Are You Sure You’re Training the Right Things?

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May 5, 2016

Not long ago a training consultant got a call from a sales manager who said, “We need sales training!”

The consultant answered, “Are you sure?”

The caller explained that some of their customer service reps were doing four times the volume of others. It had to be because they were better salespeople — right? So, they needed sales training!

The consultant agreed to help, but insisted on observing the company’s top performers to get a better understanding of what sales techniques they were using.

As it turned out, the top producers weren’t better salespeople at all, but rather had developed a more effective method for processing customer transactions. Once the consultant recognized that, it was easy to document their techniques and build short training interactions around them. The result was an almost instant uptick in sales across their entire customer service rep population.

The message? To get the results you want, you need to understand the reality of your situation. Here are some non-obvious, commonsense steps to help you do that and avoid wasting time and resources.

Step One: Get Real Information from the Right People

A modified version of DACUM (which stands for Developing a Curriculum) can be effectively used in situations like that one. DACUM, which was created by educators to design courses, analyzes what people really do and what they need to learn.

In stark contrast to getting only the leadership team or training department heads in a room, training designers should invite the “boots on the ground.” These are the top performers, the gurus, and the go-to people everyone in the organization knows and relies on. A facilitator leverages a process by which the group can extrapolate all that delicious institutional or “tribal” knowledge that exists only in their heads.

Diversity of perspective is key here, so don’t be afraid to have a mix of people. Here’s a sample group:

  • The new person who really gets it! – That person on your team who’s been in a role for six months to a year and really seems to get it. He or she provides a fresh perspective.
  • The go-to person who has been there forever! – He or she can be described as having forgotten more about the job than most people will ever learn. They provide historical knowledge about how the role has changed over the years.
  • An adjacent collaborator role – Don’t be afraid to bring in someone who is not in the role, but “close” to it. This individual can provide an outsider’s perspective and bring knowledge and experience to a different role.
  • Key stakeholders – This group is essential because they need the results. They are often your champions who need to understand the process and often support your budget.

Step Two: Create an Occupational Definition – Prime their Minds!

Get everyone in the room focused on the role and get discussions about leadership, work ethic and good communication out of the way. You can use a simple quadrant matrix to document:

  • Reporting lines – Who does the role report to up, down and laterally?
  • Critical knowledge and skills – What specific skills are essential to doing the job well?
  • “Nice to have” abilities and traits – What type of person tends to perform well?
  • Learned but wasn’t taught – What were those “a-ha moments” your group had on the job?

Step Three: Define the Body of Knowledge for Peak Performance – The Meat and Potatoes!

A duty/task matrix can be used to define the body of knowledge necessary to perform in the role. You only need some big post-it notes and sharpies. Get the information on the wall so everyone can see it. Put duties down the left, and tasks going across left to right. Here are the definitions and some examples:

  • Duties – This is a something that is top-of-mind for the role. It doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It is ever-present while on the job and usually ends in –ing. Some examples:
    • Restaurant Manager. Duty: Maintaining food safety
    • Automotive Maintenance Manager. Duty: Selling products and services
  • Tasks – These are processes or procedures that have a beginning and end. They usually can have a metric associated with them. These roles fulfill duties by repeatedly completing a series of tasks, usually four or more. A defined task requires an object, verb and qualifier. Some examples:
    • Restaurant Manager. Task: Wash hands properly
    • Automotive Maintenance Manager. Task: Write a customer-facing estimate

When you identify all the duties and the tasks required to fulfill a role, you’ve documented the entire body of knowledge used by your experts in the room. You’ve also just blown your LT away, because they had “no idea!” your people did all this stuff!

Step Four: Understand the Gaps and Criticality

Your duty/task matrix stands before you and now you need to know where the information is and what tasks have the highest impact on performance. Here are steps to follow:

  • Draft a gap analysis – Go task by task. Where is it documented how to perform this task? In HR? Marketing? Sales? Ops? Or is it in one of your expert’s head? Has it been passed down over time? If it’s the latter, it’s a gap!
  • Consider criticality – Everything in your duty/task matrix is important, but what’s most critical? Use a simple rubric and define the impact to the business, performance, individual or team upon failure. Ask the question: If the worker fails to perform this task, does anyone notice? Does it create some rework — possibly a lot? Will you lose a customer? Will someone get hurt?

Step Five: Build Your Plan

You now have all the information you need to build your plan. You know what the role looks like, contained in your occupational definition. You know the body of knowledge that needs to be learned, as described in your duty/task matrix. You know what exists and what doesn’t, laid out in your gap analysis. And you know what information is critical to performance, as summarized in your criticality analysis.

You can build your learning maps for the role, from beginner to expert. You can start to design and develop training around the gaps that really impact performance. You can map these duties and tasks to competencies and leverage them in cross-team training interactions, and make decisions on the right method for delivery

Now you are armed, much like a marketing department, with an analysis of your customer base and potential for results based on empirical data and not simply feelings. Now you can go to your LT with a plan that justifies a budget and will deliver results. Oh, and you’ve done it all in two days. Good luck!