The Power of Soft Skills and Training

The old saying, “employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers” is a scary thought when we are trying so hard to find and keep employees. No matter how great the onboarding training may be, or how competitive our wages are today, it can all unravel with a manager who doesn’t have the skills to lead.  

The critical skills that managers need are not technical or even specialized skills. The most effective managers have a strong foundation of soft skills, or in other words, the ability to interact and influence others in a positive way. There is a plethora of different soft skills training options available, but how do you make these competencies stick with your team? To really make soft skills training resonate with your team, you need to create content that is specific to their jobs and your company.  

Key Competencies

The first step is creating a list of the top competencies needed in your environment. Most companies may have the same basic soft skills on their list like customer service, communication, team building, or coaching. Different industries and individual companies have varying priorities for the different soft skills that are needed. Do you have a customer-focused environment? Or is your company more focused on production?  This will may change the skills that are needed or change the hierarchy of needs.  

Avoiding the Eye Rolls or Relating to Your Managers

Often managers cringe at the thought of learning soft skills. They are managers, they already know these things! And they certainly don’t have time to sit down and take training on something that is so… well, “soft.” The key is making it specific to your company and their job.  

At Orgwide, we have created countless soft skill training programs, and no two look anything alike. Sure, the basic title may be similar, but the actual content is customized for each company. Here are some tips that we have found to be successful:

  • Tie it into your company’s vision, mission, or values
  • Incorporate company graphics and photos
  • Use examples that are relatable and happen almost every day
  • Include specific benefits to the company’s success

Soft skills aren’t things that you learn once and then move on. Follow up the official training with on-the-job exercises so they can both use the skills and see the value and impact that they make. Reinforce the training messages in ongoing communication and follow-up meetings. Create a culture where these vital capabilities are front and center, every day! 

Are you helping, or are you just buttering the cat?

In late 2021, the group #DisabilityTwitter began using the question “are you helping or are you just buttering the cat?” to encourage the Twitter community to think about accessibility accommodations and if these accommodations are actually helpful.  For example, an automatic door that can only be reached by a set of stairs fails to be helpful since the stairs make it inaccessible.  Enter into the story Jorts; a fluffy orange cat with over 160,000 Twitter followers!  The storyline goes that Jort’s co-worker, Pam, who was “putting margarine on Jorts in an attempt to teach him to groom himself better,” Fortunately, Pam now understands that she “is NOT to apply margarine to any of her coworkers.”  Good advice for us humans as well.

The need for accessibility accommodations stretches beyond our physical environment. In the learning and development industry, these accommodations are often referred to as “508” or “508 compliance,” in reference to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires that persons with disabilities have access to electronic information – including eLearning – in the federal sector.  That access must be comparable to the access afforded individuals without disabilities.

A quick internet search will produce plenty of technical information about the tools available to developers for creating accessible eLearning but, keeping the buttered cat in mind, it’s critical to ensure that the tools are being used in a way that gives all learners the best experience possible.  

Key Competencies

  1. Write appropriate alternative text. 

It should be meaningful and succinct.  For an image of two people talking to one another, the alternative text might say, “Two people in conversation.”

Turn off the alternative text for any object that does not convey meaning, such as a background image.

  1. Think outside the box to create accessible experiences.

How would you handle a course with dozens of clickable definitions that are optional for the sighted learner?  Instead of forcing a screen reader to interact with each item, consider storing that information in one of the player features, like the glossary tab, and creating a hidden text box on screen to inform screen reader users about the optional information.

  1. Always test your work with a screen reader.

In addition to these three easy steps, we don’t want to forget about our fluffy feline friends Jorts and Jean, the two office-mate cats with different abilities who have taken the internet by storm.  To learn more about – and from – their saga, check them out on Twitter, Reddit, or really, just about any news site.  You may even get a t-shirt about buttering Jorts!   

Regular Training Metrics – Now with more Fiber!

Like fiber, training metrics may not always taste good, but they ARE good for you.  When working with business leaders – especially leaders in learning and development, I often encounter an attitude that lies somewhere between lethargy and paranoia toward training metrics.  These metrics are specific measurements that quantitatively describe the impact, effect, and outcome of a training activity, whether it’s a new job aid, a recent classroom experience, or an eLearning course.

From my discussions with learning and development leaders across a variety of industries, the main reasons for the reluctance to implementing metrics can be placed into three general categories:

  1. Training managers don’t know how to move from current “do our best” practices to a measurement supported, production-oriented environment. 
  2. It’s been their experience the metrics aren’t going to be used anyway and opt not to waste the effort.
  3. They’re afraid they won’t like what the “numbers” might show.  

Despite this aversion to measuring the actual impact of their organization – training metrics are here to stay.  Lest we forget, numbers are the language of management and that includes training managers. 

Key Competencies

To get started, let’s just focus on measures of training efficiency. (We’ll deal with training efficacy – often described by Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation – in another article.)  At minimum, training leaders should ask themselves – How much effort is being expended and for what result?  In other words, it’s about “input” (effort and resources to create and deliver training) and “output” (the results).  In the simplest of terms, productivity can be defined as: results as a function of effort.  Or, for those that like to do the math:

Results divided by Effort

In the training department, each of the following ratios yields an efficiency measure managers should be able to easily calculate:

Easy ratios for managers to monitor training

Each measurement tells a different story but both metrics together tell a more complete story.  Combining output and input measures into ratios yield metrics that are directly comparable across time periods and business units, and can be used as baselines and benchmarks for larger measurement initiatives – as well as future forecasting!

Okay, so what are you going to do with your new-found understanding of how to build measurements that describe your training productivity?  Simple:  Measure, Monitor, and Manage.  It’s the life blood of continuous improvement!  Start by selecting the key inputs/outputs for your training program(s) and activities, and begin measuring them.  Then, create baseline data and measure over a period of time.  By definition, you’ll be monitoring your initial training productivity metrics.  Finally, by using your metrics intelligently, you’ll find yourself managing what you are able to manage.  Not every aspect of your training department will be in your control.  That’s okay.  There are enough activities within your control for you to make a difference with your metrics.

So, eat fiber if you want to improve your health – but get to measuring if you want to enjoy the benefits of better training!  To learn more, give me a call at 901-850-8190 or drop me an email at jim.hartigan@orgwide.com 

Leveraging Training to Attract and Retrain

In an environment where both attracting new talent and retaining your current workforce is more critical than ever, training has become more than a solution to a problem, it has become an investment and a critical retention tool. Many companies are now embracing Benjamin Franklin’s ideal that “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Today, we also have more training tools than ever before. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these tools are and how you can use them most effectively to make an investment in your team. 

  • eLearning is one of the most widely used training tools. Essentially, it is delivering content electronically in a way that keeps learners engaged in the information.  It offers flexibility as it can be taken anywhere at any time. eLearning modules can teach a variety of topics and types of materials. Both process and system training are especially effective as eLearning. Click here to see an example.
  • Virtual Playbooks are built in the same manner as eLearning while leveraging the design and visual engagement of magazines. This allows large amounts of content to be structured for easy consumption by the learner. Like eLearning, you can track completion and check for understanding in Virtual Playbooks. Click here to see an example.
  • Explainer Videos are short, high energy micro-minutes of learning. Designed to capture the learner’s attention, Explainer Videos are a great way to introduce new processes, new products, or increase awareness. Click here to see an example.
  • Instructor-Led Training (Classroom and Virtual) allows for a socially interactive experience where learners build relationships with instructors and their peers. Instructor-Led training encourages problem-solving skills, teamwork, and allows for timely and specific feedback and instruction. Click here to see an example.

Ensuring both new and veteran team members have the right knowledge to do their job is just as important as ensuring they have the right tools. Knowledge gives team members the power and ability to accomplish tasks successfully achieving results for both themselves and your company. 

Chocolate Bunny or Comic Books… What’s In Your Easter Basket?

What did you want in your Easter basket as a kid? Did you want the chocolate bunny or the comic book? Determining what an adult learner hopes to get from training can be like determining what to put into an Easter basket.

What’s in it for me?

The most important training question for adult learners that we need to answer is: “What’s in it for me?”  Answering this question is where knowledge and connection intersect, and the answer typically falls into at least one of six categories. 

  1. Performance: How will this training help your learner improve their skills and abilities to complete their responsibilities, in turn reducing stress and increasing confidence? 
  2. Job Satisfaction: How will this training help your learner better understand their role and its importance?  How will this training help them be better connected to your company’s larger mission?
  3. Promotion: Will completing this training open additional opportunities for growth within your company?  Will learners be qualified to take on greater responsibilities upon completion of the training?
  4. Compensation: Will this training allow the learner to be eligible for additional benefits or monetary compensation? 
  5. Efficiency: How will this training help the learner do their job better and achieve greater work/life balance? 
  6. Safety: How does this training ensure your learner’s physical, mental, or emotional safety? 

Understanding that adult learners have a “need to know,” trainers should look for every opportunity to explicitly link the actual training to the benefits of the training – early and often.  Explain what they will gain from the training and its value to them by leveraging one of the six categories above. 

And, don’t forget a little chocolate always helps, for both training and Easter baskets!  

The Science and Art of Training Assessments

This is the final installment in our Back-to-Basics series where we looked at the fundamentals of developing effective training programs.  

“Alex, I will take Processes and Procedures for $800.” I am no Ken Jennings with 74 Jeopardy Wins, and I might not even be great at answering trivia questions (just ask my sister). However, I have learned that it takes both science and art to craft training assessments that reinforce the learner’s experience and give the organization insights into a training program’s effectiveness. So where do you start?

Know What You Are Going To Measure

While it might seem like you are getting ahead of yourself, you should begin the assessment development process as part of your design phase. During this phase, you need to identify what you are going to measure because as Peter Drucker said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t change it.” 

Where Science and Art Meet

Developing assessments takes a little science and a little art. The science is based on proven educational concepts. The art is putting the right content together in a creative and effective way.

In the science element, we need to determine the WHAT, WHY, and HOW: 

  • WHAT? The first question is: “What specifically are we trying to measure?” This should always tie back to the learning objectives.
  • WHY? The second question is: “Why are we measuring it?” or, alternatively, “What is the purpose of the quiz, or assessment?” Is it to test basic knowledge or see actual work being done correctly?
  • HOW? The third question is, “How do we best measure what we’re trying to measure?” Which quiz format is the most effective? Let’s review some different formats.

The art of crafting an assessment begins with determining the right format of questions. In training, we typically use three primary types of response questions:

  • True-False Questions: True-False (T/F) items assess the learner’s basic understanding. T/F items do not discriminate between good and poor learners because there is a 50/50 chance that they will get the answer right. If you use an assessment with all T/F items, be sure to include enough questions to differentiate between knowledge, and lucky guessing.
  • Matching Questions: Matching-type questions are used to assess the learners’ ability to make associations between two sets of information. In most cases, writing matching items is relatively quick and easy because you don’t have to create several incorrect responses for each question.
  • Multiple Choice Questions: The Multiple Choice (M/C) format is the most frequently used because it is the most reliable and is the best at discriminating between good and poor examinees. The typical M/C item consists of a problem, question, or statement, followed by three to five alternative choices.

Not Always the Ending

Often, quizzes and assessments are done at the end of a training program to measure what the trainee has learned. It is important to note that assessments can bring value if done before, or at certain times, during a training program. Assessments done early on can:

  • Create awareness of behavior or attitudes towards a training program
  • Personalize the training by exposing strengths and weaknesses of the participant’s knowledge base
  • Determine additional training and development needs
  • Establish a readiness to experience more fully and personally the benefits of a training program
  • Familiarize the participant with the expectations of the training
  • Provide the participant with a personalized and objective report of their learning
  • And provide a starting point for additional coaching between participant and associates, or instructor and participant.

Orgwide’s Back-to-Basics series explored the fundamentals of developing training programs.  Refer to the series for all of the important basics.

Back-to-Basics Blogs 

Let’s Go Storyboarding

Once upon a time… from the time we are little, we are taught through stories. Even though our training storyboards might not be filled with princesses, knights in shining armor, and a dragon or two, our storyboards do still have the elements of storytelling. This is where all of the foundational planning and gathering of information from SMEs takes shape and learning is created. As we continue the Back-to-Basics series, let’s explore the time-honored skill of creating storyboards. So, how do you start storyboarding? (Yes, we are making it a verb!)

Storyboards

As a visual representation of all the elements that will be part of your training, the storyboard organizes and outlines the narration, on-screen content, and developer notes for the training.  It contains all of the following elements:

  • Learning Objectives
  • Narration 
  • Graphics
  • Interactivity ideas

The learning objectives come directly from the High Impact Learning Map (HILM) that you created as the foundation of the training.  Everything builds from this.  Remember the “Do” column from the High Impact Learning Map in our Creating a Solid Training Foundation blog?  That is the learning objective.  

The narration provides the details and context, bringing the learning objectives to life.  In the narration, you can leverage the information, facts, figures, and details from the subject matter experts (SMEs).  This is where you put on your creative writing hat and create a flow of learning that participants can follow and retain!  

The key to writing the narration is… be ready to rewrite and rewrite, again and again.  You have a lot of information to absorb, understand, and ultimately help others understand.  Where do you begin?  Start with the learning objectives.  Build your story around what the learners need to know to achieve each of the learning objectives.  Add an impactful introduction to each section explaining to your adult learners why this information is important to them.  Don’t forget to read your narration aloud for flow and understanding. 

Graphics help the learners grasp and remember the information.  Remember the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words?  Well, a graphic might be worth even more to your learners!  Find interesting graphics, animations, and/or videos that not only keep your learners captivated, but also explain and reinforce your messages.  

Interactivity helps keep the learners engaged in the topic and increases knowledge retention.  This is especially helpful when you have a lot of information or facts to share, as interactivity is a great way to group information into smaller, easier-to-understand pieces. 

Reviewing the storyboard with the SMEs is another opportunity to refine and align the training before you begin development.  Once your storyboard is complete, you are ready to begin development of the training asset!

Narration ScriptOnscreen ContentDeveloper Notes
Module Introduction Graphic Company Logo
Welcome. In this module, we will….Learning Objectives:
•Describe…
•Demonstrate…
•Explain…
Appear one by one.
This information is critical to your role because…Click on each photo to reveal text.
Our company has dedicated people ready to help you with any issue that may arise….•Technical Assistance
•Customer Issues
•Delivery Problems
Appear one by one with icons.
Let’s first talk about the resources for technical assistance….Technical Assistance

Need to Know?  Or Just Nice to Know

We started this series with a story about my terrible packing habits back in the day – Everything But the Kitchen Sink – Is Your Training Overpacked and how training developers often face a similar problem. Solving the packing problem was easy for me because I was the only one who had a stake in the outcome.  That’s not the case when working with subject matter experts (SMEs).

Our blog post 6 Tips for Working with Subject Matter Experts offers some valuable insight into working with SMEs.  Those relationships are critical to the work you do – and without them it’s going to be nearly impossible to prevent your course from being overpacked.

To solve my packing problem, I had to recognize the difference between what I needed to have and what was just nice to have.  You’ll often find that your SMEs face the same challenge.  As experts in their fields, they are going to be very passionate about the material which often makes it hard for them to part with any of it.

How can you help your SMEs recognize the difference between what the learner needs to know and what’s just nice for them to know?  

When you find yourself wrestling with the dilemma of need to know vs. nice to know, refer back to your foundational documents – the HILM (Creating a Solid Training Foundation) and the HLDD (The Five Ws to Determine the How) – and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does the information support the learning objectives (the DO column of the HILM)?
  2. Do my learners need this information to be successful (the Achieve column of the HILM)?
  3. Is this information compatible with the delivery mode (refer to your HLDD for guidance)?

Sorting the need to know from the nice to know is only part of your content development process.  Stay tuned for next week’s blog on storyboarding.