"Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." -- Mark Twain
I couldn't swim. I mean, I could survive in water for a short time, but I couldn't swim with any kind of form, and definitely not competitively.
I was a runner at the time, competing in everything from 5Ks to ultra-marathons. Triathlons were the rage and my new girlfriend had completed a full Ironman so I wanted to learn how to swim so I too could compete. I joined the YMCA and spent countless hours in the pool. My girlfriend showed me how to swim. The lifeguards showed me how to swim. Even other swimmers I didn't know tried to teach me the ropes, but none of the tips, tricks, or demonstrations helped.
Then, I discovered the book, Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin and John Delves. From cover to cover the authors spoke to me explaining the fundamentals of swimming that I could grasp and apply. I begin using the techniques from the book and within a short time I was swimming! I didn't make the Olympic team or set any records, but I did feel comfortable and glided through the water like never before.
Why even share this story? Because training does not always provide blanketed coverage. Not all training sessions work for all attendees. Sometimes you have to provide customized training for various trainee needs. This book, from 1996, not only helped make me a swimmer (and end the embarrassment of having my girlfriend teach me), but unveiled three key points that should be applied to all employee training:
1.) Start from the ground- When training team members, it is important to remember that training requires beginning from the ground up. Too often organizations will try to build upon skills, knowledge, talents, and abilities that aren't there. A great deal of assumption is applied to the performance levels of employees.
In Total Immersion, the authors state, "The body struggles to learn complicated motions-- like a fluid and powerful swim stroke. But it easily masters the simple ones into which every complicated motion can be broken. Start from the ground up, gradually and easily assembling all the parts of an improved stroke using unique, bite-size skill drills." We need to do the same for our employees. Taking the necessary baby steps in order to reach the more advanced degrees of training ultimately produces greater performance levels.
2.) Eliminate drag- One of the best illustrations in the Total Immersion book is a drawing of a barge beside a yacht. The barge was me, swimming on my stomach and plowing through the water, exhausted when I got to the end of the pool. The yacht is how I was supposed to look, swimming on my side, knifelike up front, easy for the water to go around. I was creating drag instead of eliminating it.
I would imagine that some of your team members are doing the same thing right now. They are a drag on the company, its resources, and its production level. It is not intentional (I hope not! If so, read this article), but if the employees don't understand the "why" it is difficult to appreciate the "how," or the lessons given them during training. Give them the reasons why they are training first and how it affects the overall picture of the company. Do this and you will eliminate, or at least reduce the drag.
3.) If it feels good, do it some more - In Chapter 7 of Total Immersion, the authors explain the difference between sensory skill practice and drill-and-swim. "Drill-and-swim is training-wheel swimming in that if you start to fall, you can fall back on the drills for support. Sensory skill practice takes the wheels off for as long as you can leave them off. It challenges you to pedal straight and true, as far as you can go, before starting to wobble again."
The point here is that the drills, or baby steps, teach team members what the sensation should feel like. Sensory skill practice brings it all together. When an employee gets it, they and you will know it. When I got the swimming down, I jumped out of the water with excitement. The drills worked, and when it all came together, I just knew it. I felt it. When employees get it, it simply feels right.
Whether it is technical training, customer service training, sales training, or manual skills training, it pays to formulate a training plan that speaks to every employee. A gloss-over training session does very little to improve performance. But total immersing employees in bite-size nuggets of training goes a long way toward developing a more professional and productive workforce.