Telling isn't training

Oct 31 2011 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

I don't know too many managers who haven't experienced the frustration of introducing a new process or tool to their teams, only to have the training fall on deaf ears.

"I've told them and told them, and they don't seem to get it" goes the refrain. My question usually is, did you tell them or train them?

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) has done a series of conferences this year with the catchy title "Telling Ain't Training". They're absolutely right, especially online. Here's the difference:

When you tell someone something, they might intellectually understand what you want, but there's no guarantee they can perform the skill involved. Think about skiing. Would you trust your life to someone who gave you verbal instructions, showed you a video then strapped boards to your feet and hauled you to the top of a hill? You'd probably want to try a few things out first. Stopping, for example, might be at the top of that list.

Yet how many of us have rolled out a new process by cramming everyone onto a webinar, demonstrating through PowerPoint or sharing the application, and basically telling them to go and sin no more? How did that work for you? That's because (all together nowÖ.) telling someone, isn't the same as actually training them and ensuring they can do what you're asking of them.

True training entails several steps that a simple demonstration doesn't.

Assess their current level of understanding, skill and attitude. If you're teaching them something they already know, you'll bore them. If you're teaching them something they're not ready to learn, you'll waste everyone's time. What's their current level of understanding and buy-in?

Tell them the expectations for the training and how they'll use it (these would be the learning objectives, in trainerspeak). "We're going to learn all about the payroll system" is not an expectation. "We're going to learn to fill in your paperwork properly so you get paid" is an objective people will track with.

Demonstrate, show or introduce the new concept or skill. People need to know what you're trying to teach them. This is where the "telling" usually happens. Webinars are a good way to do this, but this is only one step in the process, and too often managers stop here.

Give them a chance to practice or apply the new skill. People might know they should be able to stop hurtling down the ski slope, but can they actually stop if they have to? While the stakes may be lower, the same thing is true of a new software package or a process. Let people try it out. Try using small groups so you can have plenty of interaction. Hand control of the screen to individuals so they can try the software themselves. Telling a hundred people at once won't be as effective as training them in small groups and having them actually perform the task you're trying to teach them.

Assess (test is such an ugly word) to make sure they actually understand and can perform the new skill or concept.

Online presentation tools are useful at each step of the way, if used correctly. When was the last time you broke a large group in to a smaller one because it would be more effective? Many companies subscribe to the "put them all on and do it once" approach, only to find that they don't get the results they seek.

When was the last time you actually handed over control to an audience member to demonstrate their ability, or do you just ask them if they understand, and expect them to be honest about it? Learning the tools, and applying them to get the appropriate results will go a long way to making your life easier as the manager and helping your team get where they need to go.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.