Learning Paths International Blog
How to Get Your Employees Up-to-Speed in Record Time
Comments Off on Reducing Time to Proficiency: Big vs. Small Company?
Category: Instructional Design, Learning Paths

"learn" written on blackboard with apple, books

Reducing time to proficiency is an important and highly effective way to improve results while driving down the cost of training. I’ve done this type of project in companies with more than 500,000 employees and less than 5. Both size companies can benefit greatly, but the projects are different. Large companies have a lot of stuff and a lot of infrastructure. There is often a lot of measurement and historical data to work with. Having enough training is not usually the problem.


These projects are more of a process of getting things in the right order, getting rid of what doesn’t add value and structuring the informal coaching and mentoring. Because there is so much stuff to work with the low hanging fruit is everywhere.


Small companies usually have little or nothing to work with. It’s more of a blank slate. The approach is usually not to start building a lot of training, but rather to look for what might exist in places like colleges, associations or online. This training is then arranged and structured with all the informal on-the-job training and coaching required.


The trick with large companies is to get them to accept a change in focus and approach from curriculums and competencies toward Learning Paths and proficiencies. The trick with small companies is to give them enough support when they lack internal expertise or resources. Keep in mind that these projects are about improvement and not problem solving. This means you can start with a baseline and drive to the next level and then when done drive to a higher level.

Tags: curriculum, design, instruction, learning, learning path, proficiency, training
Comments Off on CSTD-Expo Speaking to an Audience of 1000 Training Professionals
Category: Learning Paths

Learning Paths has really found a great audience in China.  I was invited last week to be one of three main speakers to talk about Learning Paths in the US and China.  I’m on stage with Jeff Chai (LPI China) who translated the speech.

In the speech, I talked about a brief history of Learning Paths and some of the research we did prior to publishing the Learning Paths book.  I then gave a brief overview of the Learning Path Methodology.  This was followed by three case studies and finally an overview of the work done by LPI China.

I heard a lot of great comments about the speech.  The next day Raymond Zhu (LPI China) did a more in-depth session with a group of about 200.  He got a great reception.

Tags: China, CSTD, CSTD Expo, instruction, learning, learning paths, lpi china, trainers, training
Comments Off on Rapid Onboarding 3 Keys to Success
Category: Onboarding

How soon would you be confident assigning a new employee to work with your most valued customer?  When do you know a new employee is likely to stay and be a productive member of your team?  When do you know a new employee can be trusted to work without constant supervision?  New employees are still a gamble.  Even with the best hiring process, there’s no guarantee of success.  There are plenty of downsides to employees who are slow to fit in or who never really fit in.  Therefore, the goal of any successful onboarding process or program should be to get new employees up-to-speed and working with their team as fast as possible.

While there are a lot of ways to speed up onboarding pre-hire including making good hiring decisions for the purposes of this discussion, let’s limit onboarding from day one until you comfortably feel a new employee is fitting in and well on the way to hitting performance targets.  This is different than time to proficiency or time to productivity which, for many jobs, is months if not years away.  Think of onboarding more in terms of making a big impact in the critical first 30 to 90 days.

Often when companies start to build onboarding programs, they start by asking the questions: “What does the employee need to know?” and “Who does the employee need to meet?”  As a result, there is brief orientation followed by either visits or presentations by department heads.  While all of this may eventually be important, it’s often confusing, boring and not directly related to their job.  When there is a formal new hire training program that can last weeks or months, it can be a very long time before the new employee becomes integrated with the job.

This chart shows how orientation lasts only a few hours or weeks, while onboarding is more in depth but not a full Learning Path.  A Learning Path goes all the way to proficiency and includes all of the necessary training, coaching and experience.  Think of onboarding as an important piece of a larger learning path.

To build an effective onboarding process, let’s start by looking at the first few weeks on the job from a new employee’s point of view.  Fortunately most

employees start work highly motivated an eager to work.  However, they are also apprehensive because this is a new situation with new people.  This is true even when employees have done the same or similar job before.  The success and speed of their onboarding will now depend on how well three questions are answered for this new employee.  Can I really do this job? Do I really want this job? Will I fit in?

Interestingly, the employer will almost always share these three doubts.  Imagine hiring a new manager.  There are always concerns that this new manager will fit in with the team and begin to make rapid improvements.  They may have been successful in their old company but that was then. This is now.  If you’re hiring salespeople, the clock is ticking until they can generate enough in sales to break even on your investment in them.  For front line employees in call centers or on the manufacturing floor, there are concerns about production, safety, errors and more.

So let’s take each of these questions one at a time and explore what they mean and what to do about them.

Can I Really Do this Job?

