Built to fail

As a software teacher/trainer I am amazed by something. Every company and institution in the US apparently has the budget to subsidize ~65% of their employees being shit with computing…forever… but only a few of them can scrape a budget together for training. And when they do, it’s designed by middle management in a way that almost always misses the actual problem in favor of some oversimplified guess about what is wrong.

Whenever I have taught corporate groups I sense about a dozen issues other than the one I am there to teach going unaddressed. And if I try to get at those problems I’ll be seen as not teaching the right subject.

Usually, power users are mixed into the same class as the weakest users. The result is that the material will be wrong for part of the group no matter what… unless you teach “right down the middle” in which case it might be right for nobody. Also, the power users are forced to sit through such basic material that it wears out their goodwill and\or the “baby” users sit through advanced material that makes them feel stupid and hopeless. All of this crystalizes the idea of training as ineffective in the mind of management.

To get it right, do better research on the problem you are fixing.

  1. Don’t be superficial or complacent about imagining what the problem really is. Details matter.
  2. Identify your “power users” and find out what they need to know and why.
  3. While you’ve got them, ask what they consider to be the baseline skillset for the software in question in the context of this office. Compare notes on these assessments.
  4. Ask them (and any IT support people) what problems the focus group of employees seem to get stuck on. The power users and IT staff get hit up regularly for help and they have a lot more data points than you will get by asking the group what they need.
  5. The group doesn’t really know what it needs. The problem is concealed in the mist above their comfort zone.
  6. If it is possible to have the trainer come in for a chat with some representative students ahead of time, they will be able to target the actual need far better.
  7. “But the cost!” It’s going to be expensive either way. Do you prefer an expensive success or an expensive failure? Besides, if you do this correctly you will be saving real money and increasing real efficiency. Doing it wrong is mismanagement.
  8. Consider a break with form. If the trainer is open to it, propose working with smaller groups with a shared problem and consider doing this in the area where the work is done rather than a classroom. The trainer will almost always spot problems and growing out of local issues which would not come up in a classroom.

 

 

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