Raised up hands and arms of large group in seminar class room to agree with speaker at conference seminar meeting room

Published: February 4, 2020

By The Center for Government Innovation

Every day, you are managing change. There is change in state laws that affect operations, some new software system or service program to roll out, or a new reporting mandate for a well-established service. At the very least, you have a new employee to train for an existing role, but a new person on the team will always create subtle shifts in how everyone does their work.

Many organizations see these challenges primarily as “knowledge gaps.” And the solution to a knowledge gap is training, right?

Successful training requires motivated employees

Addressing a change with training assumes that all employees will fully embrace the change — an “If we build it, they will come” mentality. Change management starts with building awareness and desire (see our earlier blog posts for more on these topics), because it recognizes that success requires each employee to choose to adopt and use the new process. Training for new knowledge will yield best results if the people involved have enough awareness and desire to embrace the change, and to seek knowledge and put it to use.

Make sure they know why it matters

Hand writing question What Is Your Why with black marker on transparent glass board isolated on white.

In the workplace, the process of transmitting knowledge works best if it accommodates the specific needs of adult learners. Adults want to know why the new knowledge is important and relevant to their success. If they can’t see why an idea, tool or skill is necessary, attention to the subject matter and retention significantly decline. This can’t be about just attending this training class “because my supervisor told me I had to be here.” 

Hands-on application works best

How knowledge is delivered is also important. Research indicates that adults retain only a small portion of what they read, slightly more of what they hear, and about half of what they observe others doing. The greatest retention comes from hands-on application of the new practices.

Don’t train too early

Hourglass time passing on table in room by window

Finally, timing matters. As more time passes between learning new skills and actually applying them in the real world, retention decreases.

Here are a few practical questions that might help you craft a successful training plan.

  • Have we done a good job building awareness and desire? Are we confident we have accomplished these goals and are ready to move on to knowledge?
  • What is the organization’s capacity to provide training, education and support? Would a classroom strategy make the most sense, or should we plan to train each employee individually?
  • Will there be access to subject matter experts or will it be a “learn as we go and learn by our mistakes” situation? After the official training program is over, who becomes the “trainer”?  If it’s the employee’s supervisor, is that person equipped for their new role?
  • Especially in times of struggle, employees can relate and identify with the experiences of their fellow workers more than those of supervisors or executive management. Can you develop user groups to have employees teach one another? Can you identify “super users” who have quickly mastered new techniques and tools they can teach others?
  • What resources must we create to give employees the support they need as they apply their new knowledge? Do we need a help line or live chat feature? Would checklists, templates, or reference cards be of assistance? If so, who will “own” them and be in charge of updating and refining them as actual experience accumulates?
  • What is each employee’s capacity to learn? Some employees pick up new concepts easily while others might struggle. Have you worked with departments and supervisors to determine the specific needs of your individual employees?

Organizational size makes a difference

Bigger and smaller concept

Developing the training portion of an organizational change can be very different for large and small organizations. In larger organizations, multiple people often will all be responsible for using a new procedure. In such situations, and especially if they do not work at the same time or same location, a more formal training program may be needed – and your large organization is more likely to have the resources and staff to organize that training.

But even for smaller organizations where the change might affect only one or two people, it is worth thinking through these questions. You might need to be creative to find effective resources outside your agency, such as software companies and peers at other governments who have recently navigated similar waters. “We’ll just trust them to figure it out” isn’t really a strategy, unless your goal is to create a frustrated and demoralized staff.

Whatever your organization’s size, remember that the process of learning can be both stressful and energizing, time consuming as well as creative. Give your staff credit – and the time needed – to engage in a genuine process of learning, and they will reward you by finding new ways to get your organization’s work done better, faster, and with less stress for everyone involved. The opportunity to learn, grow professionally, acquire new skills, and improve customer service are some of the greatest drivers of employee engagement.

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