Enhancing competence and confidence: Ten Commandments for trainers

Wednesday, 3 May 2023 00:15 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Refreshing memories of a training I did in South Africa 15 years ago


There is a revival of physical training after a long lapse due to COVID and chaos followed thereafter. In order to have economic growth and business expansion, organisations both public and private, tend to focus more on training. Despite financial challenges, they should see it as a strategic investment rather than a mere cost. I get so many e-flyers and WhatsApp messages about new training programs, some interestingly without clear objectives and surprisingly without the name of the trainer. The reality is that training has become a money spinner for some. Today’s column is an attempt to look at norms associated with training.

Overview of training

There is a variety of training programs taking place. My emphasis is more on management training. It is not only because I am a management learner and a teacher, but also being a management trainer. 

Training can be regarded as the formal and informal processes an organisation uses to facilitate employees’ learning so that their resultant behaviour contributes to the attainment of organisational goals. An example for a formal process could be a classroom session. An informal process takes shape of observations, understudying or guidance.

I see a mushrooming of trainers in Sri Lanka with the mailbox getting flooded with many details of training programs. Whilst noting the positive aspect of it in catering for unmet needs of the market, my concern is on the quality and relevance. Simply because someone has the gift of the gab, he/she does not necessarily become a trainer. Knowing the depth and breadth of the topic is essential.

Clarity on commandments

According to Oxford dictionary, a commandment is an authoritative direction or instruction to do something. In the context of management training, this direction may come from leaders of an organisation. Or, in a very broader sense it can be viewed as a set of guidelines for effective training. Let us look at what they possibly are.

One: Thou shalt conduct proper need analysis

The story of training begins with the need analysis. For me, training is a gap filler. You have to identify the gaps with regard to knowledge, skills, and attitudes. For an example, someone who is particularly good in accounting is not comfortable in dealing with Microsoft Excel. That is a gap, which needs to be filled by appropriate training. 

If this is not done and training is offered, the whole purpose is lost. That is why some of the “off the shelf” programs might not match the exact needs of an organisation. 

Two: Thou shalt set SMART objectives 

Once needs are identified, objectives have to be set in order to ensure the results. I have one sad observation. Most of the electronic brochures on training I get daily do not contain the objectives. Having fancy images or smiling faces of trainers is one thing. What is more important is to spell out the Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-bound (SMART) objectives. 

In some cases, such as attitudinal training, it might be difficult to have SMART objectives. Yet, you can work around it to have a certain sense of measurement. Then only the evaluation becomes meaningful. 

Three: Thou shalt design the program meaningfully 

This is all about beginning with the end in mind. Being proactive in identifying the needs and setting objectives appropriately has to be done. The design of the training is critical to the delivery. It is like the plan of a building. Many trainers spend less time in design and exert more energy in delivery, which may lead to interesting yet not impactful session. 

It reminds me what Walt Disney advocate for the designing of training. As Tom Peters and Robert Waterman describe in their seminal work, “In Search of Excellence,” Walt Disney was meticulous in designing training for Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Disney followed three basic steps in being a dreamer, realist, and a critic.

Dreamer: Wearing a dreamer’s hat to unleash creativity, in imagining a wide array of possibilities

Realist: Wearing a realist’s hat in pruning the possibilities to a manageable, feasible level

Critic: Wearing a critic’s hat in making the design practical by challenging assumptions

Four: Thou shalt ensure proper delivery of the program

Proof of the pudding is in the eating, and this is the acid test. It requires purpose, passion, and performance. A trainer must be truly clear about his purpose in front of the participants. Clear thinking leads to clever action. Without getting derailed by participants’ queries, overall purpose should be in mind like a compass always pointing to North.

Passion is the magical ingredient that makes a difference. It is putting heart into action in addition to the head and hands. A whole-hearted effort with focus on results is what is needed. I tend to think more that such a passion should come within. You got to have a flare for training. Unless one enjoys what he/she trains, there is no fun element there. As Sir Richard Branson advocates, fun is fundamental for success. 

