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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Send the Boss to Training . . .

leading by example delivers powerful messages about training

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

In a recent article in the journal of the American Bankers Association, the CEO of a bank holding company (15 bank branches) wrote about rolling out a new curriculum, developed by the trade association, on compliance with regulations. To kick off the program, this boss had the training function assign everyone in the company, including himself and his assistant, to appropriate courses. This CEO did all the course work, took the tests, and completed everything on time.

Can you imagine your CEO enrolling in a course intended for front-line employees? How about your immediate boss, or your department and division leaders?

By enrolling in a couple of courses, this CEO made several strong statements to the entire company:

  • Company values: compliance is crucial to a successful bank, although not everyone finds it a fascinating topic. His participation in this training made it clear that compliance was a core value of the organization, and that training is a key element in supporting that value.
  • No one is too busy to do the important work of learning what they need to know to do their jobs well. If you work in corporate training, you know how often you encounter participants who are too busy running to meetings, calling their office or their clients, or checking their BlackBerries to really be engaged in the training. Imagine those people telling this CEO that they are too busy to do their training homework!
  • Top management demands high quality training with appropriate content for their business. This is a CEO who really knows how well the training they're using meets their needs.
  • Leadership is built on knowing what employees think they should be doing. This CEO truly knows what employees think they are expected to do, in regard to compliance, because he got the message the same way they do. If additional employee communication and guidance is needed (given that this was a industry-generic curriculum) to ensure that his employees follow the strategies and standards of the company, they'll be able to identify those custom touches because everyone in management took some part of the training. They know where the employees are starting from, and where gaps must be filled with additional, customized information.

Of all these benefits, insights into the employees' perspective on their work may be the most valuable. In the past couple of decades of consulting, I can't tell you how many times I have seen executives make decisions based on faulty assumptions about what their employees know, and what they are being told, about how to execute corporate plans.

After all, when you introduce a new training program, by the time the description reaches top management, it's like the old "telephone game": they get a version that has passed through several tellings and summaries, up the management chain, until they begin to hear what they expect the employees to know and believe, rather than what is actually happening at the front lines.

Now, do I believe that every CEO can find the time to participate regularly in employee training? No, I'm realistic about that. But nor do I believe that it is impossible for them ever to find the time to take courses or attend events as regular employees. They can find the time to do what is important to the company, and understanding what employees think the company wants them to do is one of the best uses they can possibly make of their time.

Got a new vice president? Send him or her to part of the regular employee orientation, instead of doing everything through separate executive training. Got a new boss in some department? Get that boss enrolled in some of the department's core training, so s/he knows how the employees begin to understand their functions and their roles within the company.

It's hard to get where you want to go if you don't know where you're starting from. And it's hard to convince employees that an activity is important to the company's success when you are always "too busy" or "too important" to engage in that activity.

It's called leadership, and it works!

© 2008 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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