Transforming Training from Chore to Opportunity

Mandatory training sounds unavoidably like a chore because the employee has no choice about it. But does it have to suffer from that perception?

The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging you have one, they say. To that end, I found an editorial in the business section of The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia that was notable for its bluntness: “Corporate Training is a Drink from the Fountain of Nonsense.” Granted, this publication is not from the U.S., but I bet the feelings expressed don’t differ much country by country.

The challenge when looking for ways to make training enjoyable and engaging is not everyone finds the same things fun. Take games and simulations. I know they’re supposed to be fun, but I don’t happen to like games. I don’t like that they come with rules and set parameters. I especially don’t like it in a training context because most business challenges require creativity and resourcefulness that exceed the narrow framework of most games. I wouldn’t be surprised if other creative, imaginative-minded people feel the same way. Instead of playing a game, and worrying about its stifling framework, I would rather be given the business challenge and then asked in an open-ended fashion to come up with a few different strategies or products in response. Some would find that harder and less enjoyable than playing a game, but I would feel like my brain had been set free.

When creating development plans with employees, do you think it’s possible to agree with them not just on how they learn best, but how their favorite mode of learning can best be represented in training? It wouldn’t be enough to just determine whether the employee learns best by observing, doing, or hearing about a subject. The trainer or manager then would have to take it one step further and come up with ideas with the employee for specific training methods. The trainer or manager could give the employee options to choose from, such as “Would you rather ‘play’ a game to learn; be asked open-ended questions, which you could respond to in writing or orally; or be given an assignment in which you can observe and ask questions about what you need to learn, and then be tested?” In this example, offering two additional options beyond the learning game would not cost the company any additional money. Unlike an online game, which can be expensive, having an employee respond in open-ended fashion in writing or orally, or having them shadow another employee, doesn’t require additional spending.

What are some other ways to offer additional training options that won’t cost your company extra money, and will take training from chore to opportunity?

Another thought I had was the great chance training can be to show off an employee’s skills and talents to a manager or department head previously unfamiliar with them. A problem I’ve noticed in the corporate world is the middle manager who becomes a competitor, rather than an advocate, for the high-achieving employee under him or her. A training assignment that would give an employee the opportunity to present ideas to the employee’s boss’ boss, and/or the department head, is a way to mitigate that problem. In addition to putting the idea in writing or presenting to just the boss, employees would be asked to present to managers or executives they typically do not have access to.

In addition to having employees present their solutions to business challenges, you could have employees prove their understanding of corporate regulations, and other compliance issues, by giving examples in these meetings of potential compliance questions that might arise as they do their jobs, and how they would handle those situations. They also could be given the opportunity to suggest ways of better ensuring the company’s compliance with laws and regulations. I would not recommend forcing all employees to complete their training this way. I would just recommend making it an option for those who would like to give it a try. When training is turned into an opportunity to showcase an employee’s abilities, you may be surprised how many quiet go-getters you have on the payroll.

How do you turn training from chore to opportunity? What are some of the ways your company avoids having employees think of training as drudgery?

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