A few years ago, a group of global master trainers from nine countries met and discussed best training practices. We wondered if those best practices could be effectively used around the globe to ensure the transfer of learning. After our meeting, we kept the conversation going through social media. Our pledge was to apply the best practices in our home countries and share what worked and what did not.
Over the years, our group has celebrated training successes, as well as promotions, three new babies, and two weddings. We have also identified best training practice “adjustments” needed in various countries with people from different cultures.
This chapter discusses the eight training best practices for whomever or wherever you may train:
1. Conduct a thorough needs analysis.
2. Define the results.
3. Outline the learning journey.
4. Select a variety of delivery methods.
5. Design the training materials.
6. Plan the logistics.
7. Create a warm learning environment.
8. Provide performance support and evaluate success.
Training is a process, not an event. Talent development professionals must look more at the entire organizational system when considering solutions to performance issues—and less on their delivery. The needs analysis should begin long before any training course is delivered to solve organizational problems and continue after the learning event ends.
Practice 1: Conduct a Thorough Needs Analysis
When stakeholders request training, a comprehensive assessment of the situation becomes necessary. Talent development professionals must demonstrate agility in their needs evaluation process, and make sure it aligns with overall business goals. A needs analysis checklist will probably include:
• business-level analysis
• learning- or task-level analysis
• audience or learner analysis
• delivery or technology resource availability
• performance needs evaluation.
What our group of master trainers found interesting is that needs analysis is conducted similarly around the globe. Each region uses similar data collection methods, such as one-on-one conversations, surveys, focus groups, or examinations of historical data. Yet the tone of the conversations and questioning techniques used differs from country to country.
Asking the right questions can help talent development professionals get started with a needs analysis. Because there is variation in questioning techniques, the key is not to ask questions in any specific order. Rather, ask at least two questions from each category:
• Business Needs:
What are the business goals driving this request?
What outside factors or regulations are driving this need for training?
What will success look like for the organization?
What will the return on investment be for the organization if this training initiative is successful?
• Learning Needs:
What knowledge and skills do learners need to complete their job?
What new insights and expertise will they require for future job responsibilities?
What is the work environment like where employees will be performing their job?
What industry-specific regulations affect how and why they carry out their work?
• Audience Needs:
What knowledge, skills, or previous training has this audience received?
What is their expectation for how and when they will receive training?
What is their attitude toward training?
Are all participants at the same skill level?
• Delivery Needs:
What is the training budget? Is it flexible?
How much time is allocated for training on these skills?
What training resources and materials are available?
Is training the best solution?
• Evaluating Performance Needs:
What are employees currently doing?
What are the quality standards required for employees to do this job?
What should learners stop, start, or continue doing?
What difficulties do learners face when doing their job?
Are there any additional factors that could be hindering performance?
Be sure to ask the last question about additional factors hindering performance. Some Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other nations in the Middle East—are less likely to share information that may make an organization look bad. Using that final indirect question may lead to new data.
For example, a GCC client I worked with had an issue with high turnover in a call center. The client decided to hire new agents who would attend an introductory program to equip them with the necessary skills. The training program included using the customer relationship management system and practicing phone etiquette. Five groups of new call center agents were scheduled to attend training; however, the program was called off after three groups. While the design and delivery of the program were deemed successful, 42 percent of the new agents left within the first month. We knew we were on the wrong track with training. HR exit interviews determined that the primary issue was the call center manager. In this case, had we asked the “additional factor” question before training was designed and delivered, the client might have been able to save lots of money by not hiring new agents or offering training.
Ultimately, a needs analysis process examines many areas and affords the opportunity for the training professional to become immersed in the work environment to determine if training, is, in fact, the right solution. This stage is crucial to address the actual problem and helps the trainer gain credibility.
Practice 2: Define the Results
Conducting a thorough needs analysis is not enough, however. Talent development professionals must be able to organize and communicate findings clearly and persuasively to get buy-in from managers.
Again, our group found that expectations of what should be included in the report vary by country. In general, some items to include in the needs analysis summary report are:
• a one-page overview or executive summary
• the purpose of the training project
• a summary of the methodology used to collect data
• a data synopsis
• recommendations, including possible outcomes, learning objectives, program delivery methods, timeframes, audience, content, and scope.
The last point is important, because trainers also need to understand business goals to be influential. In an ideal world, a company would be able to describe what employees need to know or be able to do and how that affects its overall goals. Unfortunately, that does not always happen, and trying to hit a target when it is foggy is nearly impossible. When outcomes are properly defined and necessary competencies identified, learning objectives are easier to write.
Practice 3: Outline the Learning Journey
The next phase is to define the learning experience. Trainers need to walk in their learners’ shoes and imagine the learning journey. It helps them see the big picture and the details more accurately.
I treat this process as a rehearsal of my training session. Going through it in my mind helps me prepare, or sometimes allows me to change an activity. A mind map can help you capture the experience efficiently.
