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Top 5 New Training Manager Situations

You’ve just landed a new job as a Training Manager. Where do you start?

Before you start looking for advice and information online, or beginning conversations with other training managers it will be important for you to know what you’ve gotten yourself into.  Having a clear understanding of your current state, and being able to articulate it to others, will help define your search for answers. If you are new to the training function then the answers and direction you need will be very different from the seasoned training manager who has just changed companies. And yes, this sounds a little obvious and perhaps unnecessary but just thinking this through for a few minutes will get you to quicker results.

Planning Your First Steps

There are, of course, many many different situations a new Training Manager might find himself owning.  There are probably as many as there are companies with training departments.  But in general the creation of a training department, or the hiring of a new training manager is done for a specific business reason.  You will find yourself in trouble very quickly if you were hired to simply keep the business running and you begin requesting budget for a new Learning Management System.  This table should get you thinking about it a little more and help you clarify your current situation.

KTBR – Keep the Business Running

This one is easy.  The training department has been around for a while, the team is built and functions well together, and all development and delivery systems are functioning and of acceptable value.  You’ve been working for the company for more than a couple years, you have management experience, but you have never managed the training function. Most likely your primary goal will be to just keep everything running smoothly and not falling apart.

The Re-model

This situation requires that you keep the business running WHILE utilizing your experience as a training manager to improve the methods and systems currently in place.  You’ve most likely been hired away from another company because of the innovative work you did there. You are new to this company, and getting to know the new culture will be the largest part of your learning curve.  Do not take that lightly and ignore it or you will find yourself running up against resistance to the innovations you thought they hired you to implement.

The Clean-up

You are an experience manager and business leader. You probably don’t understand the details of many of the departments you’ve managed, but okay because that’s what you’re direct reports are for.  You’re primary function is rescuing sinking ships.  In this situation you will most likely be reducing headcount and otherwise managing performance issues amongst the team.  You need to keep the business running but your colleagues will be well aware of the situation your are tending too.  However, the business will quickly run out of patience. Do what you must to cull the herd, mend the wounds, and begin the healing process for the remaining team members.  Get it done…and help everyone move on.

The Architect

This is a rare find, and you are wise to take on this situation as a Training Manager at least once in your career. What you accomplish is far less important than what you will learn, but with any luck you will accomplish quite a bit.  You are starting fresh with no sacred cows to slaughter.  You will need to hire your team, acquire a learning management system, create/document processes, design/deliver courses, and SO much more.  It can be overwhelming most…actually ALL of the time.  But in the end you will have built something from nothing.  And no matter what the something looks like, it is yours and yours alone.  And the experience you gained from having been the architect will continue to grow and make you better at every new job you encounter.

The Subject Matter Expert

In many industries this is quite common.  You are pretty good at what you do, but what you REALLY enjoy doing is teaching others how to do it too.  You have experience with the company and seen as one of the “goto” experts.  You’ve also get praised quite a bit for your creative presentations, and everyone loves spending time in your training sessions.  No, you don’t have any management experience and no formal training experience.  However the business is growing and the leadership decides to create a training department and you are the perfect employee for the job.  Don’t laugh.  This happens more than you might think. And if this is you, then welcome to the wonderful world of training and development.

Crazy

Well… this one just speaks for itself.  And I didn’t mention 6 in the title because of it.  But yes, this does happen too. <facepalm>

Your Experiences!

What’s your situation? Let me know how it turned out and leave a comment.

The Training Manager: Getting Started

The Training Manager
What happens when you find yourself managing a training department for the first time? How do you get from first-timer to rockstar? A lot depends on the maturity of the business and what existed prior to your arrival.
Understanding the basics is a great place to start. But just so we’re clear, these basics may differ from any instructional design and development basics you may have picked up along the way in your career from other training professionals.

Your Training Team

Your team may be filled with talented designers, developers, coordinators, and instructors.  Or your team might just be YOU! How you approach the “getting started” phase of your new role as Training Department Manager will depend a lot on what you’ve inherited as a team…or lack thereof.

Listen To Your Team

If you have inherited a fully formed and functioning training team, then your first task at hand will be to LISTEN! Spend some time getting to know the team and listen to their stories from being “in the trenches”.  Do not offer solutions, just listen.  Listening is easier said than done, but you will be glad you did.

