Are You Sure You’re Training People to Do the Right Things?
Not long ago Dan Black, chief learning strategist at Tortal Training, got a call from a potential new client who said, “We need sales training!”
Dan, a brilliant training pro, answered, “Are you sure that is what you need?”
The caller explained that some of their salespeople were doing four times the volume of others. It had to be because they were better salespeople … right? So, they needed sales training!
Dan investigated and determined that the top producers weren’t better salespeople. They were actually selling more because they were using more efficient ways to process customer transactions – they filed their paperwork and returned to selling sooner. So Dan created a training program that taught the salespeople to process orders faster. The result was an almost instant surge in sales.
Here, thanks to Dan, are some non-obvious, commonsense steps to help you be sure you are training the right skills.
Step One: Get Real Information from the Right People
You need to find out what is really taking place in the work of the people whose performance you would like to improve. Diversity of perspective is key here; so don’t be afraid to have a mix of people. Here’s a sample group of people to talk to:
- The new person who really gets it: They provide a fresh perspective.
- The go-to person who has been there forever: They can provide historical knowledge about how the role has changed over the years.
- An adjacent collaborator role: Don’t be afraid to bring in someone who is not in the role, but who depends on it. This individual can provide an outsider’s perspective and key knowledge.
Step Two: Create an Occupational Definition
Your training developer should have everyone in the room focused on the role. Here’s a simple quadrant matrix to document:
- Reporting lines: Who does the role report to up, down and laterally?
- Critical knowledge and skills: What specific skills are essential to doing the job well?
- “Nice to have” abilities and traits: What type of person tends to perform well?
- Learned, but wasn’t taught: What were those “a-ha moments” your group had on the job?
Step Three: Define the Body of Knowledge Needed for Peak Performance
A Duty/Task Matrix can be used to define the body of knowledge necessary to perform in the role. You only need some big post-it notes and sharpies. Get the information on the wall so everyone can see it. Put duties down the left, and tasks going across left to right. Here are the definitions and some examples:
- Duties: This is a something that is top-of-mind for the role. It doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It is ever-present while on the job and usually ends in –ing. Some examples:
- Restaurant Manager. Duty: Maintaining food safety
- Automotive Maintenance Manager. Duty: Selling products and services
- Tasks: These are processes or procedures that have a beginning and end. They usually can have a metric associated with them. These roles fulfill duties by repeatedly completing a series of tasks, usually four or more. A defined task requires an object, verb and qualifier. Some examples:
- Restaurant Manager. Task: Wash hands properly
- Automotive Maintenance Manager. Task: Write a customer-facing estimate
When you identify all the duties and the tasks required to fulfill a role, you’ve documented the entire body of knowledge used by your experts in the room.
Step Four: Understand the Gaps and Criticality
It is now time to zero in on the tasks that have the highest impact on performance. Here are steps to follow:
- Draft a Gap Analysis – Go task by task. Where is it documented how to perform this task?
- Consider criticality – All the tasks you have codified are important, but which of them are most critical? Use a simple rubric and define the impact to the business, performance, individual or team upon failure. If the worker fails to perform this task, does anyone notice? Does it create some rework—possibly a lot?
Step Five: Now Build Your Plan
You now have all the information you need to build your plan. You know what the role looks like, contained in your occupational definition. You know the body of knowledge that needs to be learned. You know what exists and what doesn’t, laid out in your gap analysis. And you know what information is critical to performance, as summarized in your criticality analysis.
You can build your learning maps for the role, from beginner to expert. Now you are armed with an analysis of what your training should deliver, based on empirical data and not simply feelings. Now you can go to your management with a plan that justifies a budget and will deliver results. Why? Because you will be training the right skills that will produce the results and improvement you are seeking.