Training: from good to great

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASafety, health and environment training is one of the biggest areas of training spend but do we, as customers, get value for money? Whether we use internal or external trainers, how often do we get truly great, rather than merely competent, training? How can we maximise the value we get? The answer lies in high expectations: we should aim for “great” right from the start.

What is great as opposed to good training? Well, like great customer service, it is hard to define but easy to recognise, and even more so when it is lacking. Poor training is reflected in feedback such as:

  • Not relevant
  • Not sure why I was made to do this
  • It did not tell me anything I did not already know
  • Boring
  • It was death by bullet point.

Feedback from good training sounds like this:

  • Knowledgeable presenter — knew what he or she was talking about
  • Valuable refresher
  • More interesting than I thought it would be
  • Kept my attention
  • Will help me in my role
  • Good content — well-structured, interesting and logical.

Those of us who are trainers would be happy if we always got feedback like this.

Actually, we should aim higher because great training goes much further. Characteristics of great training or coaching are as follows.

  • It does not just inform; it inspires.
  • It is all about how the content is delivered, not just the content itself.
  • It is totally involving.
  • It changes how people see the world (good training meets their expectations, great training exceeds and resets their expectations).
  • It does not just help people do the job; it transforms how they do their job.

And then, in addition to the above:

  • Managers report a change in attitude and behaviour in team members who undertake training and actively advocate the programme
  • People want to attend because their colleagues have told them how good it is.

Who is the customer?

Training or coaching at this level is far more likely to meet the needs of the customer. But who is the customer? We need to think about three levels and ask three key questions.

  1. The delegates attending — what will they get out of it? Is English their first language and if not, how are we going to manage that?
  2. The manager who sent them — what benefit will he or she see?
  3. The organisation as a whole — will this training meet its wider needs?

When training migrant workers in health and safety, the language barrier poses enormous problems. The effectiveness of the training will inevitably be compromised by the inability of your workers understand, read and, to a lesser extent, speak English.

Most migrant workers who cannot understand oral instructions will probably not understand written ones, which are necessary for their health and safety.

Much information can be obtained in a range of foreign languages that should provide employment and health and safety information for migrant workers, and a number of official websites containing H&S information (such as HSE’s site) can also be viewed in translated form.

Ten top tips

What practical steps can we take to make sure we get at least “good” and ideally “great” training? Here are 10 key tips.

  1. Be clear about requirement from the start, and set out the deliverables in writing. It is still the case that many organisations do not define what they want other than in terms as broad as to be meaningless. Be specific about what the training should achieve and link that in with the three levels of customer (delegate, manager and organisation) as outlined above. Set out the end to be achieved, rather than the means of getting there. The aim is to change things, not run a course.
  2. The standard way of doing this is via a needs analysis that defines learning objectives in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes or behaviour at the end of the course, i.e. what will they know, be able to do, be thinking or doing as a result of taking part? I would go further and specify the “how” and be very demanding of the training presenter or provider (whether internal or external) so that the final package has the right “feel”.
  3. Use people who are animated and enthusiastic. More often than not, we focus on knowledge and experience; while these are important, it is the passion of the trainer that is one of the biggest drivers of success. You only need think of examples from your own experience to appreciate this truth.
  4. Get the practical details right. Getting confused about where and when the training is taking place will confuse and demotivate participants. Having people wander in halfway through because they thought the training was happening at another site will not help the trainer’s motivation or the group dynamic.
  5. Given people’s span of attention, no single activity should last for more than 20 minutes, at which there should be a change (do a quiz, group exercise, etc.). So why is it that we still have courses that contain hours of “chalk and talk” presentation? Maintaining people’s attention and involvement is key. If they are mentally absent, they might just as well be physically absent. Usually, if they are engaged, they will also say it was worthwhile.
  6. Many courses are undertaken, appreciated and forgotten. Why? Because there is no follow up. In order to maximise the benefit of training and the investment in time and cost made, arrange a follow-up session to cement the learning and ensure that it is being applied.
  7. Aim for a workshop style, and be ready to abandon PowerPoint. It has been said that PowerPoint is a great tool for producing a bad presentation quickly. It is hard to avoid, especially in safety, health and environment courses where there is technical content that must be conveyed somehow, but it is all too easy to fall into the trap of slide after slide after slide. Try making a presentation just using photos, with no text at all. Use this to prompt discussion.
  8. Examples and stories are very powerful means of communicating. That is why pretty much every TV advertisement (and they cost sums that make your eyes water) creates a setting and a little tale. Stories engage people’s attention, they prompt discussion and they are almost impossible to disagree with.
  9. Research suggests that most adults respond well to being asked to solve a problem, and in many roles, that is actually what people are paid to do, day to day. Therefore, give them a problem to solve:

“X, Y, Z has happened — you are the team leader, what are you going to do?”

“Imagine you were the shift team leader in the control room just before the Buncefield refinery explosion. What would you do differently in the light of what you know then happened?”

  1. At the end of the training, evaluate the attendees; do not only evaluate what the attendees thought, but also what their managers are saying. Do the managers see any difference as a result of the training? How successful was it, and why did the attendees spend all that time and money doing it?

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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