Monday, June 27, 2011

Tip #381: Six Reasons Why Supervisors Need to be Involved in Training Design

“One of the most important tasks of a manager is to eliminate his people's excuses for failure.” Robert Townsend

Supervisors suffer loss of time and productivity when their employees are not properly trained. As a result, they have a vested interest in decisions about what training to give, when to give it, and who should receive it.

Supervisors need to be involved in training design because they are the only ones who can ensure that the training supports employee performance, the training content is accurate, the training schedule is convenient, the right employees attend the training, the employees come to the training primed to learn, and there is follow up reinforcement for what has been learned in the training.

1. The training supports employee performance.

Performance needs should drive training decisions. Supervisors are in the best position to identify employee gaps in required knowledge and skills. They can also identify anticipated training needs due to program changes and new hires. Supervisors can help to prioritize the training needs so that the right training is given at the correct time to best support employee performance.

2. The training content is accurate.

Supervisors can serve as subject matter experts to help identify the learning objectives and key content for the training program. If other technical staff perform the function of subject matter experts, the supervisors need to be able to review the content to make sure it will accurately provide the required and desired knowledge and skills. They alone know the level of competence that the employees should achieve during the training program.

3. The training schedule is convenient.

Training schedules should take into consideration shift changes, employee workloads, production deadlines, and scheduled vacations. Supervisors need to be involved in planning how the training will be scheduled to minimize potential disruptions and maximize potential attendance. They can indicate the best length of time for a workshop, the best time of day or night, the frequency of the training and the desired duration between workshops. If the supervisors are not involved in training scheduling decisions, there is a strong likelihood that some employees who need the training will not be able to attend the scheduled workshops.

4. The right employees participate in the training.

There are times when all employees may need to attend the training and other times when only specific employees should attend. If the supervisors have been involved in identifying the training priorities, validating the training content, and scheduling the training, they are much more likely to plan ahead so that their employees can attend the training. They will also be able to identify which employees will benefit the most from the training.

5. The employees come to the training primed to learn.

The supervisors know what the training is designed to achieve. As a result, they can discuss the training with their employees and indicate what they want the employees to gain from attending the workshop. The employees will then come to the training with specific learning goals in mind. This will build their interest in the training and increase the probability that they will actively participate in the workshop, particularly if they are aware that the supervisors will be expecting changes in their behavior after the training.

6. There is follow up reinforcement for what has been learned in the training.

The supervisors have been involved in the design of the training program and they have alerted their employees to the knowledge or skills they are expected to gain from the workshop. When the employees return to their work site, the supervisors will be able to reinforce what the employees learned by holding them accountable for demonstrating their new learning.

Involving supervisors in training design will encourage them to actively support the training both before and after the workshop. This will ensure that the employees benefit from attending the workshop because the training provides relevant and accurate content that is reinforced by the supervisors back on the job. Supervisory participation in training design and reinforcement will also validate the role that training plays in supporting employee performance and, thereby, business success.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Tip #380: Sustained Business Growth Depends on Trained Leaders and Supervisor

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Benjamin Franklin

Often the very attributes necessary to spur and guide the successful growth of a business contain within them the seeds of its ultimate discontent. If a business wants to sustain its growth, it needs to make sure that its leaders and supervisors are well trained.

Many businesses begin as a craft organization around the founder's kitchen table. Everyone is equally invested in the activities, most of them perform similar functions, and they enjoy daily access and communication. When tasks need to be completed, whoever is available assumes responsibility. There is no need for supervisors at this stage.

People connect and check in with each other on a continual basis. The craft organization relies on specific members to play to their strengths and to build additional knowledge and skills when necessary through whatever means possible. If training occurs, it is very informal.

The founder or founders of the business are eager to instill their own level of interest and commitment in their new staff members. Decisions that need to be made are discussed with everyone involved in the business. To a great extent, the craft organization is a real team effort with direct and informal relationships and connections between all of its members.

If the business is going to grow, it moves into a promotional stage. Someone has to get the word out to prospective customers. As the figurehead of the company, the leader (and founder) starts to be very much involved in public relations and marketing activities. Decisions need to be made quickly to take advantage of market opportunities. This means that the leader may be gone for periods of time, and this creates a new challenge to internal business communications.

It is an exciting and intense time of considerable and fast moving growth. In order to support this growth, team members need to focus on their own levels of expertise instead of performing a range of tasks. There is no time for staff to learn new skills. To meet immediate needs, new staff may be hired to plug in essential gaps in the team’s capabilities. The addition of these team members creates a different dynamic, as what was once a close-knit family has to welcome individuals who lack the same history and involvement in the start up of the business.

These are not the only changes. The leader may start to communicate directly with only one or two other team members because of lack of time and the need to expedite decisions. This can cause the other original members of the team to become dissatisfied as their access to the leader and their involvement in decision-making becomes more limited.

They may also begin to feel less connected to other team members as their work responsibilities become more specialized in order to respond to specific market needs. Their lack of access to the leader, lack of time, increased workload, and increased fragmentation can begin to take their toll.

