This article was written by Geoffrey James, in Inc. Magazine, October 5, 2012, reprinted by permission
Companies spend billions of dollars a year on training. Unfortunately, a lot of that training is simply wasted effort, according to sales guru Duane Sparks. A while back, he gave me a set of principles or rules for training employees. Our conversation was mostly about sales training, but it applies to any kind of training. Here are those rules:
1. Teach Skills Not Traits
Rather than trying to change the personality of the individual, focus on training skills that can be taught and learned.
For example, suppose you're responsible for a field engineer whose duties entail going on customer calls. If she is naturally introverted (a trait) don't try to convince her to be more extroverted (a trait) in order to help you sell. Instead, train her how to listen actively (a skill) and how to use terminology customers will understand (a skill).
2. Teach the Appropriate Skill
Only teach employees skills that you're certain will produce tangible results, within the context of that employee's job.
For example, if a sales team consists of hunters (who find new business) and farmers (who develop existing accounts), it's wasteful to train everybody on the team on cold-calling techniques. Limit such training to the hunters and provide training in other skills (like account management) to the farmers.
3. Reinforce and Support the Skill
Whenever you train a skill, provide multiple opportunities to check on how well that employee is executing that skill and provide coaching as necessary.
Learning a new skill entails making it into a habit. Unfortunately, doing so usually involves overcoming existing habits, which is inherently difficult. Coaching allows you gradually reinforce the skill and overcome the habits it replaces.
4. Implement Skill-based Metrics
There are no truer words in business than "What gets measured gets done." If you really want employees to integrate a skill into their day-to-day performance, you must, must, must measure the results of the application of that skill.
For example, if you're providing training on some aspect of your sales process, you should measure the conversion rate at that stage of the sales process, rather than just measuring the total revenue that's booked at the end of the quarter.
5. Consistently Measure Progress
If you do all of the above, you should be able to watch the metrics improve as the new skill becomes second nature. If you don't get the expected improvement, there's something wrong. Either you've been training the wrong skill or not providing enough reinforcement and coaching.