I’ve done a lot of onboarding in call centers which provides great examples because of the large numbers of employees that come and go.  Here is an interesting story of how this question affects new employees.  In this call center, customer services agents take orders, answer questions and process billing.  Traditionally they spent about 6 weeks in training, taking their first live calls in week 4.  Because of everything that new employees need to learn, even experienced agents had questions about whether they could do the job when they went live.

We discovered that these new agents didn’t need to know everything about all calls, all the products and the complete computer system to take a simple order call.  We rearranged their training so that they learned only about a simple order so that they could begin taking basic calls by day 3.  On day 3, they spent a half day taking real calls with the help of a coach.

When they returned to class on day 4, there was a collective sigh of relief.  They all felt that the job wasn’t as hard as they thought and that they could do this job.  Compared to a similar class on the old method, they finished 2 weeks earlier and had significantly lower turnover.  Those in the old method class, carried their anxiety all the way into week 4.

With salespeople, the sink or swim method is very popular.  With a little bit or no training, salespeople are sent out cold calling on their own.  Here’s your phone and the phone book. Good luck!  Unfortunately, the result of this method is that it producers more sinkers than swimmers.  Unprepared a new salesperson is dumped into the deep end.  This means that anyone who would have survived with a little help or training fails or quits.  It’s a tough way to answer the question, “Can I do this job?”

New managers are faced with these doubts as well.  The work team can have all sorts of issues and problems.  They can even openly challenge the new managers.  Can the manager establish a position of leadership quickly or not?  That’s the big question.  In these cases, sometimes the manager quits or ends up replacing all the team members.  Either way it’s an expensive proposition.

While there are a number of effective strategies for handling this question, here are the top three:

1. Get to work early

You will never know how well new employees will perform until they start working.  While they may not be able to do the entire job for some time, there is always something they can work on.

2. Find an early opportunity for success

Confidence is built by success.  Try to find a part of the job that can be mastered quickly, the sooner the better.  For salespeople this might be calling on certain types of customers that are less complicated and friendlier.  For managers this might be holding well structured meetings with their team.

3. Make training just-in-time

Don’t overload new employees with a lot of training especially if they won’t need it immediately.  Try to schedule training as close to the time it will be used as possible.  When new employees go through weeks of initial training, a lot of it doesn’t stick because it isn’t immediately used.  It becomes overwhelming and creates a loss of confidence and morale.

Having the capability to do something isn’t the same as actually performing a task, in all key situations, under pressure.  As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get hit in the face.”  Good hiring practices will yield employees with a high likelihood of success and not a guarantee.  Let’s go on to the second question.

Do I Really Want to Do this Job?

Human resources often does a great job selling potential new employees on the job and the company.  However, when the realities of the job set in, these new employees can be disillusioned.  Here are two examples of common situations that occur.

I did a lot of work in collections call centers. At some point in the initial training, the lights went on for many agents and they’d say, “So what you’re saying is, you want me to call people at home during dinner and ask them for money, is that right?”  A predictable percentage would say, “I’m not going to do that and quit.” The realization didn’t really hit them until they had a phone in their hand and were told to call.  Having this epiphany after six weeks of training wasted a lot of time and effort.

Here’s the other example. A lot of people go into customer service thinking it’s a job to help customers. After taking a call or two, you often hear, “All these customers do is call and complain. I don’t want to do this.” In the old days, customer service used to be the complaint department and attracted a little different type of person.

The bottom line is this.  The sooner employees do real work with real customers, the sooner they can answer the question, “Do I really want to do this job?” The longer you wait the more expensive it gets.

Here are the top three strategies for dealing with the question, “Do I really want this job?”

1. Preview a Day in the Life

As early as possible, even pre-hire, let the new employee see what actually happens on the job.  A day of job shadowing is not a bad idea.

2. Establish the Daily Routine

Get the new employee into the routine of the job on the first day if possible.  If the new employee will be working on the second or third shift, then that’s when the training should happen.  If you’re in a manufacturing plant, start wearing personal protective equipment immediately.

3. Experience the Challenge

If the job requires taking calls from angry customers, new employees need to see and feel how they would react in those situations.  If the new employee is providing care for disabled or sick patients they need to meet and begin working with these patients.

Most turnover still happens in the first 90 days on the job.  Just because people really need a job or think they really want to work for your company, it doesn’t mean that they won’t change their minds.  It can be a real emotional roller coaster as employees view themselves in this new role.  And finally don’t forget what can happen when they start to explain what they do every day to their friends and family.  What they thought was a good idea can quickly be shot down.  Be ready and deal with this question as fast as you can.  Now let’s go on to the final question.

Will I Fit In?

Working in a new company or work team is like being dropped into a new family.  Not everyone is accepted immediately and not everyone will fit in.  There can be a lot of resistance and even hostility from current employees.  This is especially true when a work team gets a new manager or supervisor.

