The song “A Spoonful of Sugar” holds the key to training your employees. As the lyrics explain, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” Add a bit of sugar and the teaching becomes a bit more palatable.
Billions of dollars are spent every year on training, and although executives don’t like to admit it, much of these efforts are for naught.
How many times have you sat through a session and walked away with barely having retained more than a few key points? Today, we live in a society of immediate gratification, combined with the fact that many people are afflicted with attention span deficiencies. Either we get it in a few minutes or lose interest and move on to something else or forget the material entirely.
Smart phones are the biggest distraction in business training. Rather than listeners being riveted on every word a trainer utters, too many times minds wander as attendees divert their focus to e-mailing on PDAs, which are not so subtly hidden in their laps.
The problem is too many companies develop elaborate training that includes classroom sessions and PowerPoint presentations that are mind-numbing.
For training to be effective, it’s mandatory that the information be easily digestible, memorable and entertaining. When the lesson is not learned, not only are the cost of the training and the time it takes wasted, but more important, the benefit from learning the new information is not put into practice.
There are a number of telltale signs that the message that is being conveyed in group gatherings is falling on deaf ears.
Watch for the frantic “highlighters” in the audience, with marker tightly gripped and their hands moving rhythmically from left to right underlining every word in the speaker’s handout. A fluorescent yellow pen is their weapon of choice. If you’re sitting next to one of these pen fiends, expect that one of your major takeaways from the training will be the indelible ink stains on your shirtsleeve.
What session would be complete without the obsessed “note taker”? This too common breed writes down every single word the speaker utters, much like a third-grader who is kept after school and made to write 500 times on a blank piece of notepaper, “I will pay attention in class.”
My least favorite in a training session is the “poker.” This is the participant sitting next to you who periodically jabs you in the ribs and makes insipid comments, just to prove that he or she is listening, even though, of course, he or she is not. This can be not only painful but also annoying, as your own daydreams are interrupted.
All of these types have one thing in common: They’ll never again give the topics presented another thought the second they leave the session.
There’s a simpler and better way to engage employees and teach them what they need to know. Start by having the speaker use open-ended questions and ask the students to select the correct answer for each question from multiple choices.
One choice might be utterly ridiculous, another downright funny, a third choice is close to correct, and finally, there is the answer that is on target.
I call this “teaspoon” teaching. Small doses of salient information mixed with a bit of sugar (humor) to make the process easier to swallow. In follow-up teaspoon doses, the participants’ supervisors later quiz, on a very casual basis, the people being trained as they subsequently go about the day’s proceedings or during their daily tasks over the ensuing couple of weeks. Results have shown that retention scores will skyrocket versus those of more traditional and less entertaining methods. There are dozens of iterations of this training method. Just use your imagination and, no matter what, don’t be boring.
In many respects, learning is about seeing it done, doing it oneself and then teaching it to others. Hospitals have employed this teaching technique very effectively for years.
Being a successful leader requires being a good teacher. When you are not the actual teacher, it is still your job to approve the curriculum.
Manageable doses of knowledge packaged correctly can help guarantee that not only the message is getting through, but it is also being applied outside of the classroom and on the job. Add a little sweetener and the job gets even easier.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, will be published by John Wiley & Sons in early 2011. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.