4 Tips for Running Practice Activities that Increase Employee Confidence

We need to move away from lecture-based training and incorporate more practice activities into our training.

No employee wants to be dependent on others, and no supervisor wants employees who can’t do anything without their assistance. To achieve this goal, we need to move away from lecture-based training and incorporate more practice activities into our training. But as coach Vince Lombardi said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” We need to make sure we practice the right things in the right way.

Let’s look at four tips on how to run successful practice activities that will help employees achieve more independence post-training, along with three common misperceptions that can sabotage the effectiveness of your practice activities.


Before we dive into the tips, I need to explain the perspective I’m writing from. I am going to assume a few things:

  1. You are training your employees primarily on procedural information. This would most likely apply to customer service, back-office, IT, and other process-driven roles.
  2. You have knowledge guides that employees can use to follow procedures correctly while performing their job.

If you are requiring extensive memorization in your training, then the techniques described here may not be effective. But if you have designed knowledge guides that employees can find and follow while they are doing their job, then this method of practicing will dramatically improve your time to proficiency for new employees. We have seen customers drop that time by as much as 85 percent.

4 Tips for Practice Activities that Create Independence

While running the practice activities, you should never answer an employee’s question.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it? But if you become the source they go to when they are stuck, you are teaching the employee to be dependent on you. Unless you will be sitting next to them every day at work, that isn’t what we want.

Instead, you want to train them to use the knowledge base to answer their questions and solve their problems.

The pattern we follow when we run practice activities is:

  1. Provide the employee with foundational knowledge about a subject area of the practice activities.
  2. Present the activity (e.g., “Customer asks you to merge their order. What do you do?”).
  3. Allow the employee to use the knowledge base to navigate their way through the activity.
  4. When the employee gets stuck, point them back to the knowledge base. If they can’t navigate the activity using the knowledge base, improve the knowledge base resources.

Use these four practical tips for running practice activities:

1. Start with easy tasks.

The purpose of practice activities is to increase confidence and independence. Confidence increases when we encounter challenges and overcome them.

Too many trainers start with practice activities that are too complex, causing employees to lose confidence right from the beginning. This just serves to reinforce dependence.

Instead, start with easy tasks. Then gradually increase the difficulty. As employees discover they can successfully complete basic scenarios by using the knowledge base, they will be better prepared to complete more advanced scenarios.

2. Let employees struggle a bit.

Many employees don’t want their employees to struggle. However, it is a necessary part of the learning process. Employees learn and develop confidence as they struggle and eventually succeed.

We find that many employees are not very comfortable following written or visual instructions. If they seem to be struggling a bit, don’t worry. Let them work through the issues.

Practice activities don’t need to be perfect at first. It is OK if employees skip steps. Let them discover their mistake. Don’t tell them the right answer. Ask them to review the knowledge base article again to see what they missed.

You will find that the first few activities will be rough. Employees will stumble a lot, but they will quickly improve once they gain confidence that the answers and guidance they need are in your knowledge base.

3. Gradually increase the difficulty.

As employees successfully complete simpler activities, gradually increase the difficulty. You eventually need to practice scenarios that match the complexity of the actual situations they will encounter on the job.

Keeping scenarios too simple just prepares the employee for failure once they leave training.

4. If necessary, improve your knowledge base.

You may find that employees struggle to use your knowledge base during the practice activities. Don’t blame the employee. Improve the knowledge base.

The criteria we use for a good knowledge base article are:

  • Can the employee find it?
  • Can they follow it?
  • Can they scan it?

3 Common Misconceptions

When it comes to practice activities, it’s easy to fall into some traditional training traps. Here are some common inaccurate beliefs I often hear from trainers:

1. “If I don’t say it, they won’t learn it.”

This simply isn’t true. As long as you provide the required background knowledge for a topic, the practice activity and use of the knowledge base will teach your employees your policies and procedures. You don’t need to explain everything. Let the knowledge base do most of the work.

2. “The knowledge base articles are just training wheels.”

Many employees believe they are supposed to wean themselves from using the knowledge base. This isn’t true! In our experience, employees who use the knowledge base regularly are more than twice as productive as those who don’t. Reinforce that it is OK to use the knowledge base during your practice activities AND when doing work post-training.

3. “Memorization is necessary.”

No, it’s not. The purpose of practice activities is to increase confidence and independence. As long as your employees can rely on your knowledge base to perform their jobs, they don’t need to focus on memorization. Memorization will come over time, but the primary focus should be confidence and independence.

By focusing on helping employees increase their confidence and independence during your practice activities, you will find they will achieve independence quicker and experience less stress performing their job.

Greg DeVore
Greg DeVore helps organizations transfer knowledge to their employees faster. He started his training career 20 years ago in the film scoring industry teaching composers to use Apple’s Logic platform. That eventually led to opportunities to design medical device eLearning solutions for companies such as GE, Siemens, and Philips. DeVore is now the CEO of ScreenSteps and works with organizations large and small to revamp their training programs so they can onboard employees at least 50 percent faster. He has a degree in Composition and Film Scoring and can be contacted at: greg@screensteps.com.