Many service-based organisations such as hospitals, home healthcare and field sales have enormous challenges to train their employees and contractors on productivity tools and platforms such as laptops, tablets, home computers, software applications, etc. The same challenge also exists to train an organisation's non-technical employees who are now working primarily from home. This training is often performed by field personnel with little success because they do not have the expertise, motivation, and tools. We recommend that the IT department drive any training so that workers are properly trained, and they have a positive experience, which will increase employee satisfaction and retention, especially if they are new to the organisation. Further, a solid training process will help keep the IT Service Desk from being overwhelmed in new rollouts of technology products.
This whitepaper is based on 20 years of consulting with IT departments of all sizes to help them create new paradigms and approaches for training non-technical people on technical products.
Use new employee training or training updates as a bonding experience between the help desk and its field employees
We recommend that emphasis be placed on making new employee training special, fun and a very positive experience. The message should be, "We really care about you!" In some industries, it is easy for your employees to resign after getting some experience, if their services are in demand. You need to create a "sticky" relationship right from the start and thereafter with every single interaction between them and support personnel.
Show new employees a lot of attention in the first days on the job. Here are some training suggestions:
- Use a nice local hotel conference room.
- Serve beverages and food.
- Have rest and networking breaks.
- Provide an overabundance of technical support personnel to make sure all people walk out the door with all their technology working and people feel well trained.
- Provide hardcopy, easy-to-read and comprehensive quick reference guides with colour pictures and screenshots.
- Provide video tutorials loaded on their tablets.
Here are some special items that will help start a "sticky" relationship and a great bonding process. If the employee student achieves a score of 90% or better on quizzes during the training, then provide some awards. Tell the students in advance of these awards to motivate them to work hard and be attentive during the training class to prepare for the quizzes.
Some of the following are ideas for awards: flowers, cookies/sweets to take home or a small toy for their children. Small things are often meaningful and communicate, "We care about you!" Students should also receive a certificate signed by the CIO for successfully completing technology training with some minimum standard scores. It validates that they are now technically proficient and may motivate them to perform self-help (i.e. read the quick reference guides you give them) because you already labeled them as "certified".
The way you take care of your employees can determine how well they will ultimately take care of your company's customers. The connection that you make with field employees during training may be the only connection opportunity that you have with your customers, so give it careful consideration. You must set a very high standard by giving your employees the tools and training needed, so they will take excellent care of your customers.
Technical training paradigm for new field and internal employees
The long-term solution recommended is to "beat the complexity out of the technical product/application/process" so the training is easy to understand and remember. Delegating technical training to the field offices or other departments will never allow IT to have any quality control. The IT department can have consultants go out and perform spot checking and then try to get some cooperation from the field offices for improvements.
Consider an approach where technology training is held partially through real-time video conferencing that is done with a very small cadre of highly trained/presentation/theater-skilled people at corporate HQ. The content will be consistent, and it can be tweaked daily on-the-fly, if necessary due to rollout issues and feedback. A single session can have dozens of students participating at dozens of locations. The local field office personnel can focus on room management, keeping people focused, getting people back from breaks, contacting the help desk to trouble shoot problems, administrating quizzes and prizes, handing out copies of training content, etc.
Some of the complex content can be presented in real-time by a headquarters training person via real-time video conference, and some less complex content can be recorded in highly entertaining modules and played during the live training. After that, a live teacher can answer questions, emphasise points, etc. after the prerecorded information is presented.
Some investment would be required in infrastructure. Perhaps this could be leased and test piloted. Perhaps this could even be done with online meeting software, a laptop, and large screen with outstanding audio at a much lower cost.
The learning environment must be highly regimented, controlled and planned. The goal should be to maximise learning and retention during new employee technical training, as this will lower help desk call volume.
- Ideally, technology training should be done in the morning when generally most people have the most energy and awareness. Avoid training sessions that overlap with 3 pm as natural biorhythms are not optimal for learning and retention at this time of day. See: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/when-is-the-least-productive-time-of-day-new-study-pinpoints-the-hour-and-minute/article12429712/
- Have a 2:1 ratio of technical support personnel to students in the training room that can answer detailed questions or quickly call a HQ "hotline" to resolve problems so the class does not get delayed.
