How to Engage Employees within the Training Event

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This is a guestpost by David Zahn is the President of ZAHN Consulting, LLC, the second in a 3-part series.  For the previous article, please read The Importance of Pre-Training Event” Activities in Gaining Employee Engagement. How to Engage Employees within the Training Event On any given day, across numerous company conference rooms, hotel meeting spaces, and even virtual classrooms, there are training events occurring simultaneously.  Some of them will do little to change behavior or performance.  Others will be the fulcrum needed to drive additional efficiencies, profit, revenue, or effectiveness.  The differences between them, in part, will often be the result of how well the training sought to engage the employees within the training. Dearly Beloved, We are Gathered Here… The initial step of engaging the employee once in a training session is to establish WHY there is a need for training.  This can be accomplished through a variety of means:
  1. Asking employees what frustrations, problems, or issues they have with accomplishing a task (one that the training is designed to address)
  2. Sharing a need to comply with new/changed legal requirements, internal corporate policies, or evolving customer demands, etc.
  3. Introduction of new systems, tools, resources, etc. that is unfamiliar to the employees.
  4. Etc.
By providing context to explain why the “old ways” won’t work any longer, how the new way of doing things is an improvement, and how the business stands to improve/adhere to new guidelines/standards/requirements/etc. as a result of the training, employees can quickly ascertain why it makes sense to listen, learn, and apply what is being trained. I Object(ive) Once the need for the training has been explained and accepted, it is helpful to then transition to providing a series of objectives that the training will cover (and if appropriate, what is outside the boundaries of the training and will not be addressed, or will be addressed in subsequent trainings).  By providing specific expectations of the training, the role of the trainer, and the trainee within the training and once back on the job; a lot of confusion and misunderstandings can be avoided.  Employees can zero in on what they must do or change about how they do their jobs. Facilitation vs. Lecture lectureA common mistake made by trainers, especially Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) called upon to conduct training sessions, is to lean heavily on the transmission of information rather than the reception and application of the content by the employees.  So, the emphasis is on lecturing, controlling the dissemination of content, and demonstrating how much the trainer knows – but leaving precious little opportunity for the employee to feel confident that they are any more capable as a result of the training.  Facilitating places the emphasis on learning rather than on teaching.  A facilitator provides opportunity for the employee to accomplish the objectives and perform effectively. Practice A training event that does not include a chance for the employee(s) to demonstrate mastery of the content, practice the skills, or in some other way interact to confirm acquisition of the new skill(s) will fail more often than not.  Good training requires engaging the employee in the actions and activities so that they can be confident of their skills and their application in situations correctly.  Trainers that rely on delivery methods that are based on, “telling, reading, observing, hearing, etc.” without an opportunity for employees to do it for themselves, will leave most employees feeling ill-prepared to attempt the new skill on the job. Question and Answer People are by nature curious.  However, if not encouraged, it will erode.  This is especially true in training interventions.  Employees will want to ask questions, try to envision how the new skill will help them on their jobs (or have queries that indicate concerns about integrating the new skills), etc.  However, in many training sessions, the instructor/trainer leaves the question and answer period for the end of the session, gives it minimal time, and many employees have to decide if they should be late for their next scheduled event on their tightly managed calendars in order to pursue the answer to a question.  Far more effective is to allow questions at various times throughout the session to ensure that they are answered and that employees can progress through the remainder of the training content with the response they received (rather than having to hold onto the question until the end and no longer listening or understanding what followed in the training). Employee engagement within the confines of the training event is essential for it to succeed.  Failure to engage then is a signal that there is a high probability of disengaged employees once they are back on the job and struggle to complete the tasks just trained.
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog