As I entered the consulting world this year, I was excited to learn all I could. Expectedly, my learning curve was steep, but I also noticed an area consistent with my previous background experience – training. New clients would partner with us and those with previous partners often had the complaint that they didn’t get proper training. Some did not complain but this was seemingly evident or at least, new folks had joined their company post-implementation training and had little resources/training to get up to speed. While technical skills are, of course, the key to success in consulting, another is to be able to translate those technical aspects into a user-friendly, sticky format. Therefore, in exchange for all the amazing technical blogs I have referenced to hone my new technical skill set, I will use my experience to share my best tips for effective and efficient training.
1. Begin with the end in mind (Remember those reports you designed?)
2. Train each role separately and design the training to their process
Salespeople and customer service have very different processes. Even though they interact with customers daily and can even both be aiming for sales, their processes are complementary at best, not identical. While it is useful to share a general overview about what the other role is doing (to explain common data), if you try to train them at the same time, they will resent you and/or the system for wasting their time. Or they will simply check out at the beginning and will only be there in name. None of that is productive. Time is important to all and if you respect it, they will respect the information you are sharing. Plus, if you take the time to truly understand and cater to their process versus sharing a canned presentation that they could easily get on their own in a simple Google search, they will be a much more engaged audience. Another area to consider is user acceptance testing training (prior to your general user training). You will need to outline each step for them to ensure that you did understand the process they described and ask them to perform those tasks exactly to ensure that it performs how they desire. Yes, it takes more of your time (seemingly) but actually, an engaged trainee will lean on you less in the future.
3. Start simple
This is where I struggle. I mean look at this blog – 10 tips? Probably too many. Most of us can only take on small amounts of new knowledge at a time. We vary of course but in general, our brains must take small bites and digest before moving on to the next meal. I understand wanting to share though. Once I know something, I want to tell you all about it, especially if I am excited. I forget, however, how long it took me to come to that realization, and would I even have been able to grasp it when I first learned the system? Likely, no. In one of my first training jobs, we had something called “Fast Start” which ultimately, I grew to hate because I felt like we held so much back. Eventually, as I started to sneak in more information, I recognized that when I returned for the next training, they had not retained those sneaky bits. They simply were not ready for that information. If you want them to retain, give them the bare minimum to get the essentials done. Once they master those, they will be ready for your next training (which by the way you should include in their service packages, etc.). Regarding this blog, take what you can handle now, bookmark it, and return when you are ready!
4. Schedule training just in time
Recently we took on a big sales implementation where a customer was converting from another well-known CRM tool and knowing that our subject matter experts would need to help with user acceptance testing, I trained them on the basics of the system. Unfortunately, that was at least a month prior to the first UAT requirement and when the time came, they had forgotten most if not all that I had gone over. Now I did provide materials (will discuss further below) but still it ultimately required another session rendering that time somewhat wasteful. This falls in line with much learning theory. When I was in education, we even presented the problem to our students prior to giving them methods to solve. It created the desire and need for knowledge. When our brains are hungry, it drives us to learn (apparently everything is food with me). When we have a way to apply that learning immediately, it sticks.
5. Prepare and communicate expectations of attendees for before, during & after training
Surprises CAN be fun…but not typically in business. Most of us would prefer to know what to expect so that we can plan. Nothing ever goes quite as expected but planning allows us to better go with the flow to achieve our goals regardless. Plus, by sharing the plan and expectations, you start to build trust in your new relationship with the client. They see that you respect them and their time and will reciprocate. Before training, your expectations may include ensuring that they can log in, reviewing the agenda, preparing their own goals for the training, and reviewing the “during training” expectations. During training, your expectations may include trainees’ participation (more on this below), how to ask questions, and the timeframe. After training, your expectations may include a go-live date, follow up information and/or training, etc. This is by no means a prescriptive or exhaustive list. Preparing it may seem tedious but again, it can do wonders for your training efficiency and relationship building.