- Have tech support people pre-package any devices (i.e. cell phone, tablet, etc.) for each person to help the handoff to students in an organised and error free manner.
- Put the names of students on each device with removable tape to prevent confusion as devices get passed from technical support people to students. Technical support people may also step out of the room to trouble shoot multiple devices as not to disrupt class. Employee names help troubleshooting and assure the right device is returned to the right person.
- Put name cards on the table next to each device so students know where to sit in the room.
- Place lower skilled people in the front of the room and higher skilled in the back.
- Students where English is not their native language should be placed in the front of the room and closest to the instructor so they can better hear instructor word pronunciation which may help with comprehension.
Training Room & Environment & Etiquette
- Use a moderate cost hotel for training classes. If not possible, the training room selected at the local offices should be carefully vetted and prepared in accordance with the recommendations in this report.
- If windows are in the room, shades/curtains should be drawn so there are no distractions from the outside.
- Room should be kept at a temperature comfortable for the season.
- Keep lights on full as a dark room will make people sleepy and will decrease learning and comprehension.
- Require students to sit as close to the front as possible so the instructor can more closely monitor and connect with students.
- Encourage students to have something to eat and to drink cold water to fuel their learning and retention ability. Frequent sips of cold water help keep students awake and prevent fatigue.
- Encourage students to bring a refillable water bottle to the training class so that they can refill at breaks with cold water.
- Provide fresh fruit (oranges, bananas, apples) and chocolate protein bars to help fuel brain cells. Many learning studies link elevated glucose levels to increased learning and retention. Also, some students may not have had an opportunity to eat during the day so food will compensate for this factor.
- While teaching, the instructor should encourage students to take a drink of cold water every 15 minutes. Instructors should use their water bottles to set an example.
- Every 45 minutes have a 7-minute restroom break. Technical support personnel should walk around the office and ring a bell at 5 minutes (warning) and ring a different bell sequence at 6 minutes (get back to room now!). After the break, the instructor should lead a 2 minute "shake your body out" and a group shoulder massage circle to keep energy high.
- Require all personal cell phones to be turned off. Inform students that at each 45-minute break they can check their cell phones, email, etc., if needed.
- Once the training session starts again, no nonstudent personnel should be allowed to enter the room. Distractions inhibit attention and learning.
- To minimise training class disruptions, put a sign on the door, "Technical Training In Progress. Please Do Not Disturb".
- Better comprehension and retention can be achieved by having students constantly interacting with their devices.
Instructor Qualifications & Teaching Approach
- Instructors must know the material cold and not just read a script or read from slides.
- Instructors must have a highly assertive teaching style so that they can keep the group focused and quickly recover any student not paying attention, or bring the group back to focus when there is random chatter or frustration.
- Instructors must require and monitor that students are taking notes. This will significantly increase retention.
- Instructors must administer a paper quiz after every 30 minutes of instruction. The instructor should tell the class that all grades will be posted on a front board immediately after the quiz. Technical support personnel can quickly grade the quizzes. If there are 3 hours of content, there should be 6 quizzes. Instructors should set a goal of students achieving at least 90% on quizzes and set consequences if not achieved. Students should be told that if they do not achieve 90%, they can retake the quiz, but they are required to at the end of the class so they will have to stay late.
- Posting all the student scores on the front board will put pressure on students and demand that they summon their attention and faculties for the task at hand. There should be a moderate level of stress in the class as this will improve learning and retention.
- Flowers, cookies/sweets, small toys for their children, etc. should be given to those that get a 100% on a quiz or some other item of nominal value. If they get 100% on all 6 quizzes, they get 6 cookies, etc. This will create a festive and fun atmosphere. Compare the cost of a single help desk call vs. the cost of 6 high quality cookies. Anything that can be done to increase learning and retention has a high ROI.
- The top 3 class winners with highest scores should get another item of nominal value and peer recognition. The objective is to identify technology-savvy students that may be good at mentoring their peers with technology. Create a "field guru group" (call it something more fun sounding) so that they can help each other. Their supervisors should be notified that a student is a top-3 class winner in technical training.
