- Steve is one of the best sales people in his company. Would he be the best person to train the sales force?
- Sandy was just named Engineer of the Year. Is she the right person to teach new engineers about creating contracts?
- Greg is the head of the department, but when he provides instruction on new systems and processes, he puts people to sleep. Should he conduct the training programs for users?
Using your internal employees to provide training and instruction sounds like it makes perfect sense. It seems cost effective to take the people who know the most, do the best, and have great success, and put them in situations where they can help others do the same.
But just because it looks cost effective doesn’t mean it actually will be. There are potential land mines that internal employee instructors need to be aware of and avoid.
Harder Than it Looks
Training looks easy. Good trainers make it look easy. But don’t be fooled by how things look because being both instructor and entertainer is not so simple. Getting adults to pay attention is important, but the goal is to equip them with skills and knowledge. Some issues carry more than just job responsibility and knowledge. Instructors can find themselves dealing with ethics or harassment. Success as an instructor often lies in knowing what to avoid as well as what to cover.
Everyone has a learning curve and expecting perfection will lead to disappointment. No matter how vibrant a speaker you are or how motivating people say you were at the last meeting of toastmasters, employees will make mistakes and will have questions. That’s normal and part of the learning process. Adult students learn as they go, no matter how much they understand at training. The day to day experiences employees have at work are genuine on-the-job training for them. Often, the ongoing reflection and discussions between manager and employee are more important than results produced by learners during training. Appreciate this interaction as much as reaching any objective in the training plan.
Write Out Your Plan and Agenda
Regardless of how knowledgeable you are about your topic, never “wing it”: It’s best to create a schedule and format for training well ahead of time. Estimate how long it should take to cover topics and write it down. You can even include what visual aids and handouts you will be using. It can be a good idea to give trainees an agenda that provides them with an idea of what is coming and how long it will last. If you say there will be a lunch break at noon, there should be a lunch break around 12:00 PM. You should completely prepare for the training. That also means knowing the subject inside and out. Your expertise and enthusiasm will come through when you confidently discuss the topic and answer questions. Trainees are more likely to listen to someone they perceive as an expert.
But remember that your plan is just that a plan. It is not the law. Good instructors are able to deviate from the plan somewhat when the discussion gets into related and relevant areas. Staying flexible allows you to leverage the interest and energy of your trainees which develops them into enthusiastic learners. It’s a lot like playing jazz! Know what you want things to sound like but be ready and willing to improvise.
Focus on Interaction
Training should be focused on the interaction between the instructor and the trainees, not reading materials. PowerPoint, or handouts. Try to avoid giving handouts at the beginning; assure trainees that they will receive a summary of what was covered at the end of the program. This way they can focus on what is going on in the classroom.
Don’t just lecture. Use discussion, role play, video, or on the job training examples and assignments to let trainees experience and understand what to do. Be prepared to answer some of the ‘why’ questions that may arise from discussion.
Know a little about how adults learn. They learn best by applying information to current, real-world needs, so select methods that include opportunities to actually apply new information and methods in the workplace to a real-life problem. It’s not always easy for learners to translate discussion about simulated situations and case studies back on the job. Help them make the connection. On-the-job training can be very powerful when complemented with new information, methods, and time for reflection.
Adult learners also benefit a great deal from ongoing feedback around their experiences when applying new information and materials. Training should give learners the opportunity to describe the results of applying new information and methods, what they thought would happen, what actually happened and why, and what they gained from the experience.
Walk the Talk
One final tip is to remember: instructors should practice what they preach. Training employees about ethics? Then you should be seen as ethical. Conducting programs on avoiding a hostile work environment? Then you should be seen as someone who steers clear from even the gray areas of harassment. Teaching people about contract negotiations? You should be known as a fair negotiator who creates successful agreements.
- Write out learning objectives (At the end of training participants will be able to…).
- Create a timed lesson plan with an estimate of how longs activities will take and what materials you will be using.
- Create handouts that reflect the content of the program.
- Intersperse lecture and Q&A with interaction: quizzes, simulations, discussions, games, exercises.
- Make time for questions and encourage them.
- Inquire about opportunities for students to apply new material and problems they may have had in the past with the topic.
The best person to be an instructor in your firm is the person who can improve the performance of others.