Here are some questions to ask that will help you outline the learning journey:
• What are the objectives?
• What content should be included?
• How should this be sequenced?
• What follow-up is needed?
• How will we measure success during the class and back on the job?
Practice 4: Select a Variety of Delivery Methods
Not every learner learns the same way, and not every trainer trains the same way, so a blended approach is best when training abroad. In fact, blended learning, the process of combining two or more delivery methods for one training solution, accounted for approximately one in five hours of training delivery globally (ATD 2015).
Here are some examples of blended delivery methods:
• Technology-based learning, such as e-learning courses or interactive videos, is effective when the training course is about technological tools learners need to use. You can also include prewritten activities that learners might encounter on the job.
• Simulation games can allow marketing, finance, sales, and customer service trainees to use computers to test their skills. And they can meet face-to-face to discuss the outcome of the game.
• Coaching and on-the-job training is a nontechnical solution that still combines two learning methods.
• Combining pre-work reading with classroom or e-learning sessions provides a place for learners to ask questions and share experiences that inspire debate and contribute to the learning environment.
Before suggesting a blended approach, assess the organization’s readiness. Consider these questions:
• What is the organization’s technological infrastructure locally and globally?
• What are the audience’s technical skill levels? Technical expertise varies around the globe, with mobile learning being more popular outside the United States.
• Does the topic lend itself to e-learning? Is it skills or knowledge based? How much time is needed to redesign the course for online learning?
• What is the size of the audience and what time zones would be involved in a global rollout?
To learn more about available technology, read chapter 15, “Navigating the Virtual Classroom,” by Demetrice (Denise) Walker.
Practice 5: Design the Training Materials
For every hour of instructor-led delivery, a designer will spend 40-60 hours on design and development. Asynchronous e-learning can require more than 120 hours of development time (Kapp and Defelice 2009). We need to visualize the experience from our learners’ point of view, but we also need to keep basic design components in mind:
• Review local intellectual property laws. Copyright law is different around the world, but there is a difference between using someone’s specific concepts and using general ideas in materials.
• Getting the visuals, symbols, and language right for global audiences is not always easy. Decorum is important in some cultures, while images that show diversity are important for others: One of my clients with a global program counted the number of facial images that represented their culture on the PowerPoint slides. And symbols can mean very different things in different countries. Have a colleague from the target audience review your materials to prevent embarrassment. Visuals do matter!
• Using fewer words and more visuals is now considered a best practice. Make sure there are clear instructions to explain a concept or activity, but keep in mind the six by six rule: six words to a sentence, and no more than six sentences on a page or slide.
When designing participant materials, think about how learners will use them. For example, you can use not only workbooks and PowerPoint visuals, but whiteboards, polling, and job aids.
Discussion boards and blogs are great social media tools to reinforce learning and create a blended approach. You can also develop internal wikis. For example, one client of mine had a wiki for their customer service call center. Customers often called and mispronounced products, so the wiki had both the incorrect product names and the real names.
Practice 6: Plan the Logistics
Planning logistics is different around the world. Regardless, be sure to plan, pack extra resources like adapter cords and batteries, and then verify your plan again to avoid surprises on the delivery day. Use your imagination to visualize the entire event and create a checklist of tasks to do before and during the event. Here are some examples:
• Before the Event:
Select the right venue and training requirements. In some regions of the Middle East, only a five-star hotel will do, while a multipurpose room is just fine for many training sessions in Japan.
Think about the space needed for learning activities and class size. Are there additional nearby spaces to use if the classroom is small? Are separate rooms required for team or group activities?
Ask about available technology. Some locations require you to purchase it with the room rental. Also, ask about the reliability of the technology.
Complete material preparation and printing before arriving in a different country. Shipped materials are often delayed in arriving at their destination because they’re sitting on a dock awaiting customs inspection. Carry extra copies of all materials.
If planning virtual instructor-led training, remember: bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. If you’re planning to use a video, keep the video resolution as low as possible without compromising the quality. To prepare for these challenges, I recommend learners use LAN connections when available to provide a steady connection.
• During the Event:
Agree on a schedule. Every region differs on start and end times, the necessary length of lunch, and when to schedule breaks. The schedule can make or break the effectiveness of the training course. Moreover, creating an appropriate schedule shows your sensitivity to the region and establishes more credibility.
Arrange the classroom for maximum engagement. Keep in mind that in some areas of the Middle East, men and women use separate classrooms.
Incorporate activities to match the content and the learner. In Japan, for example, limit activities to role plays—no games. But in Latin America, participants love any type of game.
Plan for what could go wrong during the event and have a plan to avoid it. Apply a global mindset, remain flexible, and be prepared to adjust at the last moment.
Practice 7: Create a Warm Learning Environment
If preparation is on target, there will be less tension, enabling learners to focus. Be present in the training moment and remember: Talent development professionals set the stage, energy, and passion. Bad energy can affect learners; therefore, you must be conscious, alert, and active to create a positive learning environment.
