Effective training can be the lifeblood of an organization. By training and developing your team members, you can drive greater success, increase accountability and build a stronger organization for the future. However, most companies do training wrong. I believe the best way to approach training is to feed it to employees over time, rather than pouring information into them. I refer it as “training by the glass, not the firehose”.
The Value of Training
Before digging into the idea of training by the glass, not the firehose, let’s first establish the value of training. Training has been around as long as people have wanted to learn things. And as long as there have been people willing to share their expertise and experiences, there have been programs to train people in various ways.
There are three types of training I’ll briefly cover:
- Training for knowledge
- Training for skills
- Training for attitude
Training for knowledge
Specific jobs require specific training. If you are a CPA, you have to get trained on new tax laws. If you are a network engineer, you may need to be trained on a new piece of CISCO equipment. As a police officer, you may be required to be trained on new rules of engagement for an arrest. If you are in HR, you have to get trained on new labor laws. Or, of course, if you are an employee, you may need to learn about the new harassment policy.
You develop knowledge. You absorb information and learn facts. We often call this “book learning”. Whenever you need to know exactly how an item works, what a concept means, or something that requires you to take a certification test, it’s training for knowledge.
Knowledge can often be digested in large chunks and documented for retention and future implementation.
Training for skills
Skills are also critical for success in many roles. Skills are not specific to a single concept (like those mentioned above). Skills are more general in nature. You may receive training in sales skills, management skills, communication skills, speaking skills or coaching skills, just to name a few.
Skills training is often not industry specific, but it can be. Skills training does not typically involve a certification, but that also varies. Skills training is something that takes time. One of the fallacies of training is that you can go to a seminar and become a good (fill in the blank). We don’t become a good salesperson overnight. We don’t develop management or coaching skills in a single setting. Consequently, skills development takes training, mentoring, coaching and most importantly, patience.
Training for attitude
The hardest training to pull off is training for attitude. That is because people are most resistant to changes in attitude. For a person to change their attitude, they first have to decide that their attitude needs changing. Consequently, changing attitude requires coaching. Furthermore, it requires an intentional approach that takes place over time.
Contrasting the Two Approaches
Drinking from the firehose
We typically deliver corporate training programs in one of two ways:
- On-site, in an all-day format in a training room.
- Off-site, at a conference or training facility
Both of these methods suffer from the same problem. The participants have to turn off their “work brains” for a day, including silencing their cell phones, ignoring emails and generally disconnecting from the rest of the world. We know how good we are at that, don’t we? Consequently, their minds are split between listening in the training and thinking about their daily tasks. And, when the training is over, they return to their normal lives and have to somehow try to remember what they learned and implement it into their normal process.
We call this process “drinking from the firehose”. I remember drinking from the garden hose as a kid (I know, we aren’t supposed to do that anymore). But growing up, we often grabbed the water hose whenever we were thirsty. That can be quite refreshing. But a firehose is a totally different animal. Drinking from the firehose will most likely knock your head off instead of quenching your thirst.
We normally deliver training for knowledge in this manner. In most cases, that is acceptable. You may administer skills training in this manner as well. It is much less effective using the firehose approach. Finally, training for attitude, to the effect it can be done, should never be attempted using a firehose.
Drinking from the Glass
Drinking from the glass involves providing training in measurable doses that allows the participant to consume training units in more manageable “chunks”. These chunks should be repeated, with ongoing repetitive training and coaching of key principles to promote accountability and “stickiness” of the principles.
Farnam Street Media refers to this concept as the “spacing effect”:
This is where the spacing effect comes in. It’s a wildly useful phenomenon: we are better able to recall information and concepts if we learn them in multiple, spread-out sessions.
The spacing effect does not have the same adrenaline rush of cramming facts into your head for the short term. But it does promote tremendous long-term results. After 3-4 months, you can retain as much as 90-95% of material consumed using these techniques.
The chart at the right gives a simple illustration of this. My reminding key information on the 3rd, 10th, 30th and 60th day, we can expect as much as 90% retention of key information.
The “Forgetting Curve”
Another key factor in this concept is the “forgetting curve”. The reality is we forget 40% of what we hear within 20 minutes. By repeating the information at regular intervals, we greatly improve this key statistic and promote greater retention. Remember flash cards? We used them to help memorize facts when we were in school. Why do they work? Because repetitive exposure to key information leads to higher retention.
The problem with flashcards and other similar methods is that they focus on the memorization and not the application. Ongoing training which refreshes memory combined with ongoing coaching leads to far greater retention and application. Now that is a winning approach.
Putting it to Work
Training by the glass, not the firehose is so critical for effective training. How is training effectiveness measured? Retention, retention, retention. If you don’t remember it, it was not worth the investment.
I design custom training packages that incorporate ongoing coaching for accountability and retention. I find this method greatly increases retention and promotes putting concepts to work in real-life job situations.