6. Prepare a slide deck with screenshots (hear me out)
I can already hear the collective groan. Why can I not just go live and record it? You can but there are several reasons why I suggest this. First, by preparing in this way, you can make sure to focus the training on the desired outcomes. In fact, by walking through it yourself step by step, you may find areas you missed in the final UAT. Second, you are creating quick reference guides for your trainees. Plan to share these and they will be able to refer to them when they struggle as well as future hires. Sure, they could also refer to the video but when was the last time you watched an hour-long presentation on video? By yourself? When you were trying to get something done? Personally, when I research, I MAY be willing to watch a 5 minute or less video but mostly I look for articles that I can follow step by step. My experience and feedback have done nothing to deter me from this theory. Third, we have all witnessed those nightmare webinars where the internet is slow or the technology is not working properly…and the poor presenter is fumbling and riffing. By all means, plan some live time – but these slides are golden and allow you to continue without worrying about those issues. Finally, you can use the slide to ensure alignment with your client champions. They are your partners, and you want to ensure that you are enforcing the message they desire.
7. Include a “What’s in it for me?” section
Another oldie but a goodie. Imagine telling a salesperson that they must do more administrative work. I have a good friend in sales who would guffaw at me and then his face would darken. He would probably respond with something like, “Do you want more sales or paperwork?”. He has a point. While our point of contact with a client is typically a director of IT or sales who often sees the benefit of the system, the end-user may not. They often view it as something they must do to please their manager. Training a group with this mindset is tough and you may even be in for uncomfortable silence or worse, heckling. Okay, that may be a bit dramatic, but the point is, just like in high school when you asked, “When will I ever use trigonometry anyways?!”, your trainees will wonder similarly. Ideally, you should identify the specific pain points of these trainees ahead of time and determine how this solution will alleviate them but if you are unable for some reason, there are many sources that cite the statistical advantages to using these systems which speak to the users’ needs. Again, consider their roles and goals before sharing.
8. Prepare interactive/check for understanding training segments
Training in person is fun and you can use a lot of tricks, hands-on activities, etc. to keep your audience engaged. But of course, times have changed and most, if not all, training is now virtual. This has many benefits – cost, avoiding illness, etc. – but have you witnessed a child attending their virtual school this year? How engaged are they? Hopefully, they have a rockin’ teacher who learned how to engage students virtually. Sadly, a lot of them are bored out of their minds if they are being subjected to online lectures. Guess what? We, adults, are the same. Unless it is a well-crafted TED Talk, we are unlikely to retain by listening to someone speak for an hour, especially when it is instructional. So how do you succeed? Start by considering your audience size – the smaller the better. You CAN engage large groups though, through the use of well-planned and prepared questions using the Teams chat and incorporating forms polls. If you have a small group (five or less), you can up the ante by planning some hands-on time where the group can screen share or pop their screenshots into the Teams chat. One on one is the best in terms of screen share – have them run the show and you talk them through it. As mentioned above, it is important to communicate this interactive expectation prior to the session so trainees are prepared. Nothing is worse than a cold call online! And if you are able, prizes are always fun.
9. Include a “How to get help” section
Every organization and service agreement is different. For one client, any user can reach out to me directly for support. Another client only allows me to work on requests from the director of IT. Some clients have internal helpdesks. The point is, you must determine the chain of support and communicate it clearly. Nothing will deter a new user like not knowing how to get help. This should be written down and posted for reference. Make sure to end your training reinforcing that information to remind your trainees that you are not dropping this in their lap and leaving forever!
10. Ask for feedback (and use it)
One of the main reasons that I can even outline this list is that at one point, I likely did NOT do them. I also prefer to hear how great I am as opposed to what I did wrong but truly what helped me grow and improve were the constructive bits. Recently I was walking a client through some new configuration that I had done for them and he had to slow me down. I was rushing as I knew we had limited time, but he was right. Rushing would not help him with his goals. I thanked him for the feedback, stopped, backed up, and started again slowly. The final interactive segment of your training should be a request for feedback. It should be specific to the goals of the training (did you meet them?). Ideally, you make this available to submit anonymously so that you get truthful answers. Most importantly make sure you allow for comments. Here is where you will receive the most helpful information. Again, Microsoft Forms work well for this (they even have a net promoter option built-in).