At this point, the leader requires the knowledge and skills to bridge this communication gap, coordinate the different parts of the business, manage the workload, and build staff morale- in short, to lead the growing business. A wise leader will recognize the importance of learning how to run a business and seek out the relevant training when the business is still at the craft stage, in anticipation of future growth.

As the business services and staff expand, and the attention of the leader is directed externally, there is a need for further internal departmentalization and the establishment of supervisory levels. A management hierarchy evolves.

This can be a very difficult transition, particularly if, as is very typical, the business fills the supervisory positions with the most experienced staff. These technically competent individuals frequently lack the necessary skills to effectively supervise other staff. They also may not understand that, as supervisors, they are expected to be leaders rather than hands on performers.

Coordination and communication become more complex and difficult as the workforce grows and compartmentalizes in specialty areas. There is too many staff to sit at one table as they used to do when the business was at the craft stage. By this time, the organization has grown into the administrative stage, where policies and procedures need to be written and formalized to ensure consistency throughout the business.

Many businesses start to falter and fail at this point, particularly if the leader and the supervisors are not sufficiently trained so that they can competently perform all of their duties.

Supervisors need the knowledge and skills to be able to: plan, create schedules, delegate work, communicate with different personalities, orient and train employees, manage and evaluate employee performance, provide constructive coaching feedback, maintain a motivated workforce, manage conflict, develop teams, handle discipline, and use good time management to meet project and production deadlines.

While a business is at the promotional stage, it needs to anticipate the next stage and provide training to the team members who will eventually become supervisors. Giving them training after they have assumed those supervisory roles is often too late.

When supervisors are in over their heads and unsure what to do, they can make critical mistakes that affect production, service and staff. When leaders are in over their heads, they can make critical mistakes that affect the growth and even the very continuation of the business.

A business that plans on growing will increase its probability of sustained success if it makes sure that its leader and supervisors have the training that will enable them to fulfill their respective leadership and supervisory responsibilities. The sooner they receive this training, the better it will be for them, for the employees and for the business itself.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Tip #379: In Defense of Classroom Learning

"Technology is fine. . ., but that popular vision of the future, where you plug somebody in and leave them there and they don't get out and interact with actual flesh-and-blood humans -- you know the answer before I say it -- that's not good." Dennis Miller

With all of the focus on using social media and e-learning for training, classroom training may seem less attractive and cost effective. However, there is certain learning that can only occur in a classroom, particularly skills that require face-to-face interaction. These include the variety of interpersonal communications, including interviewing, presenting, training and negotiating.

There are six reasons for this:

1. It creates a supportive learning environment.

The camaraderie, the opportunity to bounce ideas off of others and hear their ideas, the ability to ask questions and get immediate answers, the physical experience of connecting and working with other participants all combine to enrich the learning experience. There is a much greater likelihood that the learners will learn in a classroom.

a. The physical fact that the participants are seated in a classroom helps to focus them on learning.

b. Having others around them learning about the same things reinforces participants’ motivation to learn.

c. Participants can encourage, support and assist each each other in the learning process.

d. Learning is augmented by the other participant’s comments and participation.

2. The trainer can model the desired learning and behavior.

It is one thing to read a description, talk through a process, watch a taped demonstration or communicate through sound bytes. It is a very different learning experience when the participants can observe and ask questions as the trainer models the desired behavior.

a. The modeling occurs in real time, so participants have the immediate ability to ask questions and seek clarification.

b. Because it occurs in real time, the trainer can adapt the skill or process to the

specific needs of the participants.

c. Verbal and nonverbal nuances, such as the tone of voice, facial expression and body language, are much more obvious in a live demonstration.

d. Learners can participate in all or part of the demonstration, which lets them discover what adjustments they need to make so that the process works effectively for them.

3. It provides an opportunity for guided monitored practice.

If participants are to retain what they have learned, they need to practice it several times. In a classroom, participants can first practice with the full involvement of the trainer. They can then practice working in small groups, where they are able to reinforce and assist each other. Finally, they can practice independently, with access to the trainer.

a. The trainer can listen to and observe the participants’ work, intervening where necessary.

b. The trainer can coach the participants or jumpstart their thought processes.

c. The trainer can intervene when difficulties arise, to either reteach or interject new information that will assist the participants.

d. Participants have access to the trainer for immediate guidance and feedback.

4. It allows participants to practice face-to-face interactive skills.

Interactive skills require whole body learning. In other words, just because a participant intellectually grasps the steps in a specific type of interaction does not mean that the participant is able to effectively handle the interaction in real life. The only way that learners will achieve confidence in their own competence is for them to practice their new skills in simulations that are as real to life as possible.

a. The participants can evaluate whether their verbal and nonverbal behaviors are consistent with each other, or whether they are giving inconsistent messages.

b. The participants get a chance to see how it feels to actually say what needs to be said to the other person.

c. The participant has to adjust to and handle unexpected responses of the other person.

d. It gives participants the experience of having to think on their feet.

