Sunday, March 1, 2009

Train the Non-Trainer

If today's fast-moving corporation had an attitude, it would be "need to know, now." Organizations can't wait for formal learning programs to teach employees how to do their jobs. Everyday trainers can ensure employees have knowledgeable resources to turn to when questions or problems occur in real time.

In most organizations there are almost never enough trainers to go around. But should there be? In today's knowledge-worker-dominated workplace, employees need answers on the spot, and the company trainer rarely is as convenient as Web access or the peer sitting next door. As a result, organizations are training and leveraging everyday learning champions so employees have an immediate resource to turn to when issues arise.

"I'm not sure that having a whole host of people who are [purely] trainers is the right way to go in the constantly changing environment in which we live," said Rajeev Peshawaria, chief learning officer at Morgan Stanley.

Companies such as Morgan Stanley are moving away from the train-the-trainer methodology and embracing a model that empowers subject matter experts, leaders and managers to lead development, thereby creating a learning culture in which employees are encouraged to begin discussions and ask their peers questions.

Leaders as Teachers

"Teaching is learning twice." That's the philosophy at Morgan Stanley, where line leaders help train their employees. The global financial services firm subscribes to a co-teaching model, in which a professional teacher and a business leader team up to provide a well-rounded training experience.

"Let's say we're teaching a course on leadership," Peshawaria said. "Somebody from my team would teach the theory and concepts, and the business leader [would] speak to those concepts with real examples and practical experience. You get the best of theory and practice."

When time is at a premium, the workload must be manageable to motivate business leaders to participate. With Morgan Stanley's co-teaching model, the business leaders are not responsible for the totality of the training.

"The trick in leaders as teachers is to make it easy for them. If you give them a big manual and say: 'Prepare this and attend a train-the-trainer [session],' they'd never do it," Peshawaria said. "We tell them what we're teaching, where we want them to interject with examples and where we want them to lead exercises."

As with most initiatives, there must be support from the top, especially when the biggest challenge may be getting the line leaders to buy into the program.

"Without that, it's doomed," Peshawaria said. "The first thing I would suggest is to build sponsorship for the idea. Encourage officers to go out and teach and become part-time trainers."

In the past two and a half years, Hyatt has trained 4,000 operational managers in North America to be trainers. Because the mandate came from the top, the hotel chain had senior leadership support from the beginning. "If we want to be successful delivering service to our guests, we need to make sure the message our employees hear every day [is] consistent with respect to service priorities and delivery," said Christy Sinnott, vice president of learning and development. "We [have taken] each department, identified the service and skills necessary for management-level and hourly staff and literally brought in every operational manager across the country and trained them in the material and how to be trainers."

After the required skills and service standards were set for each position, members of the corporate operations and learning and development teams created the tools and resources necessary for managers to be successful in this new role. All of the operations managers were then brought to a central location and trained. Afterward, the managers returned to their hotels and retrained all their employees.

"Our continued focus is how we can help our managers to spend more of their time with our employees and guests," Sinnott said. "We continue to work with our corporate operations team to find efficiencies whether that [is] new training tools, resources or even how to use technology to make their jobs more efficient."

Sinnott said since this transition to a train-the-trainer model, one of Hyatt's biggest challenges has been ensuring each new manager receives the appropriate training and support at the hotel level. To help, the hotel chain has implemented a system of checks and balances to ensure all new managers go through training.

"We have regional managers based throughout the United States that do follow-up, and we also have a corporate operations team that meets with new managers to [make sure] they are receiving the proper training and assist them in that role," she said.

Before training became the operational managers' responsibility, they had to buy into the idea. HR and talent concerns had to take a backseat to more immediate business needs.

"We made a unified decision with operations that this was going to be operations training," said Doug Patrick, senior vice president of human resources at Hyatt. "It provides a sense of ownership and increases the interaction between the employee and manager, which is what we want. We want them to be on the floor and intimately familiar with their people."

Both Morgan Stanley and Hyatt have seen advantages to non-trainer training, as it makes leaders more accessible to employees and helps create a learning atmosphere in which senior executives, business-unit leaders and managers share knowledge for the betterment of the workforce.

"Teaching is learning twice, so it helps us solidify key concepts in teachers' minds," Peshawaria said. "[Also], it's very hard for a senior business leader to stand up and talk about good leadership in front of 100 people and then go back to business the next day and not behave the way they were talking."

Technology also can be used to drive peer-to-peer learning. As instant messaging, social networks, blogs and wikis become part of the fabric of corporate life, employees increasingly will interact online. Corporations can harness this opportunity to fuel informal, peer-to-peer learning, as Morgan Stanley has.

The firm recently launched the Talent Directory, a kind of corporate Facebook. The directory is on the company's intranet, and all employees create profiles and list their key skills and experiences.

"If I want to talk to somebody or learn about collateralized debt obligations, I go to the Talent Directory," Peshawaria said. "I keyword search and people who have listed that as their expertise come up; then I can click on them and set up some time to talk. It's still [in its infancy] because most people haven't even filled out their talent pages, but early adopters have, and we're encouraged."

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Employees can be trained for hours on end and still not be prepared for every issue that surfaces because most learning occurs on the job. Thus, employees should have resources such as mentors to turn to when formal training initiatives end or are unavailable.

"[Training] doesn't give us everything we need to do our role," said Tom Floyd, founder and CEO of Insight Educational Consulting, a professional consulting firm. "If you are in a [mentor] relationship, getting exposed to other things you need to do your job, you can actually get up to speed quicker and more effectively."

Part of the benefit of a mentoring partnership is the two-way learning experience. It's critical that any mentoring program be voluntary, so both participants contribute equally. Mentoring programs also require training, as mentors should be prepped on their role.

"You need some type of training program before you let them loose as mentors, so you're communicating, 'This is what being a mentor in our company means, and here [are] some different tools we'd like you to use throughout the process,'" Floyd said.

Because experiential learning is so important in the hotel business, Hyatt has implemented an informal shadowing program, as well as more structured mentoring initiatives.

"We have managers who work in the kitchens periodically so they can understand what the kitchen has to go through," Patrick said. "Training's not just classroom. It's all forms of learning, and predominantly, we learn best experiencing what happens on a daily basis."

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