Turning the tables on technology performance

Turning the tables on technology performance

Action Learning

Technology performance is typically touted as a conduit to better business processes. However, sometimes lost amid all the high-tech hoopla is a high-touch catalyst for performance excellence. It’s called action learning.

Simply put, action learning is interactive training, that time-tested practice of learning by doing. No matter how robust and useful the software or hardware, it takes hands-on practice to really learn it, while trainees are engaged and enthusiastic, to achieve the most meaningful improvement to business processes.

NASA wouldn’t employ lecture-only techniques to get a shuttle astronaut up to speed. Pilots spend substantial amounts of time in a simulator, learning by doing. It’s important to view your training options in the same mission critical light.

A recent survey showed that learning-by-doing beats lecture-style learning across the board. Interactive styles outperform all other training modalities by a substantial margin, with webinars and elearning filling the gap.

A prime example of how this works is a time management class. Most people are familiar with and/or use Microsoft Outlook as an email, calendaring, and contact tool. A fundamental tenet of using Outlook — or any other tool such as Google — most efficiently is the one-touch system, where users deal with incoming and outgoing emails as they occur, ending the day with zero emails in their inbox.

Virtually no one would argue with the productivity advantage of dealing with emails on the spot, versus having to wade through an increasingly cumbersome archive later, touching the same email multiple times. Yet, tests demonstrate that accomplishing this requires hands-on practice, which establishes the critical cornerstone of a well-grounded habit. Failing that, trainees go back to their offices with good intentions — and little else.  Trainees need action learning to connect the dots, from what they heard and saw, to actual practice.

Jenny Douras, Vice President for Mission Critical Training, notes that, “too often we watch companies purchase video- or lecture-only-style training programs, then find that they don’t get the results they want.  Employees don’t complete them, or they don’t retain the information.  Companies that treat training as a strategic component of their company employ action learning training methods.  Employees that receive live, hands-on, instructor-interactive training produce more for their companies, and have a higher satisfaction with their work environment.”   

While Web 2.0 revolutionized online interaction, training is too often still viewed as a non-interactive commodity. Action learning ramps up success, while reducing frustration and costs.

So, somewhat ironically, success with technology performance typically rests substantially on the way it is taught and learned. Despite this, companies routinely commit to major technology performance overhauls and innovations, and deal with the training modality as an afterthought.

“An ongoing challenge for our law firm has been getting a majority buy-in on using new technology performance appropriately.  Many employees are frustrated, and, as a result, create workarounds and refuse to adopt the processes,” notes Dawnell Kring, Secretarial Coordinator & Trainer at Hall & Evans, a Denver law firm.  “We need firm-wide, hands-on training as part of a change management effort to help them understand, learn, and embrace the technology.  This will create consistency in the firm, increase productivity, and create a more positive culture.”

The following are ways companies can maximize their technology performance investments simply by providing the most appropriate training, which generally means action learning in tandem with other modalities (e.g., webinars, elearning), designed to reinforce key learning concepts when time is at a premium:

  1. Interview trainees about their preferences and ideas before committing to a particular training modality, and have them take skill assessments if possible to assess their needs.  Interact with them to get their buy-in beforehand. This establishes a perceived level of ownership over the training, and will make those taking it much more motivated from the start.
  2. Schedule training to be as convenient as possible for the majority of trainees. This often can mean a core curriculum of group action learning sessions, complemented both by elearning modules, webinars, and possibly one-on-one sessions. This helps ensure that everyone’s preferred learning styles and schedules are accommodated as much as possible.
  3. Conduct follow-ups to make sure the learning has become a regularly practiced habit. Where there are problems, deal with them quickly, as employee morale and productivity can suffer rapidly if the person feels unable to keep up with co-workers, and/or isn’t motivated to do so.
  4. Make sure trainees understand how to use the technology to the best benefit, not just the steps to accomplish the tasks. For example, many PowerPoint presentation classes address the technical aspects of using this software. But also critical are the tips to developing a compelling PowerPoint presentation.  For example:
  • People busy reading aren’t listening. So don’t load up on bullet points when you want to be heard.
  • Develop change-up tools that you can use if/when people start to tune out.
  • Know your audience and culture: What plays well to US managers may offend foreign counterparts.

In the final analysis, technology performance without action learning is akin to a space shuttle without qualified pilots: You won’t get where you want to go.

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