5. It can provide scheduled kinesthetic activity.

The needs of kinesthetic learners are frequently underserved because they need to move their bodies in order to learn. Classroom training can easily incorporate kinesthetic activities, particularly to check for comprehension. Rather than texting or sitting at a computer, participants can move into and out of small groups, stand up to make reports, raise their hands, and play physical games such as relays.

a. Standing up increases the blood flow to the brain, keeping participants more alert

and able to learn.

b. Movement increases the energy of the group.

c. Moving into different groups provides participants with new and different viewpoints.

d. Movement engages both sides of the brain, thereby increasing the probability of both learning and retention.

6. It can be decorated to reinforce a topic or theme.

A classroom can be transformed with pictures and colorful items on the walls and a variety of tabletop objects that emphasize key aspects of the topic at hand. The classroom can even replicate a real world setting with music, sounds, colors, audiovisuals and room arrangements. This increases the participants’ interest and attention, both of which will increase the likelihood of more effective learning.

a. A themed classroom can bring a topic or concept to life, simulating real life experience.

b. The more senses that are engaged, the greater the learning that occurs.

c. Stimulated senses enhance participant interest and energy.

d. A pleasant and appealing classroom creates a relaxed learning environment, and participants are more creative when they are relaxed.

Human beings are social animals. They are more likely to learn when they are together and they have a chance to articulate their thoughts, gain insights from others, and physically practice what they have learned. This is particularly true for learning the variety of interpersonal communication skills.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Tip #378: The Manager’s Role in Building a Customer Service Culture

"Moments of truth" are the critical incidents in which customers come into contact with the organization and form their impressions of its quality and service.” Karl Albrecht and Ron Zemke

Do your employees simply serve customers or do they really care about helping customers solve their problems? Do they recognize that every interaction they have with their internal or external customers is a moment of truth? Do they know that their interaction will determine the customer’s perception of your organization as either helpful, caring and accessible, or cold, disinterested, and unwelcoming?

As a manager, there are three key steps that you can take to instill, support and maintain a customer service culture throughout your organization.

1. Establish a customer service mission. This begins with identifying the significant impacts that your organization’s services have on both your internal and your external customers. Look beyond the obvious features of your product or service to find the benefits they provide to your customers. For example, a company that makes anti-lock brakes does more than manufacture a product. Their product will ultimately save lives.

Next, describe the image that your organization would like to project to your customers. For example, a call center's mission statement is: “To take ownership of each call, manage each request correctly, dispatch efficiently and communicate to ensure the customer's complete satisfaction."

As another example, the mission statement of J.B. Hunt Transportation: is “Providing optimum service and solutions to maintain customer productivity and satisfaction."

Finally, plan a strategy to make this image a reality. This will entail the next two steps: ensuring both customer-focused employees and organizational systems.

2. Ensure that your employees have a customer service mentality and focus. Every employee needs to support the customer service mission in every interaction they have with customers.

Review the “moments of truth” when your customers interact with your organization. You want your employees to consistently make these moments positive and responsive. Keep in mind that customer service is every employee’s responsibility. It is not limited to the people who work at the reception or service desks. There is no way to predict when a customer will come into contact with your organization.

Highlight and emphasize the key customer service qualities and skills necessary to fulfill your organization’ s customer service mission. For example, the first person with whom potential customers typically have contact is a receptionist. This employee needs to be friendly, open, welcoming and helpful. The employee who is responsible for resolving customer complaints needs to have good listening, communication and problem solving skills.

When you recruit employees, publish your emphasis on customer service; and when you screen applicants, include behavioral interviews in which you ask the applicants how they would handle different customer service situations.

Once you have hired the employees, establish both qualitative and quantitative performance standards and means of measurement to ensure that the desired customer service skills are used during customer contacts.

3. Ensure that organizational systems, policies and procedures support the customer service mission. Do not put your employees into the uncomfortable position of having the desire and skills to provide excellent customer service without the necessary systems or procedures that enable them to follow through.

Empower employees who are closest to the customer situation to make the required decisions to resolve the issues. Identify and resolve inconsistent performance expectations. For example, make sure that employees are not placed into a Catch-22 situation where they are expected, on the one hand, to meet the customers’ satisfaction while, on the other hand, they are evaluated on the basis of the number of customers served in a given period of time.

Confirm that, when one department makes promises to customers, the other departments can deliver on those promises. Provide incentive programs for quality customer service. Conduct customer surveys and act on their responses when feasible.

Check to see that employees have the training and tools to provide the desired customer service. Keep them up-to-date on policy changes that affect customers. Provide the technology they need to effectively perform their work. Also review the forms and other paperwork required of customers to make sure they are as clear as possible, with samples of completed forms and detailed instructions to complete them.

If you and your employees continually ask yourselves, “How will what I’m doing or planning on doing impact my customers?” and then take constructive action on the basis of the answer to that question, you will know that you have successfully built a customer service culture.

May your learning be sweet.