Published on 2012/05/04

How Do Trainers Determine Where To Focus First?

Trainers are responsible for delivering relevant and needed skills and knowledge to their colleagues—but where should they direct their focus? Photo by Micky.

That is an excellent question…

How do trainers acquire the skill of identifying the most important aspect to apply their focus and attention? The simple answer is needs assessment. In my opinion; a trainer that is “worth his salt” should be able to perform most needs-assessments through observation. Of course, needs-assessment through observation leaves the burden of proof on the trainer so let’s expand the question.

How do trainers get so good at figuring out where to focus first AND explain that need to management?

“Where to focus firstis realized through careful observation of performance and open discussion with operational management. In a contact center environment this may be as simple as asking a team supervisor “who are your bottom 20% performers?” Then monitor and document their activity.

In a manufacturing environment the “where to focus first” may be realized through only monitoring and documentation of processes. Tools that offer measurement of sometimes intangible performance; such as Lean Principles or Six Sigma will do an excellent job of explaining not only what the “where to focus first” is but also what kind of negative impact it has on overall performance and what type of ROI can be had from investing in training.

“Where to focus first” is not only about measuring performance but also how that performance trends. A single-unit performance measurement will not offer an accurate picture of exactly where “performance pain” lies. Reviewing performance trends over a period of time will offer consistent gaps that help the trainer to identify the greatest areas of opportunity for improvement.

Of course; the biggest gap may not necessarily offer the greatest improvement. “Where to focus first” is not only about “what is the biggest performance pain?but also about “what subject can offer the greatest Return On Investment if training is applied?Take for example; a contact center that has a serious problem with customer service agents taking too long on phone calls (in the contact center world, this is referred to as “AHT” or “Average Handle Time”).

This company has also recently implemented a new billing system; even the casual observer can see that the agents are struggling to navigate the new system. In this case it is easy to see that perhaps a 60-90 minute refresher course on how to navigate the new billing system would offer much greater benefit than a 4-6 hour course on “how to control the call”.

Not surprisingly; I have been explaining how trainers figure out where to focus first, which is, really, the easy part of the question.

How do trainers get so good at it” is the hard part.

Standing outside the training department (and looking in) or even partnering with a trainer on a project it is very hard to see “how do trainers get so good at figuring out where to focus firstor even “how do trainers get so good at” anything. The individuals in training departments seem to grow professionally at an astronomical rate sometimes!

The answer is: Trainers are the luckiest people in the company. Trainers have the incredible good fortune to work in a department that not only thrives; but stakes its entire existence on knowledge transfer and the development of others. The training department and more importantly; the professionals that work in that department are constantly working to share knowledge and develop others. When trainers are not working to develop individuals or groups outside their own department; they are working to develop each other.

Trainers do not hoard knowledge or skills; it’s against their basic instincts. Trainers seek out opportunity to share their knowledge and skills. Trainers receive personal fulfillment by supporting and assisting someone else during their development process. Trainers grow professionally by helping other professionals to grow.

Henri-Frederic Amiel (1821-81, Swiss philosopher & poet) said it best: “It is by teaching that we teach ourselves…”

Professional growth and personal fulfillment through the process of developing others is a principle all departments can, and should practice.

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