Getting Managers Aboard The Trainers’ Train

May 1, 2019

Wouldn’t it be nice if stakeholders and managers of training participants rode a train with the training department when they requested a new program? It would allow time to ask the questions critical for a successful initiative.

We honor Dr. Don Kirkpatrick (1924-2014) and his contributions to the learning industry each May. Enjoy his advice on building business partnership.

My wife, Fern and I took a train from Wisconsin to St. Louis to visit our son, Jim. It was a long trip with a transfer in Chicago. As we were traveling, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if the managers who have trainees as their direct reports were on the train?”

And then I thought, also on the train should be upper management, or the “jury”, who would approve or reduce the training department’s proposed budget. I would set up a meeting with these managers to talk about how they can help develop and evaluate training programs that support their highest goals.

When I was a Professor at the University of Wisconsin conducting training programs with supervisors and foremen, I often asked them the question, “What is your boss going to say to you when you return to the job?”

Most of them had no idea. One supervisor said, “I think my boss will tell me that I hope you had a good time, I am glad you are back, the work has piled up, and get to work.” Several others agreed. But most of them didn’t have a clue as to what their bosses would say upon their return.

These responses prompted me to write a little booklet that I gave to the managers who sent their direct reports to our program. I told them that in order to get the maximum benefit from their investment of time and money in the training program, they should do the following:

  1. Sit down with training participants before the program. Tell them you are glad they are going to training. They should have a good time and learn what they can. And, when they come back, you are going to ask them what they learned, and how they can apply it to their job and any other jobs in the department.
  2. Let the participants know that you would like them to give a summary of the experience to other foremen and supervisors when they get back to the job.

Can you imagine how this would motivate those attending to learn what they can? No one would like to go back after a three or five-day program and say they didn’t learn anything. If they had to give a summary to other supervisors and foremen, just imagine how eager they would be to learn!

During the program, I suggested to participants that if their boss didn’t ask for a report upon their return, they should initiate the discussion and offer suggestions to him or her.

Another suggestion for getting managers on board is to get their input regarding program content. This can take two approaches.

  1. Ask stakeholders to define what “success” of a program looks like. This will help instructional designers to determine what behaviors are needed, and what knowledge and skills should be taught in the program. You may have to negotiate a bit if their expectations are unrealistic.
  2. Ask the managers of the participants what subjects will help them to be more effective on the job. One way to do this is to list possible subjects and have managers rate them a three-point scale: Much needed; somewhat needed; not needed. These can be tabulated and considered by curriculum design professionals. Include a category called “other” where they can write in topics not on the list.

In an onboarding example, stakeholders may define needs like speed to proficiency and lower turnover in year one of employment. Your role will be to work with the stakeholders to target what is most important to them, and what evidence would show those goals are met.

Managers will be able to convert those goals into specific day-to-day behaviors for participants. For example, they can define exactly what new employees should learn in each role so they are oriented to their new position efficiently, and what factors increase job satisfaction to reduce turnover.

If you are looking for more guidance on how to partner with training requesters, consider the Kirkpatrick® Strategic Evaluation Planning Certification Program.

As George Odiorne said in The Change Resisters,  “To get people to accept what you are going to do, give them a feeling of ownership.”

To get managers on board the trainers’ train, get them involved so they have a feeling of ownership, and they will be more apt to accept what you are doing and help you do it.

If you are looking for some tips to get started, listen to this webinar and download the job aid.

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