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The Best Trainer May be Down The Corridor - Keeping and Using Corporate Expertise

Aug 17, 2007
Why does the mention of training summon up thoughts of expensive courses, and consultants for many employers?

We have found that much of a business's expertise is in the heads of some key employees. Waiting for it to float across and infect others or sending people off to external courses is often an ineffective and expensive way to transfer knowledge.

A systematic process for identifying what is needed, what you already have, who has it and who can share it can be very powerful.

Once the required knowledge, experience, skills or attributes have been defined, it is then a case of finding who, and it may be spread across several people, possess it. It is then a matter of transferring it. This may be by some of those people conducting an internal training course or, more often, it can be done by coaching, project work or on-the-job training.

A structured approach to doing this will be far more effective that leaving it to just happen.

After defining the above factors it is necessary to be quite clear on what the objectives are. After the transfer of this information, what should the "trainee" be able to do?

If the Sales Rep needs training on upgrading a customer from one level of product to a higher one, and the Sales Manager has this ability, then an objective needs to be written that describes the outcome. eg To be able to convert 50% of customers after one year from Product A to 90% use of Product B. The method to do this then needs to be agreed and documented with key dates and responsibilities. This may include reading technical manuals, researching customers, joint customer visits and practice role plays.

The same Sales Rep may need help with understanding certain technical issues. This assistance may come from someone else. Again the same process should be used.

Effective transfer of knowledge and skills is best achieved by a systematic approach that can be replicated across the organization. The first part of the process involves identifying learning and development needs. Another aspect is to help potential internal "trainers" transfer particular skills or knowledge and give them a simple process to do this without requiring a formal "train the trainer' program.

A brief five steps of instruction checklist will help inexperienced people teach key skills.

1. Tell the trainee what you want them to do.
Put the trainee at ease, check existing knowledge, create an interest in learning, state the task or subject

2. Show them what you want them to do.
Do the complete task at normal pace, stress key points.

3. Let them try.
Have the task done or subject explained.

4. Observe performance
Check understanding of key points, check against standards

5. Manage the consequences.
Positive; provide reinforcement or praise, negative; correct faults, neutral; after correct operation several times, the positive response can be reduced. If a person knows they are doing something well and of value they do not normally need continuous feedback from others.

We have previously written about Individual Development Plans (IDPs) that list the key development objectives and actions and who is responsible for their transfer. These are a vital tool in preserving, transferring and increasing the corporate knowledge. IDPs have the added advantage of tracking employees' growth and this can be a contributing element to motivating and retaining key staff in times of a talent shortage.

Business implications
While the approach described above will have obvious cost savings over external training, what often happens is not much unless someone deliberately makes it happen!

Retaining the expertise that gives your business its competitive advantage should be as important as looking after the physical assets - maybe more so because the physical ones can usually be replaced.
About the Author
Paul Phillips is a Director of Horizon Management Group; a specialist human resource management consulting firm. He has over 30 years experience in HR and, while based in Australia, has worked in a number of overseas locations. www.horizonmg.com
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