring.

Everyone Has a Training Function

In my book The Training Physical, I state that every company should be evaluating the condition of their training function annually, and I mention that every company has a training function.  This week I ran across a small organization that needed my help identifying a skill gap in a single employee and recommend the appropriate performance solutions.

While it is normally my habit to inquire (especially when it is the CEO calling me) what their training department has identified so I am not stepping on anyone’s toes, I knew this company was too small to have a trainer let alone a whole department devoted to training.  It was a simple needs analysis, and something I was glad to assist them with, and at the same time disappointed that their internal HR person was unable to handle.

This company has around 25 employees, so there is no fiscally responsible way to justify a training department, but as I mentioned in my book, “where there are employees there is a need for training.”  It really does not matter how many employees a company has, they still need to address the learning needs and requirements of their workers.

It does make finding training solutions for small groups more challenging, but listen to me, it is not impossible!  If the HR Leader is not competent or desires to add training to their already full hat rack, then the CEO should find another leader to accept the mantel of training and learning.  If that is not an option, then the CEO has the responsibility to link up with a performance consultant like me, and have them oversee the learning function on a part-time basis.

This last option is really the best for the organization because they are tapping into talent and only paying for services rendered.  I have the philosophy that I can do this job for a fraction of the cost of hiring a trainer, and I am not going to over charge a small company like the large consulting firms do.  And the kicker is that many of the large consulting firms actually sub-contract out to folks like me, up charge the service and the client is the one getting the shaft from a cost standpoint.

So today I really just want to remind all readers that no matter what size company you work for, there is a training function.  It is either a formal or informal process, but both need an annual “Training Physical” to remain healthy!

Attending Training Conferences

Although I am partial to one annual training conference, I will not be highlighting the attributes in this posting for any particular conference over another.  In my opinion they all offer excellent opportunities to learn from others, network with peers and kill a lot of time if no one is held accountable.

I bet you didn’t see that last feature coming did you?  I was a senior trainer the first time I attended a national conference and I was like a kid in a candy shop.  I was so mesmerized by the speakers and in awe of the place that I tried to attend everything.  I spent countless hours in the expo area learning about every product and service available.  The difference I can bet from my attendance and most of the others attending was the expected return on the investment for sending me.

Prior to the conference, my manager emailed a link to the sessions and I was to give her a plan for everyday of the event.  I could choose what I went to see and attend, but I was not given complete freedom to do anything I desired.  In many cases she suggested alternative sessions, and I understood I was to return a findings report after the conference was over.

This manager was instrumental in training me how to be a performance consultant later on, so I now see that some of the outcomes were to get some practice on writing up a findings report.  Anyhow, I knew what I would need to do after I got back, so I took very good notes and I participated and listened better than I normally would.  Sadly, the next time I attended a training conference I didn’t report to the same manager and my current manager could have cared less about my time being accountable.

Years later as a Chief Learning Officer, with a desire to grow the professional training skills of my team, I encouraged attending training conferences for the people looking for a rounded education.  Yet I remembered the value I personally received from an “accountable-manager” and I required the same initial planning and a returning report from everyone.  I got the same initial push back, but the returning employee had a different point of view.  I even had one person that could not put together a plan because they could not find anything of interest.  We saved a lot of money not sending him to that conference and instead found another professional development activity he was able to find beneficial.

Today’s conferences are even more expensive and the travel costs have gone up too, so I encourage all of you to put conditions on employees attending a conference.