I've worked for many places where there was a pretty intense rivalry between the marketing team and the training team. To the training geeks, marketing was the popular but superficial prom queen to our brilliant but awkward social outcast. Marketing always had the big budget for sweet graphics, costly video, and fancy color printing. Training had hand-me-down click-art packages and a ditto machine. Marketing was all gloss and glory. Training was all guts and no glory.
Thus, it's not without fear that I say what I'm about to say...
Most of us in training could learn a few lessons from the marketing team.
Why? Because training and marketing are essentially in the same business. Both of us are trying to impart knowledge to change behaviors. But the real reason we need to pay attention to what the marketing team does is that we often fall into the same communication and planning traps -- a lack of focus, poor follow-through, and a tendency to deliver tons of information and very few solutions.
Fortunately for us, the marketing guys have more budget to learn from their mistakes, making it in our best interest to set aside petty jealousies and absorb some of these shared lessons the easy way.
When we indiscriminately "spray" training at an audience, we:
Dilute the message: In a demanding world where everything competes for mind share, people instinctively seek relevance to help them prioritize. When training is vague or irrelevant, we lose our trainee's attention -- and potentially gain their distrust or disdain. In short, by trying to appeal to everyone, we end up reaching no one.
Waste time and money: The typical argument in support of "spray & pray" training goes something like this: "It's quicker, cheaper, and we can maximize audience penetration."
Unfortunately, that argument is totally bogus and here's why: Assume for a moment that you've been given the task of writing a basic sales skills workshop for an audience of everyone -- sales people and back office people alike. What are the odds you'll be able to keep the attention of seasoned sales people who are way beyond the basics? What about grabbing the attention of back office people who don't need sales skills to do their jobs? To make sales training that appeals to everyone means that the people who actually need the information end up receiving, at best, a diluted version of it, AND you've drastically reduced your odds of achieving increased sales (an obvious objective of any such training).
Lesson take-away: When creating training for general audiences, use it as a way to introduce high-level information and general skills and then follow-up with more targeted training, tools, or resources for critical audiences.
Sometimes we get a little too aspirational with our training objectives:
Upon completion of this training, the learner will be able to -
It's a lot easier to talk about making change than it is to actually make it. Talking about the amazing things that will happen as a result of your training can get your foot in the door with management and trainees, but from there you've got to deliver the goods by successfully equipping trainees with skills and knowledge.
Lesson take-away: Don't fall into the trap of selling change that you can't deliver. Instead, scale back your objectives and focus on user performance that's achievable.
I'm officially blue in the face from repeating this: Most of the time your trainees need answers and tools - not "training."
For an example of what I mean, check out the brilliant approach Jellyvision Labs, a marketing firm, uses for helping one of their clients sell more computers.
A very cool tool, right? Yes; it was geared towards customers, but couldn't a trainee be taught how to talk to a customer about products or services using a similar model? And wouldn't that model also serve as a great on-the-job tool?
Lesson take-away: Delivering business results doesn't always require training. Take the time to find out what your audience really needs to succeed and be their advocate for getting more or better tools - and training when appropriate.
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Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training. When her skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own training design muscles.