I found an interesting slant to this issue when I was working with a company that provided residential care for severely disabled.  They talked about one of the big obstacles new employees had was gaining enough acceptance from the team so that the team would be willing to invest time training that person.  What they talked about was not a date of being fully up-to-speed but rather a date at which a new employee became useful.  So in their onboarding plan they teach new employees some basic “helping hand” tasks that are valuable to the team.

Here are a couple of common situations that you might want to avoid.  The new employee is sent off to weeks of training.  They won’t get a desk, phone or even place to sit until they get back.  In addition, it will be some time before they meet their coworkers and supervisor.  As a result, all through training, the question, “will I fit it?” doesn’t get answered.

It also happens that there is no real plan for new employee training.  I’ve seen new employees assigned to read policy books or proposals for two to three weeks with little interaction with anyone.  The message is that everyone else is too busy and when they get time, they will start training the new person.

Managers have a very short time to become assimilated or assume their leadership position.  Everyone else is on pins and needles until this happens.  Some of the best onboarding includes early team sessions where the new manager tries to hear, understand and respond to the questions and concerns of the team.

I think all too often the method for getting people to work with each other is to put them together and see what happens.  It’s a form of sink or swim.  Here are three quick suggestions for answering, “Will I fit in?”

1. Early Introductions

Make sure new employees meet and spend time with their managers and team members in the first few days.

2. Establish a Home Base

Give new employees their phones, desks, emails or other start up essentials of their job immediately.

3. Structure Early Interactions

Don’t leave it to chance.  Create activities that make the new person valuable to the team members and alleviates any doubts they have about the new person.

Successful onboarding requires a lot of structure for the first 30 to 90 days.  Doing a better job onboarding dramatically reduces turnover and helps to build a more productive work environment.  Getting down to real work and the routine of the job early can make a big difference.

Tags: design, instruction, learning, learningpaths, onboarding, training

There is always a lot of criticism about teaching to the test.  So is it a good idea or a bad idea?  I’d say there is absolutely nothing wrong with it if… and it’s a big if, the test is right and meaningful.  unfortunately, standardize multiple choice tests really aren’t the right tests.  When you test on what students know, you’re really not testing on what they can do with that knowledge. 

Here’s maybe a better example of what I mean.  Let’s say the test is to read at a 12th grade level at 650 word per minute with 95% comprehension.  Now, how would you teach to that test?  You’d probably arrange for a lot of practice, testing speed and comprehension as you go.  You would have to teach a lot of reading techniques beyond just the basics.  At then end if someone passed the test, you would have a very valuable outcome that wouldn’t stop the next day after the test.

Here are some examples of tests you can teach to in a business environment.  Test #1: Operating for 60 days accident free while meeting all safety standards.  Test #2: Selling 2 new accounts per month at a predefined dollar amount   Test #3: Landing the plane 50 consecutive times without mishap.

So if teachers are teaching to the test and your not getting the results you want, you’ve got to change the test so the only passing grade is to get those results.

Tags: instruction, learning, learning paths, proficiency, testing, training

All too often training and especially training objectives focus on what you need to know, understand or be aware of.  For example,  you have to know all our of products and serivces.  You have to be aware of the safety hazards.  And, you have to understand our industry.  It’s very natural and it’s the first thing that happens when determining what needs to be included in training.  This all words fine if you’re working toward getting students or employees to pass the true false and mutliple choice tests.

But how many times have you seen someone do well on a test and fail on the job or even do poorly on a test and great on the job.  This is because there is a tremendous difference between knowing and doing.  Being able to put knowledge into action with a high level of speed and confidence is much more complex and interrelated with other skills and knowledge.  In reality, what we really care about in a business environment is what you can do and not what you know. 

So when we do Learning Path proficiency workshops, the first thing we do is ban the words, know, understand and aware.  I then replace them with a long list of action words that focus on results and actual behaviors.  This includes words like: demonstrates, plans, organizes, sells, presents and analyzes.  As a result, you get statements such as:  presents the features and benefits of our product line with speed and accuracy.  When some one makes a statement like “understands the industry” I push back by asking how and result in what.  This might end up in a statement like, “builds a prospect plan that focuses on the top 100 health care providers.  It’s a lot hard to do than it might seem, but well work the effort.

Tags: instruction, learning path, onboarding, Quality, training

We were talking about this at lunch today.  People often give up on using correct technique too soon primarily because it’s uncomfortable.  It’s actually faster and easier to type with all ten fingers than just index figures or in today’s world, thumbs.  People can get really good with the hunt and peck system but it’s unlikely they will be great.  However, it takes time, practice and a lot of frustration to use proper technique.  So my advice is that in training people can only give up on the proper technique after they’ve mastered it.  For example, you can’t give up on the cold calling script until you’ve gotten appointments using it.

Tags: instruction, learning, practice

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