When it’s just so obvious NOT to train it’s painful to watch it happen

The amount of time, effort and money wasted on formal ILT training prior to rollout or upgrade of enterprise platforms (particularly ERM and CRM) and other new software systems is really quite amazing.

Some managers and L&D people just don’t seem to get it.

It reminds me of the remarkable insight of the author Aldous Huxley when he said “I see the best, but it’s the worse that I pursue”

The evidence has been around for a long time that formal training on detailed task and process-based activities in advance of the need to carry out the task or use the process is essentially useless.

The logic and evidence both point to the fact that the “we’re rolling out a new system, so we’ve got to train them all” approach employed by many (read ‘most’) organisations, and offered as a service by training suppliers across the globe, is both inefficient and fundamentally ineffective.

You might as well throw the money spent on these activities out the window. Actually, a better option would be to spend the diminishing L&D budget on approaches that do work. Not only would new rollouts and upgrades come into use more smoothly, but am prepared to bet that it would leave budget over to use for other things, or to take as savings (perish the thought!)

Even if you’ve never been involved in training for rollout and upgrade and then finding that users demand re-training or simply call the help desk as soon as go-live happens, it helps to be aware of some fundamental truths about this flawed model.

Truth 1: Too much information for any human to remember

Most pre go-live training is delivered through ILT or eLearning and is content-heavy. The instructional designers and SMEs feel the need to cover every possibly eventuality and load courses with scenarios, examples and other ‘just-in-case’ content.

I have seen multiple PowerPoint decks of 200-300 slides delivered over 2-3 days for CRM upgrades. Few humans can recall this amount of information for later use, or even a fraction of it. Maybe if they have photographic memories they can, but designing for photographic memories is not really a sensible strategy. The rest of us just park most of what we do remember at the end of the session in the ‘clear out overnight’ part of our brains.

And all those expensively-produced User Guides are simply a waste of the Earth’s limited natural resources. They tend to be too detailed, linear, full of grabs of screens that the user will never refer to, impossible to navigate, and the last thing people reach for when they need help in using a new system. They are far more likely to reach for the phone and call the Help Desk. Training User Guides are quintessentially shelfware. Usually the only time someone picks user guides off the shelf is to throw them in a bin (hopefully one marked ‘recycling’) during a clear-out or an office move.

Truth 2: Too much time between the training and use

Embedding knowledge in short-term memory and long-term memory are two very different processes. Even the information that can been recalled immediately after training – and that’s likely to be minimal – will be lost if it isn’t reinforced through practice within a few hours.

Practice and reinforcement are required for the neurological processes of conversion to long-term memory to occur – chemicals in the brain such as seratonin, cyclic AMP, and specific binding proteins do that job.

Do you think Tiger Woods’ brain retained the details of how to arrange his body to hit a ball 400 yards without practice and reinforcement?

Truth 3: Post-Training Drop-Off

Harold Stolovitch & Erica Keeps carried out some very interesting research on desired vs. actual knowledge acquisition and performance improvement. The work uncovered some important observations.

The graph above shows the results. During the training event, following an initial dip – the ‘typing/golf pro dip’ – where performance drops as new ways of carrying out tasks are tried out, knowledge and performance then improve to the end of the training session. The individual walks out the door knowing more and being able to perform better than when they started the training.

Then the problems start.

The drop-off following the training event (called ‘post-training re-adjustment by Stolovitch and Keeps) can kick-in very quickly, possibly in a matter of hours. You finish a day’s training course, go home, sleep, and by the next morning a lot of what you had ‘learned’ has been cleaned out of your short-term memory. Bingo!

Then next day you get back to work and try to implement what you learned in the class. The trouble is, you can’t remember exactly what to do, you don’t have any support (that trainer who you called over to prompt you when you went through the exercises in class yesterday isn’t there), so you try a few things, find they don’t work (unless you’re lucky) and then you simply go back to doing what you did previously….

The result?

Performance improvement = zero
Value added by the training = zero
Return on investment = zero

Upwards – Following the Dotted Line

The only way knowledge retention and performance can follow the dotted line upwards is if plenty of reinforcement and practice immediately follows the training. Even better if this is accompanied by some form of support – from line managers setting goals and monitoring performance, from SMEs providing on-demand advice and support, or even from learning professionals providing workplace coaching.

An even better (and certainly cheaper) option is simply to cut out the training and replace it with a support environment from the start

Where Performance Support Trumps Training

There are some very good ePSS (electronic Performance Support Systems) or BPG (Business Process Guidance) tools available now. They are economic and generally straightforward to implement and trump training every time for following defined processes found in ERP and CRM systems and other software products

Just Like a GPS System

ePSS/BPG tools provide context-sensitive help at the point-of-need and “act like a GPS system rather than a roadmap” as Davis Frenkel , CEO of Panviva Inc., the company that produces the very impressive SupportPoint BPG tool, explains. “When you’re learning to follow a process, you just want to know the next 2-3 steps you need to take. You don’t want to have to remember the entire 20-30 process steps and all the options”, Frenkel says. I think he’s absolutely right and it’s a good analogy.

A GPS tells you that you need to ‘turn left at the next intersection’ or ‘take a right turn then keep straight ahead’. It instructs incrementally, and doesn’t tell you every turn on the journey when you set out.

When there’s no access to GPS and the driver has to revert to a map (and doesn’t have a flesh-and-blood GPS sitting beside them reading the map and instructing in increments) they will tend to read and memorise just the next 2-4 turns on the journey and then re-read the map to get the next set of instructions. Job done, destination reached.

So why don’t many organisations and L&D folk wake up to the failings of using the wrong approaches to achieve their required outcomes?

Why are millions of $/£/€/¥ spent every year training employees on using enterprise systems in this way when there’s evidence to prove that it simply doesn’t work?

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