Understand Your Business

If you are the entire team, then you’ve got different work to do.  The business drivers that made this role necessary will be your primary focus, and should drive all the decisions you make from this point on. If you were hired into this role, and it is new for the company, then you need to get to know the business and understand the expectations of your peers and the executives. If you’ve been promoted into this role then you probably already have a good idea why it’s needed.  But it wouldn’t hurt to confirm it with your peers running the other parts of the business.

Enterprise Software Systems

As with your team, there are many different situations that a new training manager can find him/herself in. Understanding the basic philosophy of the enterprise regarding software systems is critical.  If you are lucky, there are no restrictions and you are free to seek out and find the right system that best supports your business. But in most cases many technology decisions have already been made by your CTO, and so your training development and delivery system decisions will be directly impacted by those standards.
If you are new to the company, your onboarding process will tell you a lot about how the company has setup it’s systems.  For example, if you are given a Windows laptop running MS Outlook, then it’s safe to assume your company has standardized on Microsoft products.  And this most likely means you will be using Sharepoint as well.  If you’re in a smaller company, then you may be given an enterprise Google account, or a similar enterprise Software as a service (SaaS)system.  These may or may not impact your final decisions, but it will give a better understanding of your IT department. The key here is understand what you currently have available to use.  You may be able to do a lot with the systems currently in place.  But having a good idea of the technology landscape will give you a baseline to move forward. And moving forward quickly will be your primary objective.

Training Content

As mentioned earlier, if you have been with this company a while and only recently moved into the role of managing an existing training department, then your training content is most likely already in place.  Your first action regarding content will be evaluating the usage data for existing courses and their effectiveness.  In the process you may begin discovering the deficiencies of an old or outdated learning management system.  More on that later.
Again, if the role is new to you and the business then you have a different set of issues to understand.  Talking with the business leaders will give you a good idea of where the pain points are and what content they perceive as valuable coming from the training department.  Do NOT take this feedback lightly.  Your success depends on making these colleagues happy.  You can have the best of intentions, attempting to do right by the company, etc., etc., but if you do not make these stakeholders happy you will only succeed in making life harder on yourself.
After identifying the business needs/wants you will then need to identify subject matter experts and begin winning them over.  If the training content to be delivered is generic HR compliance type, then you should buy some off-the-shelf solutions and save yourself the headache.  Training content specific to the company’s unique business will required the support of your subject matter experts, so be sure to establish those relationships and keep them strong.
As you can see, understanding the current state of the training department and why the leadership was motivated to create it is job #1.  Get a solid understanding of the department’s current state and the rest of your decision making will flow better than if you skipped this critical phase of your learning process.

Next Steps

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How I Learned “Done is Better Than Perfect”

“A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week”
- George S. Patton
In my last post I mentioned the popular quote, “Done is Better Than Perfect!” And that it was one of the most important lesson I’ve learned in my career.  Unfortunately, I had to re-learn the lesson a few times before it really stuck and became a part of mindset…and training development workflow. I’ve tried over the last few years to help others learn this lesson but in many cases it’s a lesson best learned the hard way.

For me, the lesson was learned at my first full time job at a semiconductor manufacturing facility in Phoenix.  The factory was in startup mode and was in desperate need of training around several compliance courses required for the factory to be approve for operation.

My manager called me into his office.  He showed me a workbook on the topic of electostatic discharge.  (For those of you that don’t know, ESD can be the death of electronic devices costing tech companies hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars in non-functioning product.)  He asked me how long it would take to create a CBT version of this course.  Remember, it wasn’t called eLearning back then. And we had to burn it onto a CD-ROM.

So, I spent the next 20 minutes explaining the ADDIE process, and all that will be required to meet with subject matter experts and workers and how we would need to also go through the Hannifin and Peck media selection process…oh yea, and the weeks of media development and coding time…and I went on and on and on.

He was very polite and then finally interrupted me and asked how long it would take.  After a lot more explaining I finally landed on “a month or two at best.”

Then he said, “what can you have done by next Friday.”

“WHAT?! That’s not possible.” And I started to explain why…then he stopped me again.  And with a very calm demeanor he asked, “if you HAD to have it done next Friday, what would that look like?
Being more than a little annoyed at this point, I spouted off what could be done by then. “Well…I could just recreate each of the pages out of this workbook as pages in Toolbook…TOTALLY static…no interactivity…well, okay maybe a short quiz at the end…”

“That sounds great. Let’s commit to next Friday on that.”