Trainer has to be a performer. It is very transparent and digital. Evaluation by the participants is the true customer feedback. What is in need is not a list of excuses for pitfalls but a live experience of excellent performance. 

Five: Thou shalt prepare adequately 

Preparation is a vital aspect for smooth delivery of training, here. As the old saying goes, “If you failed to prepare, you prepare to fail.” It reminds me of a true event that took place in Europe. There was a lady Violin player who had a mesmerising performance is one the grand theatres. Audience gave her a standing ovation. A little girl who is a violin fan walked to her after the show and told her, “I would like to spend half of my life to learn to play the Violin the way you played.” The answer was so prompt, “I actually did.” 

Hence the mantra for excellent delivery is none other than rehearsing, rehearsing and more rehearsing. 

Six: Thou shalt obtain feedback 

Mercer Consulting, in its annual global surveys consequently identified training effectiveness as one of the most important HR measurements. 

This refers to the reaction level identified by Donald Kirkpatrick. It relates to how trainees reacted to their training. In other words, how much they liked it or disliked it. Some organisations are enormously proud of compiling an evaluation sheet at the end of the training and get the overall measure. For me it gives only a “feel” of the training effectiveness. Some trainers are very smart at declaring a money back guarantee if the evaluation rating is below a specific percentage. It does not cover the reality of application challenges and is just a case of thriving on feelings. 

Seven: Thou shalt assess the learning taken place

It can be either “know what” or “know how,” referring to knowledge and skills, respectively. This is the second stage which is the learning level according to Kirkpatrick. It is directed at measuring trainees’ performance in terms of their knowledge, skills and attitudes against the criteria which were set for the period the training. 

This generally means an end of the course assessment, comprising either a questionnaire to check the knowledge gained or a test to ascertain the skills acquired. A person who had undergone training on word-processing may be asked to type a letter, and obviously the letter is expected to be well-formatted and free of errors. 

Eight: Thou shalt evaluate behavioural change

This focuses on the application of training and refers to level 3 or behaviour level of Kirkpatrick model. It resonates well with what Aldous Huxley, a British author said a long time ago. “At the end of the day, what matters is not how much you know, but how much you have done.” Knowing should lead to doing, and doing should bring the desired results. 

At this stage, the focus shifts from training context to work environment. How effectively have the knowledge, skills and attitudinal enhancement gained from training transferred to the job is measured here. The immediate supervisor can play a critical role in this respect by providing feedback based on his/her observations of the trainee.

Nine: Thou shalt be aware of the impact of training 

Now it is the time to focus on returns at a macro level. Return on Investment (ROI) or Return on Training Investment (ROTI) appears prominently with this regard. What Kirkpatrick calls the results level (Level 4), deals with how to measure this important aspect. It involves complex calculations to establish benefits against costs, with a high amount of assumptions. 

In order to get the results, the training should fulfil financial and non-financial expectations. In areas such as sales, it is relatively easier to measure the impact at results level, in using simple comparisons such as sales before and after the training. With regard to other areas involving knowledge and attitudinal enhancements, the situation is much difficult with the involvement of multiple contributing factors towards results other than training.

Ten: Thou shalt genuinely use training for prosperity 

Training is everywhere. With the economic growth and business expansion, organisations both public and private, tend to focus more on training. Such a scenario demands the trainers to play their role exceeding expectations. That requires them to do a sincere soul-searching with a view of enhancing one’s training competencies. It is no more a game of going behind corporate decision makers in seeking opportunities. It is a case of competing on competencies so that caring and committed trainers will get increasingly occupied. 

Way Forward

For me investing in training, which is on the rise, is a good thing. Yet, not measuring the effectiveness of it is a sad thing. In Sri Lanka, trainers and organisations alike can play a role with this regard. We need competent and confident managers in all fronts in order to navigate the troubled nation though turbulences. May the Ten Commandments for trainers pave for such endeavours.  

(The writer, a Senior Professor in Management of the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)

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