Developing A Great Training Program

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Justin Spath - Also by this author

Developing great training programs can seem like a daunting task. An entire industry has sprung up around training. You can not possibly know which one is best with so many options. The thousands of books, videos and seminars coupled with the almost daily development of new training “gurus” can leave a manager who is charged with developing training programs feeling daunted and discouraged. Luckily though, the best training programs can be created in-house by any competent manager who takes the time to ask themselves four simple questions related to the training; why, what, how and who. When you can answer all four questions you’ll have your training program ready to go.

The first, and most important, question a manager needs to ask themselves is “Why are we conducting this training?” The answer most commonly given is “So our employees know what to do.” That response still does not get to the core of the question. Why do your employees need to know? Why is their knowledge important to the business and to the employees? A manager needs to know specifically why the training is important to the company so that they can make the employees understand its importance.
An example might best illustrate the “why” question. Let’s say you want to train a new group of sales consultants the dealership’s sales process. Why teach it? You teach it because it is proven to work! Employees using and understanding your sales process will sell more cars.

The “why” has been answered. The company and the employee both benefit because more sales equals more money, plain and simple. It seems almost too simplistic but it is the essence of sales training. When a manager understands the “why” of training, they can convey the point to their employees. If employees can not clearly see the reason for the training, they will retain what they have been taught. When put in simple, clear terms that show the direct impact on the employee individually, they pay attention and take the training to heart.
The second question that needs to be asked is “What will be taught?” What information and skills are we trying to get the employees to learn? Continuing with the example we started in “why,” we could say the answer is the sales process. While that would not be necessarily wrong, it’s not completely right either.

The answer to “what” needs to be as specific as possible. Do we want them to only learn the names of each part of the sales process? Or would we prefer they know how to use the sales process? I would assume we all want our sale consultants to know how to use the sales process. So then our answer to “what” goes from being the sales process to actually using it. Instructing a person on how to use the sales process is a lot different than teaching them what the sales process is. By clearly defining the “what” that our training encompasses we can establish the answer to the next question.

More specifically, the question would be “How are we going to present the training?” The most common answer would be to gather all the trainees and new sales consultants in a room, pass out some handouts and then the manager would stand in front of the trainees and talk for an hour or two. I’m sure we all remember how much we retained when that method was used on us in high school. Employees will retain a whole lot for a very short amount of time. That is definitely not the result we are looking for.

The best training programs are interactive ones. The trainees need to be doing a lot in order to learn and retain the information you are giving to them. We are teaching them actions; therefore they need to be performing the actions you are discussing in order to learn them. Think about when you learned to drive. Which did you learn more from, reading about driving the car or actually driving the car?

Training would best be served through a combination of group instruction, role-playing and a buddy system. The group instruction is the intensive part. This is where we convey the “why” to the employees and where they gain the knowledge. The role-playing would then move on to the “what” of the training where they acquire the necessary skills. Physically show trainees the actions expected of them in a controlled setting. Then the buddy system would continue the “what” by allowing the employees to actually perform the actions we are teaching in a live setting with the advantage of having someone there to assist if needed. The combination of these three methods have been proven to be the most effective for teaching the necessary knowledge and skills of the sales process to new employees.

The final question a training manager needs to ask is “Who will need this training?” Now in the example we have been using this answer is simple, new sales consultants. However, for many types of training the answer may not be as simple. If you are conducting training on proper telephone etiquette, who would need to be trained? The receptionist and customer service representatives would definitely need it. So would the service writers, sales consultants and office personnel. They probably all regularly interact with people by telephone. So should we just give the training to everyone? No, because some employees (porters, detail techs, maintenance staff, etc.) will not be answering the telephones. To take the time to train them on these skills would be a waste of their time and yours.

If you are having trouble deciding who needs to be in the training, refer back to your answers for the “what” question. Then ask yourself who will be using the skills and knowledge you outlined for “what.” Those will be the people to answer your “who.”

Four simple questions. Four specific answers. That is all you need.

Despite what the books, the consultants and the training gurus may try to tell you, the answers to these four simple questions are the basis for developing every training program on any topic. Answer these questions when you start a new program but also take the time to review your current training program to see if you can answer all four questions. If you can’t, you may want to rethink the way you are conducting your present training.

If you do take the time to sit down and answer all of these before you conduct your training, you will find that the training is more focused, more interesting and ultimately more effective over a longer time period.
Vol 3, Issue 2

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