Importance of “Pre-Training Event” Activities in Gaining Employee Engagement

This is a guestpost by David Zahn is the President of ZAHN Consulting, LLC, the first in a 3-part series.  

The Importance of “Pre-Training Event” Activities in Gaining Employee Engagement

blog1If Senior Executives and Human Resources Professionals were able to eavesdrop on their employees when they were talking about their frustrations with the company, one of the complaints that would likely surface is the disconnection between what Managers think and believe is needed and what their Subordinates perceive is necessary for the business to succeed.  An outsider would be inclined to think that it is as if the two populations work for entirely different organizations.

Where does it Begin?

In a scene that has been replicated over and over across companies with single locations as well as those that are multi-national, results are off from expectations and the default assumption by an organizational leader is that “people don’t know how to do the job well/properly and need to be trained.” However, no one thinks to confirm that assumption with verifiable proof of a lack of skills or involving the employees in the decision.  Rather, it is a unilateral edict to conduct training on topics decided by the executive without any participation from those that will be expected to embrace the training.  A chance to engage the employees in the solution is missed.

The Next Opportunity

In some organizations, there is recognition that employees need to participate in the process.  So, a survey is distributed to collect employees opinions on what prevents better outcomes, what issues are blocking performance, what skills are lagging, etc.  Even looking beyond the lack of trust that many employees have for management’s motives in conducting surveys, there is a huge chasm that is created that destroys employee engagement.  Employees share their opinions, insights, perceptions, points of view, etc. with management and then do not receive any feedback on their survey contributions.  The level of frustration between the sides escalates and an opportunity for engagement is lost.  Employees want to know that they have been heard, that their input is valued, and want to know what the result of their contribution is/will be to the next series of actions.  Even if their suggestions are not accepted – they want to know that they were heard and (if possible), why their recommendations will not be implemented, used, or taken.

Explain Objectives

The next place where engagement can occur is in explaining the objectives of any future training initiative.  If employees are provided with clear behavioral objectives that identify expectations and are within the control of the employee (start doing this, stop doing that, continue doing the other), they will have a clarity around what it is they are being asked to change (or not change).  If objectives are not clearly delineated, then the employees will perpetually feel as if they are caught in a random game of “gotcha’” where management is not clear on what is expected, and employees are not certain about “what counts” to meet management’s expectations.

By providing a link between the organization’s goals, strategies, and desired outcomes and the training’s impact on achieving them, employees will become more engaged through seeing how their efforts directly connect to the organization’s success.  However, it is all too common for organizations to focus on the result – but not provide employees with the understanding of how to achieve that result (in essence, it is perceived as the equivalent to telling employees to change their eye color!).

Organization’s Role

Additionally, employees may be reticent or fearful when training is mandated.  For some employees, they have become proficient at the “old” ways of doing things and fear losing status, expertise, or perceived competence in “how to do the job” if they have to integrate new (and unfamiliar) skills.  Therefore, it is recommended that the company acknowledge those concerns and share their plans to aid employees in the transition.  Simply stating that, “we will provide training classes, we will post videos of the newly trained process on the intranet, we will assign a peer subject matter expert (SME) to each function for additional questions and remedial help, etc.” can reduce resistance and deepen the level of engagement of the employee.

Measurement and Evaluation

Lastly, it is imperative that employees understand how the newly trained skill will be measured and evaluated.  When management has communicated what metrics or standards will be used to assess performance, employee behavior can be targeted against achieving those results and there is alignment between employee efforts and the desired outcomes.  A sales person will be far more effective if she knows that the company seeks more profitable sales with existing accounts over opening new accounts, a customer service representative knows that customer satisfaction scores are valued more highly than transaction speed, and a manager knows that having subordinates deemed worthy of promotion is scored more favorably than lowering turnover in the department, etc.

Improving employee engagement through a training initiative requires some forethought to prevent the wrong messages from seeping into the organization.  However, companies that do it right get employees to embrace the training, invite the change, and confidently execute as expected.

David Zahn is the President of ZAHN Consulting, LLC, a consulting firm focused on training, employee engagement, competency enhancement, and performance improvement.  His background includes working for over 150 companies as diverse as; Shell, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Red Bull, Dr Pepper, E.J. Gallo, Sun Products Corporation, etc.  In addition to his consulting work with clients, David also teaches two courses in the University of New Haven Graduate School of Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has authored two books on consulting, “How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant, 4th Ed.” and “The Quintessential Guide to Using Consultants.”).

Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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