Quality Management: Don't Train; Motivate

August 1, 2005
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Empowering trainees increases their learning level

The boss's phone call made the challenge clear: next week's training seminar for all the plant managers is critical to improving the overall defect rate in the division this year. And the boss will evaluate the trainer's performance in delivering the course based on the results the plant managers achieve in the next six months. How will the trainer spend the critical days leading up to the training event? If his first impulse is to focus entirely on preparing the material, a decision has been made that will doom the event's outcome.

Of course, knowing the material inside and out will build the trainer's confidence and keep him from being stumped in the spotlight. Snazzy slide animations, coupled with a bit of comic relief, will keep the audience smiling until the coffee break. The challenge, along with high expectations from the boss, is enough to put anyone into high gear in the days leading up to the event. But will this guarantee that the trainees burst out of the room with a drive to change their behavior and get results? Not without one critical factor-the trainee's motivation to learn.



Empowering trainees

The ideal use of the trainer's time leading up to a training event is a balance between building the trainees' motivation level and reinforcing his own understanding of the subject material.

The aforementioned scenario is specific. The decision facing the trainer, however, applies to any adult learning situation. There are many training courses in industry that might not have all the participants kicking down the classroom doors to attend-safety and environmental compliance, customer service techniques, software user groups. But when the same topics are framed in a way highlighting the trainee's personal benefit-prevent injury to himself and others, build stronger customer relationships that boost commissions or spend less time working at the computer terminal-the trainee is more likely to take away learning points that help change behavior.

First, let's focus on the trainer's role in preparing the trainees for the session. Specifically, this means increasing both trainee motivation to learn and his own general understanding of the subject matter. To boost the trainees' motivation level, help them see the gap between the current reality and what the training material will allow them to achieve. Having a fierce conversation that creates cognitive dissonance will motivate the person to change behavior. Here are some tips for having that conversation:

• Choose a time and place that allows the trainer and the trainee to focus on the conversation

• Understand what the trainee wants to learn from the seminar

• Prepare and discuss the trainer's role as a leader

• Listen and ask open-ended questions

• Provide preliminary material that will help the trainee participate

The amount of time and resources devoted to preparing trainees will improve the overall success of the seminar. What trainees gain will have been expressed by what they want to learn. Tailor the depth and duration of the conversation to match the level of the existing relationship with the trainee. If this is a new concept, be prepared to practice and improve each time.

After the trainees' motivation level is high, get them involved in preparing the material for the course. This requires the trainer to keep a firm grasp on the end goal of the training course while being flexible with the details. By feeling empowered to control the content and direction of the training course, the trainees will take more ownership of the material and have a vested interest in achieving a positive outcome. Strive to give trainees a real choice in the following areas, for example:

• Choose the training topic

• Prioritize a list of topics to select

the order

• Arrange the venue or schedule of events for the training course

• Choose which trainee prepares

which subtopic

Trainee preparation

Involving the trainees in preparing the material before the session can take many forms. The underlying idea is to help them absorb the subject matter in advance so that the group's interactions can strengthen each person's understanding of the material and extend the learning points to different applications. Some specific ways for trainees to prepare material include:

• Reading and summarizing

reference articles

• Compiling a list of personal experiences with the subject

• Researching and evaluating potential solutions to a problem

The level of trainee preparation can affect the outcome of a session. Consider a one-hour training session on slips and falls at the workplace. In version A, trainees do no preparation. The trainer presents a detailed, professional 45-minute slideshow that summarizes workplace injury statistics, employee interviews and case studies of methods to prevent slip and fall injuries. In the remaining 15 minutes, the training group chooses which prevention methods to implement at their facility and agrees to meet again in six months to review their injury rate and the impact of the new policies. Out of the 60 minutes, 45 were spent exchanging information and 15 were spent interacting to solidify learning points and discussing future applications.

Consider the same training session that places more emphasis on trainee preparation. In version B, the trainer distributes the slide show one week before the event and asks three trainees to prepare five-minute summaries of sections of the presentation. Now the group can spend 15 minutes reviewing the material as a refresher, delivered from the trainee's perspective. That leaves the group 45 minutes to engage in a discussion-facilitated by the trainer-to draw out deeper learning points, discuss their personal experiences with the proposed solutions and put together actions for the next six months. Because the trainees have prepared the material before the session, they achieve a deeper, more personal level of understanding as a result.

When organizing the next training session, remember that the trainee's motivation level has a much greater effect on learning than the trainer's. Trainee motivation level can be increased through conversations that raise awareness of what the training course will help them achieve. By raising the trainees' involvement in preparing and delivering the training material, they achieve deeper understanding of the material, and the potential for a lasting change in behavior. Q



Ryan Hale works at Stroud Consulting Inc. (Marblehead, MA). He can be reached at (781) 631-8806 or r.hale@stroudconsulting.com.



Tech tips

• Leading up to an event, the trainer should balance building the trainees' motivation level and reinforcing his own understanding of the subject material.

• When topics are framed in a way highlighting the trainee's personal benefit, the trainee is more likely to take away learning points that help change behavior.

• To boost the trainee's motivation level, help him see the gap between the current reality and what the training material will allow him to achieve.

• By feeling empowered to control the content and direction of the training course, the trainees will take more ownership of the material and have a vested interest in achieving a positive outcome.

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