Helen Camm reckons that train the trainer programmes are the perfect antidote to the circus of development initiatives that take place year in, year out in the call centre
On the face of it, employing an external specialist provider to design and deliver innovative and content rich training to improve business performance seems the ideal solution.
This way you get an identifiable cost, extra resources for a fixed period and the benefit of the external view to benchmark your best training practice. After all, your core purpose is to deliver business from call centre activities, not to be a training organisation.
But maybe, just maybe, there is another view.
A client of mine (an American gentleman), sick of performance tail-off after the most recent training ‘initiative’, was heard to say: “You know, I’m sick of the hangover we get when the circus leaves town. It’s all singing and dancing when they arrive, but somehow it never lives up to the promise, and three months down the line, it’s like they’ve never been here.”
Permanent skills transfer and sustainability of performance improvement are just two compelling arguments for training trainers in the organisation, but there are more. Just a few of the real business benefits of this approach can be summarised in these terms:
- Reduced long-term dependence on expensive external resources
- Credibility of the trainers because they understand the business, its products and customers
- Enhanced career opportunities from the development of additional skills
- Enhanced integration because the trainers understand the organisation’s culture, mode of operation, and informal communication methods
Time to get to work
The business case for training up your own trainers is clear. But as with any project of this kind, the level of success depends on the quality of the execution.
The first question is who? Who do you train to become trainers? There is always the temptation to view the people who are the best call centre operators as the ones who would be best to share their abilities.
This is a place where real objectivity is required, and a clear understanding of the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to get the learning across. In addition to knowledge of products, systems and processes, the trainer will also need to understand learning styles, the training cycle, and have excellent presentation, facilitation and coaching skills. Therefore, the person who is best at the job may not be the best at training others.
This is an area where the objectivity of an external organisation may prove useful. For the specific training intervention proposed, you will need to understand the combination of knowledge, skills and behaviours required to train it effectively.
A competency framework or similar devised for this purpose would provide an ideal against which you can recruit, assess and develop your internal trainers. You must ‘assess’ as part of this process, and be prepared to reject those that prove not to be suited. Again, using an external agency to do this removes some of the potential emotions from rejection.
How to construct your train the trainer programme
Once you have selected your new trainers (to be trained), then there is the question of how you go about it. The training programme for trainers must be as carefully constructed as the training they will ultimately deliver. The train the trainer programme must:
- Be learner centred – the facilitator must tailor style and content to meet the needs of the trainees
- Have exercises that are wholly relevant – and should cover the range of styles used in the final programme
- Contain materials that have strong learning objectives and measurable outcomes and, if possible, include trainers’ ‘tips’ as a reference
- Enable the trainees to demonstrate all of the required competencies through assessments constructed around the material they will deliver
- Have an accreditation/certification process
A key point in a successful train the trainer programme is the environment in which the learning takes place. The facilitator must set this up so that delegates new to training, or new to the specific material, realise that it is okay to make mistakes when trying out new things.
It should also be set up so that if they fail the assessment or accreditation, there is no downside – as presumably they have to continue to work in the call centre.
Setting the stage
Ground rules should include statements about:
- Mutual respect
- Encouraging learning
- Providing support and encouragement
- Listening actively and asking questions to clarify understanding
- Giving and receiving feedback constructively
Sometimes part of making the learning environment ‘safe’ may mean having the train the trainers activity off-site. On or off-site, the environment must protect the participants from interruptions and unwelcome observations. Use of video, while initially a bit intimidating, can also be helpful; once people see themselves in action, they can often quickly see what to do to improve.
Group sizes also should be quite small, with six to eight being a good number. Any more than this and the facilitator will be spread too thinly to coach and assess progress properly.
Going back to basics
So, in short, there are some key points that should be observed for any train the trainer activity:
- Define the skills, knowledge and behaviours required to train the specific intervention
- Select the potential trainers based on these attributes
- Construct a train the trainer programme that allows you to evaluate the required skills knowledge and behaviours
- Include an accreditation process
- Conduct the trainers’ training in a ‘safe’ environment
Once the trainer training is complete, you’ll want to be assured that they stay ‘on message’. There are several ways to do this, but it starts from the accreditation process in the training, which is the first opportunity to observe it.
Subsequent activity may include a ‘buddying’ arrangement where the newly qualified trainer trains alongside a more experienced colleague for a while before going ‘solo’. Or by using a sampling method where an assessor sits in for part of a delivered programme.
Training up your own trainers makes a great deal of sense both commercially and from a developmental point of view. There are sometimes unexpected outcomes, though.
We were working with a large pub company and, along with the management of the business, had decided on a train the trainer programme. The trainers were to be sourced from the population of pub managers in the business as it was only they that would have enough experience of running a pub to be credible with the staff they were to train. Observing the advice above, a competency framework was used for selection. Over a period 24 new trainers were accredited to run the programme.
The unexpected outcome was that these trainers, now replete with additional facilitation, communication and coaching skills, became very valuable elsewhere in the business. After three phases of a seven phase project, we only had 11 trainers left. The rest had been poached by other parts of the business.
So, my final rule is to fence your resource – at least for the duration of the project – otherwise you might find you have created your own travelling circus.
Helen Camm is a consultant at the training, change management and HR consultancy cda
Tel: +44 113 273 3273