I was still single at the time and so after 4 long days and late nights I had the CBT ready to go on day 5.

It was not perfect…no where NEAR perfect in my mind…but it was DONE! And the business was gaining value from it.  The entire current employee base was compliant by the next Friday and the business could move on to the next phase.  Even after I left the company that CBT was still being used to train new hires on the dangers of electrostatic discharge.

It was a valuable lesson for me despite being constantly pulled towards perfection with every new project after that.

Have you learned this lesson? Did you fight it? I’d love to hear your stories. 

P.S. Apparently Sheryl Sandberg has now made this phrase popular, but I don’t think she’s the first to say it.  And no, I have not read her book.

 

My Top 5 Training Development Tips

development & training tips

The world of Corporate Training is really not that complicated. But with all of our instructional models and frameworks, we like making it a little more complicated than others believe it to be. There are situations where all the detailed processes of instructional design are required.  But, in my experience, those projects are rare.  The perceptions others have of your work is critical to your success. Here are my top 5 development tips that will increase your perceived value within your company and amongst your team.

Done is Better than Perfect!

There is a good reason why this quote is so popular.  IT’S TRUE! And it’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career.

As a young recent graduate of the Educational Media and Computers Masters program at ASU, I was perfectly prepared to employ everything I had learned at my first full time job. I was ready to implement the ADDIE model in all its glory. Imagine my surprise when my manager asked that my first eLearning course be created in 5 days. It was a project that framed the rest of my eLearning career, and was also my first experience with “the business” and what they expected from the training department.

The business does not care about instructional design, analysis, evaluation, and all the other stuff we like to spend so much time on.  In most cases they just want content that is easily accessed and proof that all employees have “taken the course”. So, get the minimum done and release it.  You can always go back and improve once you start receiving user feedback.

And of course, these days, your tools and systems should be doing most of the heavy lifting around evaluation and analysis anyways. If not, maybe it’s time for a new LMS.

Use the Tools You Have Now!

The computer, and other technologies, that you have are good enough.  Instead of thinking about all the gear you don’t have, figure out how to use everything you have now.

If you have a late model smartphone, then you have a powerful multimedia production studio in the palm of your hand. And that corporate issued laptop may not be the multimedia development power house you’ve been dreaming of, but it does have enough power to create most of the digital content elements you need.  I was developing fully interactive 3D training simulations in 1996 on computers with only a fraction of what today’s computers have.  Don’t make technology your excuse for not producing.

Your company has an LMS with authoring capabilities…or an authoring tool in general.  However, you still need to create media or modify stock media. All eLearning starts with digital media content. Photoshop is pricey, but there are options…some of which are free. Figure out how to get the job done with the tools you have.  And don’t forget to devote time to improving your skills with those tools.

 

Templates are your Friend. Use them!

Yes, for the perfectionist in all of us templates are the ultimate sin.  Using templates somehow minimizes the instructional design process for us. But having a few ready to go will save you time, and make you look like a hero. Just think of it as working smarter, not harder.

You often don’t have the luxury of time, and templates will help you get courses done faster (see #1). That course may not end up being the one you submit for an award, but “the business” will care and respect your ability to produce…fast.

 

Leverage Your Subject Matter Experts

Subject Matter Experts are passionate about what they do…that’s why they are SMEs.  And most, not all but most, are happy to share what they know.  Let them.  And get out of their way.  Do not try to make them follow your instructional model. Do not force them to use your template or framework. Leave them alone.  UNLESS, they ask for your help or are struggling getting started.  Then, and only then, offer up some possible templates or other design options.

Hopefully you’ve built a relationship with your SMEs and already have a feeling for how to approach them with new ideas. Respect what they do, and let them discover their instructional shortcomings through experience.  Then help them improve.

 

Master Your LMS

No, you’re not reading this wrong.  And yes, these tips are for anyone developing and delivering training content.  Even if you have an LMS administrator on your team, you should be fully aware of how it works including it’s quirks and shortcomings. How you develop your content will always be influenced by the capabilities of your LMS.  So, don’t just use it. MASTER it! It will save you precious development time, and reduce your LMS related headaches when it’s time to deliver.

 What have you learned, the hard way, in your career?