Most businesses identify with training as an event — a thing you plan for, that then happens, and then has passed.
It might be a weekly meeting with a group of people, a class in a faraway city, a trainer visiting your shop, or perhaps some online class you can take. A training event, under this definition, is just a fraction of what constitutes training. Training is a process and events are a part of the ongoing process of training.
When I got heavily into coaching baseball, we had a series of drills and skill practices that were routine to our preparation. We never stopped doing these. The core training process remained consistent. With my coaching eyes, I started to observe Major League Baseball players in pre-game routines, and I noticed they were much the same as our Little League drills — identical, in some cases. Professional athletes never stop training. That’s because training is never done. It’s not a thing you do and then check off your list. It’s ongoing. As an ongoing process, it involves so much more than just the event.
A training process includes strategic selection. The first thing to do is choose your training event strategically. This involves considering the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in your business. What departments/individuals are winning? What training will take them up even farther? What departments/individuals are experiencing difficulties? What training will support them? What are the seasonal factors that may come into play? Think strategically, and plan training accordingly. Nexstar Training Accountability Coach Jodie Deegan agrees.
“Build a plan with a clear vision of how you want knowledge to flow and the results you expect to achieve,” he says. “This includes the long-range plan based on what makes sense for the business.”
But, don’t forget about the short-term, too, Nexstar Training Accountability Coach Heath Betts reminds us.
“The short-term is what we need to do now to get quick fast results that put us in a position to address our long-term solutions,” he says.
Additionally, factor in repeat training. Within the Nexstar membership, there is a trend of companies that plan for regular intervals of Service System training. Service System is Nexstar’s cornerstone class devoted to turning technicians into highly skilled customer service providers.
Some members elect to do private training events in their own companies while others make it a habit to send people to trainings open to all members. Many do a combination of both. This is the first question: What would my training plan look like if it was strategically planned? How can I improve my training process by thinking strategically?
A training process includes invested participants. Once you’ve chosen your event, start to choose your participants.
“Knowing who to send to training is just as important as knowing when and what to train,” Betts adds.
Rather than telling them they’re going, consider how you might ask them for their participation: “You’re being considered for HVAC-Specific Service System in October. What would you bring to that training? What would you want to get out of it? How would you bring that back to the team here?”
e availability factor even more relevant to disproportionally larger inventories.
Questions like the examples above will drive participants to look at their own investment into the training. They’ll open up more robust conversations where goal setting can take place and expectations can be established and agreed on, not because they’ve been dictated, but because they’ve been fleshed out by the participant. This creates investment.
Sometimes, we select participants without their choosing, and that’s okay; there are often great reasons for doing this. In those cases, this investment process is still important. After they’ve been informed of their participation in an event, take the time to have them identify their goals, their investment and their contribution. You can help guide them toward these benefits, Betts says.
“It’s much more than just showing up and learning a few new steps or procedures,” he says. “The experience should be one of transformation, not just shifting behaviors. It will be a place where they experience personal development, involvement, participation and growth expectations to make themselves more valuable to the customer and the company. Almost invariably, it will also make them better leaders in their homes and personal lives, as well.”
Companies sometimes send people to training as a last resort to determine whether this person will continue employment. Be really cautious of this. It rarely ends with the participant having some miraculous change of heart. Moreover, it sends a negative message about the purpose of training. Most times, if the writing is on the wall, training is not going to erase it. Asking questions to gain investment will shed a lot of light on how a participant plans to show up and what level of accountability they’re willing to bring back. Dig in and get answers to difficult questions. You’ll both gain clarity.
Invest in future leadership
A training process includes invested leaders. After you’ve identified your participants and worked with them to get really clear on expectations, it’s time to look in the mirror. Will you be a participant in the room? An observer at the back? Or will you just check in now and again throughout the training? How will you support their learning? Will you have strategic conversations each evening to debrief the learning? Are you willing to make changes to your processes to support the learning?
Notice that the nature of these questions draws the leadership team into the training. To really satisfy these questions, you must engage. The individuals who experience the most consistent and sustained return on their training investment are the ones who intentionally send a member of the leadership team to every training. This person should be an owner or a manager — someone who can support what’s being learned. Their role at the training is to participate, to debrief and to implement. This is invested leadership.
When a manager goes to training instead of an owner, they need to act as an extension of the owner, Betts says.
“The manager needs to be fully involved in the training by learning and working harder than anyone,” he says. “The managers should have pre-training communication with the facilitator, as well as daily debriefings with the team throughout the week. The manager should act, think and represent the ownership of the company at all times during training.”
This process can also encourage team bonding and company alignment, Deegan says.
“Not only does it give the leader a better understanding of the content, but it helps them connect with their team by sharing the experience with them,” he says. “I often see companies come away from training like a ‘band of brothers,’ where they really bonded at these events and that creates a new level of alignment as a company.”
A training process includes follow-through. Some of your follow-through actions will be determined by the goals and expectations set before the event. Some will arise during the event as a part of your engagement. Still other follow-through actions will be needed to maximize the impact of the training investment. Nexstar’s training accountability coaches Betts and Deegan are tremendous sources of support for those who actively engage them.
Additionally, following through means performing ride-alongs, whether in trucks with field technicians or in cubicles with call center staff. Not for the sake of pointing out deficiencies, but for the sake of reinforcing the learning.
“Old habits are hard to break, so it takes a lot of practice, drills and rehearsals to become comfortable with a new process,” Deegan says. “Ride-alongs are part of a process that supports accountability to keep tools sharp.”
Be careful with these ride-alongs. Let them be themselves and resist any urge to take over. End every ride-along with a robust debrief that starts with them. Ask them to answer two questions: What went well, and what could you take up a notch?
Then, after hearing them, offer reinforcement.
Follow-up also includes 100-Day Plans and one-on-one meetings. If you don’t have these set up in your business, please consider getting help from a business coach to get these in place prior to sending people to training.
Turning ideas into actions
These meetings are the tools that turn ideas into actions. They give your team members a voice and a chance to speak and to be heard. They offer a sense of forward progress and that we’re not satisfied with the status quo. It’s not about being perfect. Perfection is a static state and as such is an illusion. Excellence is dynamic, always moving, always growing and always becoming something better.
A training process includes more training. Imagine your weekly training meetings being an integrated piece of an overall training process. It’s simply taking the things you learned from a recent training event and practicing them, reinforcing them and integrating them.
You no longer have to think about what to train next week. You just keep down the path you’ve started down. Your weekly training meetings are 30-minute practice sessions, tied to a greater, overall training process. They’ll flow naturally and seamlessly reinforce what you’re already talking about in every other meeting.
“Even the best athletes train daily and weekly,” Betts says. “That’s why they are the best. We cannot expect to be the best if we don’t strive to improve every day.”
You’ll take your team from a group of Little Leaguers learning how to properly grip a baseball to MLB All-Stars who can quickly and accurately throw a ball on a rope without a moment of conscious thought. The drills look the same and may even feel repetitive, but the proficiency, the muscle memory — the effortlessness — is what you’ll begin to appreciate.
It’s not an event. It’ll never be done. It’s a process.
Excellence is a pursuit.
This article was originally titled “Creating your training process” in the September 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.