- You should create field guru groups and encourage/pay top-3 class winners to attend meetings. With a roll out of new technology, it makes sense to get employees to help each other. Younger employees may enjoy helping older people, if properly recognised and encouraged with biweekly "coffee, cake, cookies" at the local office.
- Instructors should award certificates at the end of training.
- Avoid classroom tech training materials that are not "fun" and engaging. If they are too serious, they inhibit learning and retention. One idea we have seen work well: create a "day in the life" of some well-known TV character or nationally known person in their journey of learning how to use your technology. Of course, they will have funny trials and tribulations along the way. Perhaps a "Cirque du Soleil" theme of sorts might work. Have your creative people suggest ideas. It will not take a lot of work and the ROI will be very high. Make people laugh, entertain them, and get them engaged in the content.
- Create quick reference guides with very colourful screenshots, and video tutorials should be initially loaded on the tablet which can be remotely updated by HQ. Students should not have to go to any web site for "self-help". It is another step, and they will not do it. It is much easier to call the help desk. Help desk personnel can ask the employee, "Can you go to this video and let's look at this together". In many calls, the help desk can turn the call into a short training session to help prevent another call.
- Any self-help technical training content loaded on tablets should be also available as localised in the appropriate localised languages.
- Hand out a colour hardcopy of slides and have colour pens so they can annotate and take notes on the slides. Colour enhances learning and retention.
- Any content handed out should be stapled.
- All pages must be numbered so students can easily track exactly what page they should be on and stay in sync with the instructor.
- Training materials should be consistent across all training classes.
Almost anyone can use memory techniques to help them improve their memory. They can help you not only remember information accurately, but also the structure of information.
Most of us do not think only with the left brain (logic) or the right brain (imagination, creativity) but with both. Therein is the key to using the whole brain to remember information. You can recall information better if you use vivid mental images. Since images are vivid, they are easy to recall when you need them.
The techniques explained below show you how to code information vividly, using stories, strong mental images, familiar journeys, and so on. You can do the following things to make your mnemonics more memorable:
- Use vivid and often ludicrous mental images or story lines to help increase retention.
- Engage your senses, smell, sight, feel, hear, taste. These vivid, colourful, sense-laden images are easier to recall than the ordinary ones.
- Give your image three dimensions, movement, and space to make it more vivid. You can use movement either to maintain the flow of association, or to help you to remember actions.
- Explode the size of important parts of the image. Don't just think of a flower; think of a gigantic flower.
- Make it funny, even hilarious! Humorous or strange things are easier to remember than normal ones.
- Rude or offensive themes are very difficult to forget. Keep these to yourself.
- Symbols (danger signs, red traffic lights, pointing fingers, stop signs, etc.) can code difficult messages quickly and effectively.
The three important concepts underlying the use of mnemonics are Imagination, Association and Location. Put together, you can use these concepts to generate powerful mnemonic systems:
This is the tool you use to create and strengthen the links needed to create effective associations. Use your imagination to create mnemonics that work for you in your own way. The more vivid and "out-of-this-world" is your imagination, the better you can recall the information that you want. You can use imagery that evokes the imagination-sad, angry, or fun.
This is the method by which you link a thing to be remembered to a way of remembering it. You can create associations by:
- Placing things next to, around or on top of each other.
- Smashing things together.
- Combining images together (e.g. a woman with a beard).
- Wrapping them around each other.
- Forming a story around the items.
- Linking them using the same colour, smell, shape, or feeling.
As an example, you might link the number 2 with a swan by visualising a swan with a long slender neck like the number 2.
This gives you two contexts: a coherent context into which you can place information so that it hangs together, and a way of separating one mnemonic from another. For example, using the layout of furniture in your living room for one set of information, and the route you jog or go to work for another.
Having a well-planned technical training strategy, system, and methodology can have tremendous benefits when training personnel who are less likely to be technically savvy. By implementing these strategies rigorously, even though IT might incur some up-front costs, the costs in the long run will be reduced with fewer calls to the help desk. There will be less employee frustration and better retention, all of which translates to creating long-lasting customer loyalty, and a positive reputation in your industry.