Greet learners as they come in. Although you should do your research before the event, if you have no knowledge of a participant’s culture, ask a question or two about their work and experiences. Implement a global mindset strategy, and the newly gained insights, to continue developing the relationship. In some cultures, it is a good idea to show vulnerability so that participants will show theirs. With other cultures, demonstrate expertise and command of the classroom situation.
For example, I recently conducted a seminar in India and asked an Indian friend to share a phrase in Hindi to use in my opening remarks. Saying, “Mumbai is small in land but its people have huge hearts” got a standing ovation, and the gesture helped the audience remain engaged.
During your opening remarks, establish credibility and caring. Practice, practice, practice, so the right tone is set for that audience. In many cultures, the correct tone will disarm any potential classroom difficulties. But with any challenge, you need to decide on the spot to take action or accept the situation and move on. Know that there are many ways to respond to challenges, and being friendly and respectful overcomes most obstacles. Each regional chapter includes specific body language dos and don’ts, along with how to handle particular classroom challenges.
Practice 8: Provide Performance Support and Evaluate Success
The learning triangle concept requires the trainer, learner, and manager to work together to reinforce ongoing performance improvement (Coates 2010). We each have a role in the follow-up support and documentation process. Here are some global tips for talent development professionals:
• Involve the manager early in the design process and development of learning objectives. Tie the design of the course back to organizational goals.
• Encourage managers to review objectives with learners before attending the course.
• Provide managers with simple post-course job aids, coaching talking points, and recommended schedules for follow-up.
• Create a buddy system for participants to hold one another accountable. Have them commit to the action plan together. Learners have a better chance at influencing one another to change work routines.
• Recommend that managers publicly recognize and reward learners doing something right, such as adapting to new behaviors and applying learning correctly.
When it comes to evaluating the success of training, use the Phillips model to measure the five levels of learning transfer:
• Level 1 measures reaction and satisfaction with the learning experience.
• Level 2 measures how much was learned based on the course objectives.
• Level 3 measures if knowledge is used back on the job and if behavior changed.
• Level 4 measures results.
• Level 5 measures return on investment.
Most organizations excel at measuring Levels 1 and 2, yet accurately measuring a training initiative’s effectiveness often requires Levels 3, 4, and 5. One idea is to incorporate Levels 3 and 4 in group meetings or coaching sessions.
To determine the necessary evaluation level, consider time, resources, and the evaluation’s purpose. It’s unnecessary to go to each level of measurement for every situation. For example:
• If the organization is trying to evaluate a facilitator’s skills or the quality of training materials, only a Level 1 evaluation is needed.
• If regulations necessitate documentation to prove that learners know the content, a Level 2 evaluation is necessary.
• If you’re trying to improve a performance problem, then a Level 3 evaluation is required to demonstrate that the behavior has changed after the course.
• For safety concerns or sales, customer service, or performance issues, a Level 4 review may be necessary to determine if results are improving.
• For any program that is costly or has high visibility with senior leadership, a Level 5 return on investment evaluation will be worth the time required.
A thorough and accurate evaluation leads to additional needs analysis and identifying results. It helps build a trustful partnership based on continuous improvement.
This chapter summarized the eight best training practices that became part of the master trainer discussion years ago, of which I was fortunate to be a part. The rest of the book will describe the adjustments necessary to apply these best practices in a particular country, across a region of the globe, or in person or online.
One last thought: Remember that you are dealing with people. While they can be complicated at times, if you show compassion, they will response accordingly.
About the Author
Hamza Taqi is an electrical engineer, a chartered marketer, and a workplace learning professional. Throughout his 20 years in the banking and telecom industries, he has helped developed the businesses of multinational brands like Visa, Mastercard, Nokia, Warner Bros., and Disney. He found his passion in marketing, which led him to specialize in the people development industry. As chief excitement officer for Knowledge Consulting Co., Hamza has dedicated his life to people growth. His passion for transforming mindsets by touching hearts earned him the nickname “Mr. Excitement.”
Hamza is an ATD Master Trainer and Master Instructional Designer. He also has certifications in disciplines such as coaching, consulting, change management, and facilitation in synchronous learning. He is a certified facilitator for The FISH! Philosophy and an Accredited Situational Leadership II Facilitator. A subject matter expert in customer relationships and marketing, he began training at the Institute of Banking Studies in 1992.
ATD (Association for Talent Development). 2015. Global Trends in Talent Development. Alexandria, VA: ATD Press.
Coates, D.E. 2010. “Enhance the Transfer of Training.” Infoline. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.
Kapp, K.M., and R.A. Defelice. 2009. “Time to Develop One Hour of Training.” ATD Learning Circuits blog, August 31. www.td.org/Publications/Newsletters/Learning-Circuits/Learning-Circuits-Archives/2009/08/Time-to-Develop-One-Hour-of-Training.