What is the value of an internal training team?

This post is speculative, based on opinion and observation, and full of educated guesses.  If that is all right with you, please continue reading.

What’s in a name?

Calling a training team an “internal training team” boxes the members into a corner and restricts their role within the organization.  It gives others the impression that the team is only to be used for training colleagues, when in reality, that team could do more by also interacting with customers or employees of those customers.  Therefore, renaming the team would increase its value in the eyes of fellow employees.  Putting team members in front of customers would increase the value of the team outside the organization.  It would also help them do their jobs back in the office, by providing an important perspective with which to develop curricula – that of the customer.  Helping them to assume leadership roles within the organization would increase their credibility and their chances of keeping their jobs should the economy tank yet again.

We trainers know that we are the first group of employees considered when the management decides to downsize.  In one company I worked for years ago, we were called “overhead” and considered expendable.  Fortunately, we managed to make it through the RIFs (Reduction in Force) each time because we did more than train fellow employees.  When we put on the second and third hat, we increased our value.  Instead of being “nice to have,” we became employees they “must have.”

My advice: Consider calling the team something that truly reflects their value within the organization, and consider diversifying their duties so they are not training all the time.  Let them use their skills to interact with employees outside the classroom, and with customers outside the office.  Then, expect them to reflect on those experiences and use them to build curricula that will resonate with colleagues and customers alike.

How much does it cost to retain an employee?

You spend months training a new hire – and then they leave.  How much money have you wasted?  This happens all the time.  Either the employee decides the position is not a good fit, or the company decides that the employee is not a good fit for the position.  Either way, thousands of dollars were spent for nothing.  If the company had had a more rigorous new employee training program (which I will not call ‘onboarding’), the situation might have resolved itself much differently.  Management might have had enough information to decide to part ways with the employee much sooner, for instance.  Alternatively, the employee could have performed better, given the proper training and support, and everyone would be happy.

Trial by Fire

Unfortunately, many small to medium-sized companies do not have such a program, and probably don’t have an internal training team, either.  That has been my experience, at least.  My colleagues and I refer to these first few months in a new job as “trial by fire.”  I’m sure many others do also; we certainly did not invent the phrase.

There really are many new employees who find themselves in a cube with a computer, phone, office directory, and a list of “Who to Call for What.”  They have a basic understanding of what is expected of them, but hardly enough information to start working.  Unfortunately, they are expected to start moving earth without having any idea where this tunnel is going to lead them.  Perhaps someone has given them some URLs, a few printed manuals from 1995, etc., but other than that, they are on their own.  After a few days, if the employee hasn’t bolted from the office screaming, they usually stay.  They are bleary-eyed and miserable, but they slog through while they keep their resume up-to-date on LinkedIn, Career Builder, and Monster, just in case something (anything) better comes along.

Does that sound familiar?  Come here, I’ll give you a hug.

Peer Training

A slightly better approach is to conduct peer training or on-the-job training.  Companies that do not have training programs for new employees often rely on veteran employees and managers to train others.  I’ve found the following problems with that approach.

  1. The veteran employees, although highly skilled and considered SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), have no idea how to share their knowledge with someone who is new to the position.
  2. The manager does not have a lot of time to devote to one employee, so the employee sits in a cube and pretends to look busy or studious while the manager runs off to help other employees.
  3. Neither the SME nor the manager have a curriculum to guide them as they train the employee.  There could be gaps in knowledge transfer, or they could be confusing the new employee by not teaching things in the proper, logical order.
  4. Neither the SME nor the manager know how to teach someone.  They aren’t trainers and have never received training on, well, how to train.
  5. There is an important part missing in this approach: the orientation.  Humans need the big picture to understand the more detailed aspects.  What I see instead is that the employee is immediately immersed in details.  By the end of the day, she’s more confused than educated.

 Bring in the Team!

Let’s end this post on a positive note.  There certainly is a way for managers and SMEs to train new employees, and they should be involved in the process.  First, however, the manager and SMEs should consult with the training team and develop a training plan that makes sense.  Some of my colleagues are very good at this, as they want more than anything to see the new employee succeed.  They need that new employee to succeed.  As soon as they receive an acceptance from the employee, I turn around and they are at my desk.  They want to put a plan together that includes formal training, peer training, and self-study.  They work closely with the employee during that first week on the job, teaching them the logistical things they need to know, introducing them to teammates and other employees, and establishing the training plan with them.  Gradually, they release the new employee into the wild, often entrusting him or her to the care of those in their team while also keeping a close eye on them.  Those that are successful often learn to request training on their own when they realize the training they need. I have seen it work, and it is something beautiful.

The managers and SMEs that make the new employee process work have a few things in common.

  1. They are tireless advocates for their employees.  One refers to herself as “Momma Bear, when it comes to my people.”  No argument here.
  2. They think things through and incorporate their experiences into new paradigms of thought and action.
  3. They take full responsibility for the success or failure of their team.
  4. They truly love what they do, and want everyone else to love their jobs too.

The Cycle Should Never End

Imagine how good such a program would be if the training team truly understood the objectives and goals of the team in question!  That brings this post full circle then.  Invest in the training team by sending them outside the organization to learn the customer’s perspective.  Require that they reflect on those experiences and incorporate them into their training programs.  Require that managers and SMEs work with the training team to develop plans for new employees.  Encourage all peer trainers to consult with the team prior to taking on new training tasks.  Stop calling them the “internal training team” and find a title that truly reflects what they do.

What would your title be?

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