Training Skills Series: Training’s role in performance Oct 03, 2013, 8:20 am By Heidi Carmack Pfaffroth

Guest post by Ken Burnett, VP/Director of Training and Business Development, Bank of American Fork

This series is written from experience and is part of Bank of American Fork’s training program. The program embraces the philosophy that training is a skill-based job, and managers need to learn specific skills to be successful.

As a training professional with more than 25 years of experience in the field, I think the statement that still gives me an eye twitch is when a well-meaning manager says, “Sally isn’t able to perform her job, so she needs training.”  Sally may need training to improve her skills and knowledge, but usually the lack of performance is a combination of issues, some of which training can’t fix.

For example, about 25 years and 40 pounds ago I wanted to learn how to dunk a basketball.  I got the best shoes, had a personal trainer to get me in shape and wanted to dunk a basketball more than anything in my life (not really, but good for the story). 

Well, after developing better jumping skills than Superman, I was ready to give it a try.  No matter how many times I tried I couldn’t do it.  Not because I didn’t want to, but because my fingers are too small.  I couldn’t hold the ball.  No amount of training would help me–I didn’t have the aptitude.  What really should have happened is for me to analyze my performance in relation to the task to determine the performance gap.  I would then know the best how to proceed to improve my performance.

Training is too often the only lever managers pull that they think will change performance. It is only one of about eight factors that affect employee performance.  To determine if something is a training issue, I use this test.  I take out a 10-dollar bill, and say to the associate, “Take all the time you need, use any reference you want and I will pay you $10 if you can perform the task.”  If the associate can perform the task, the issue is not a training issue.       

If you really want to change performance you need to play the symphony of factors that affect performance.  In most cases all of these factors play a role in performance, but need to be blended together the right way.  Like a musical symphony, each affecting factor needs to be coordinated and each played at the appropriate time.  Each symphony is different, just as each job or task is different.  The key is to determine what you expect from the performance and then go through each factor to determine its effect.

The factors that affect performance are:

• Skills and knowledge—Do they know how to use the system?

• Motivation—Does the employee understand the importance of the task and want to meet your expectations?

• Aptitude—Are they capable?

• Coaching and feedback—Is their manager monitoring their performance and reacting to it?

• Measures and metrics—Do they understand the expectations?

• Environment—Are there clear processes and references?

I will address in detail these factors during this series of articles, but all of them are critical.  During a training intervention (whether it’s a classroom or self-paced course), at best I can get the employee to perform the task at a novice level. Performance really improves through performing up to clear expectations.  The reverse is also true.  If I teach a training class on professionalism that outlines clear expectations, and after the class those expectations are never mentioned by the manager, performance will not change, and the training was just a two-hour vacation. 

A phrase that makes my heart sink is “refresher training” (an exception is if a task is seasonal).  Frequently the term refresher training is a quick fix for another performance-related issue.  I first look at the factors listed previously and often I take out that $10.00. Then, work with the department requesting training to address the real performance issues.  

In many performance situations, skills and knowledge degrade when they aren’t supported by the other factors that affect performance. This means that training does become part of the solution–a supporting part.  Look for one of the upcoming articles in this series to talk about how to choose the correct training intervention, and the difference between training and communication.

Taking a holistic look at performance that includes training in its proper role is a very powerful skill for an organization’s management to learn.

Ken also wrote a series for manager skills. What other business skills do you want to know more about? Tell us in the comments!

Ken Burnett is vice president/director of training and business development for Bank of American Fork. He is responsible for training more than 300 employees on a variety of topics, including coaching and feedback for dozens of senior managers within the organization.

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