Secrets of Turnaround Training

While training is not the prescription for every problem, it can be a potential catalyst for significant improvements.

Ever seen training that delivered much less than promised? Could have been entertaining or motivating or included lots of information and expectations. Perhaps filled with PowerPoints and statistical points but didn't really make the point of reaching participants. So, at the end of the day, little had actually changed.

But high-level training accomplishes much more. While training's not the panacea for all lack-of-skills ills, we've seen breakthrough results with tens of thousands of people in companies worldwide. Managers upgrading their leadership skills. Workers making documented improvements and applying learned methods immediately and for years after. With measures of injury frequency and length plummeting.

Here are nine of the keys to "mastery-level" training:

  • Develop a change mindset. Begin by recognizing and communicating that training's product is positive change -- improvements in the Big 3 of Approach, Awareness, and Actions. These results come from both engaging the carrier wave of individual interest and imparting practical skills that participants regularly apply.
  • Foster trust. Action change begins with receptivity. For participants to be willing to try something new, they have to first be ready to fully absorb information and skills. Many will mentally check out at the first sign of BS. They have to trust that you: a. have credibility; b. are sincere in your desire to help them; c. yourself know what you're trying to transfer; d. that this really works; and e. there's a benefit to their believing what you say and acting on it. Bolster your credibility by sidestepping the lure of KIAS (know-it-all-syndrome). Participants will be more likely to believe you when you admit you don't know something. So the times you don't, say, "This is really likely to work."
  • Encourage right practice. We all get better at what we actually practice (for better or worse). Default toward transferring both Principles & Practices. This way, people will simultaneously understand the value of trained skills and be able specifically to apply these in work and home tasks. Move away from "one solution fits all"/"just do it this way" pseudo-cures.
  • Get it out. If you want them to change what they do after training, have them try this during training. Show-and-tell or just "tell" approaches are limited. Instead, arrange for participants to handle their actual tools in the seminar room. Where possible, incorporate an actual nearby work site as part of the training. Even brief real-life practice can anchor training principles and techniques. If you can't do this during training, revert to them as soon as possible afterward to transform training principles into work site applications.
  • Harness training ergonomics. Want more interaction during training? Oval and circle seating promote this; classroom or theater arrangements suppress interaction. In addition to room set-up, carefully select other environmental elements that significantly influence training: Lighting -- right level and right kind? Times of class good for students (as opposed to expecting people to learn something new when just coming off their graveyard shift)? Right number/length of breaks? Support materials easy to understand and reinforce training content and objectives? Props or tasks available in the seminar room as close to real-life work as possible?
  • Make active involvement easier. Invite -- don't try to force -- interaction. Rather than calling on people against their will (this creates resistance), you can strongly invite their participation when asking a question. Extend your palms up and make good eye contact (if they look away, move on to someone else), wait an adequate amount of time for responses, re-ask if you don't get an initial response, or "prime the pump" by giving one sample possible response and then re-asking. Don't over-pressure, and never blame if they don't respond. Respect and involve them by calling on their expertise. This is especially critical with an experienced or older workforce. Surface and acknowledge their concerns, as well as perceived potential blockages and obstacles to desired improvements.
  • Continuously "read" and adjust. Don't wait for post-training evaluations to determine how things went. Continually monitor and modify during training. Perform visual check-ins: Are people nodding in agreement? Do their eyes dilate with interest? Are they daydreaming or attentive? Does their body language show tension or strong disagreement? How do energy levels peak and flag? Do regular verbal check-ins by asking questions to solicit their input. Start with easier-to-respond-to closed-ended questions ("Do you think this method might work in some instances?") only then followed by open-ended questions ("What are your concerns about it?"). Most important, is the level of interaction strong -- even if this means disagreeing with or even challenging you? It's actually a good sign they’re asking difficult questions about how to apply demonstrated methods. In promoting changes, two-way conversations beat one talker anytime. Especially make sure the floor is solid before building the next level -- check in, looking for verbal and nonverbal cues of agreement, aboardness, and assent before moving on to the next stage. ("Do you see why we're suggesting a change in how we perform that task?" -- wait for reactions -- "OK, then there are two different methods you can choose from.")
  • Blend yin and yang. Highest-level trainers don't just tell (yang); they're also able to listen to objections and draw out resistance (yin). Most important, they know when and how to seamlessly switch gears. This doesn't mean turning training into a venting session, just understand there are times you have to help participants get concerns off their chest before they're actually ready to receive, consider, or try new methods. For example, seeing people grit teeth? You might sit yourself down and ask, "What about this concerns you?"
  • Build a follow-up foundation. Reinforcement is critical for lasting improvement. Not only aren't most structures built in one day; ingrained actions aren't changed in one seminar. Plan for a number of "validating contacts" that help set learned skills into workers' personal autopilot program. (For more, see Robert's article, "Anchoring Skills Into Daily Actions," http://tinyurl.com/anchoring-skills.)

While training's not the prescription for every problem, it can be a potential catalyst for significant improvements. By engaging in higher-level training interventions that are well-planned and reinforced, you can realize remarkable and lasting improvements in receptivity, communications, and safety performance.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Authors

Robert Pater is Managing Director of Strategic Safety Associates and MoveSMART®. To contact him, email rpater@movesmart.com.

Charlie Braxton (cbraxton@movesmart.com) has trained workers and Instructor-Catalysts in the MoveSMART® HandSMART® system for Hess Oil, Domtar, Wacker, Halliburton, US Steel and more.

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