People are the most valuable asset any organization owns. Yet training them adequately is often viewed as a dispensable expense, especially when the economy is soft and money is tight. Since technical knowledge can be gained through a process of self discovery, monies that might be used for training in a thriving economy may be axed when times are tough. Too often, managers fail to recognize the competitive edge that appropriate and timely training can provide. Solid training results in lower turnover that increases customer satisfaction and ultimately results in higher profitability. Simply stated, a commitment to training is often a major predictor of an organization’s success.
Managers who approach training with the attitude that employees should educate themselves encourage self reliance, but there is a high cost—especially in a competitive marketplace. Everyday job demands typically allow limited time for exploration. This results in missed opportunities to increase performance, service, revenue, and profits. Often, by the time staff members have acquired the skills needed for optimal job performance, they have missed the chance to help the company get ahead.
Since technology improves rapidly, staying abreast of change is imperative. Although enterprise content management (ECM) technology has matured, new possibilities allow companies to drive data stored in multiple legacy systems, databases, and software applications across their enterprises more efficiently than ever. For employees to maximize their individual and collective worth, they must constantly update their skills. New technologies, software releases, and solutions to business challenges only deliver their full potential when end users take advantage of efficiency gains before their competitors.
Checklist for Success
As you consider ECM training for your employees, there are six guiding principles to bear in mind. This checklist will help you to evaluate your ECM vendor’s training program to ensure it matches your requirements and expectations, and delivers the results you need to succeed.
1. Understand the difference between education and training
Training and education are often used interchangeably to describe programs that enable meaningful learning, but their purposes differ. Educational programs are designed to transfer knowledge from the teacher to the student, helping students to grow professionally over a period of time. In contrast, training programs are designed to transfer knowledge and skills quickly to improve performance of a specific job or task.
Consider a tightrope walker. Educating a new walker about the risks involved and providing tips and tools for successful walking do not provide the skills a person needs to walk from one end to the other. The learner needs to have the right tools in his hands, walk the rope at a low height in a protected environment, and be allowed to fail repeatedly before he can succeed.
This is also true of ECM end users. If you want them to manage your company’s data, systems, and processes effectively rather than unintentionally wreaking havoc with your mission-critical data, you must provide hands-on learning in a safe environment. They must be able to walk through each process step by step, make mistakes, and ask questions so they can ultimately achieve mastery. Educational and training programs both have value, but training is what helps your knowledge workers to swiftly become star producers.
As a general rule, ECM training is valid when:
- a person must perform a specific task to complete a job, but doesn’t know how;
- a person could improve processing speed or performance through additional training;
- staff could take advantage of additional efficiencies offered by the technology as a result of training.
___ is my goal to give employees immediate knowledge and skills to help them perform better? Will understanding the features and functions of the ECM software help them work faster, smarter, and better? If so, they will benefit from ECM training.
___ is my goal to impart knowledge to help users develop strategies for success? If so, you may need other educational programs rather than ECM training.
2. Establish training goals
As with any improvement plan, success can only be reached when goals are clearly communicated. What do you expect beyond your staff learning product features and functionality?
Should the training result in:
___ improved productivity?
___ reduced expenditures as a result of improved performance?
___ improved employee morale, either for the worker, his/her peers, or both?
___ increased customer satisfaction?
___ increased value or ROI from your company’s technology investment?
Setting expectations for your company, end users, and vendors helps everyone stay on target.
Know the capabilities of your staff, too. Training can be an expensive and pointless proposition for underperforming employees who already know how to perform a task properly, but simply aren’t meeting expectations.
3. Match proposed training benefits with expectations
End user training has advantages for your employees as well as your company. It allows your workers to perfect their skills, raises their esteem, and it improves their working environment. Expect a solid ECM training program to:
___ shorten the learning curve so staff can reach optimal productivity quickly.
___ lessen end user frustration.
___ increase workers’ satisfaction and positive self esteem.
___ reduce employee turnover.
Productive workers are valued employees. Valued employees often are loyal team members. Customers appreciate long-term employees who provide accurate answers and quick service. Successful training helps to produce effective, loyal workers who will have a positive impact on your company’s service reputation and its bottom line.
Make sure the training each person needs matches the program offered. Students should be challenged, but not overwhelmed. They must believe success is within their reach.
4. Choose the right environment for learning
Every company has preferred learning environments, and employee learning styles differ. Depending on the type of training required, you may prefer a certain time, place, and length of instruction, or you may discover customized training is best for your team. As you evaluate ECM vendors and their training programs, consider whether they offer:
___ onsite training (at your company headquarters or a satellite location; typically requires a test environment and students who can connect to the application via a remote desktop).
___ offsite training (at the vendor’s headquarters).
___ web-based training (make sure it’s interactive / hands-on).
___ customized training to meet your company’s unique needs.
___ customized documentation that supports customized instruction.
___ a class size that supports interactive learning (includes web training).
___ written, up-to-date materials to support the training, including hands-on activities that promote understanding as well as PowerPoints and reference materials you can access afterwards.
___ staff who can answer questions during the training course, while interest and attention are at their peak.
Many managers view web training as the most cost-effective option, especially if it only requires several hours of staff time per day. However, to ensure your staff gets the same value from web-based instruction as in-person training, it’s important to set clear expectations. Make sure:
___ IT requirements for web training courses are communicated and tested prior to training so staff time is not wasted.
___ the room is set up for interactive discussion if possible, including a speaker phone and projector.
___ training takes place in a meeting or training room rather than at employees’ desks (too many distractions).
___ employees understand you support the training and expect 100% attention to the coursework from start to finish. Checking emails, attending meetings, and other interruptions should be disallowed during web instruction.
5. Choose the right trainer
You may or may not be able to choose your trainer, depending whether your vendor offers set courses for which you must register, has different trainers for each product, or lets you request customized training. Regardless, you should ensure the training team is:
___ knowledgeable (product certification is vital);
___ experienced (don’t pay for your staff to be guinea pigs);
___ able to communicate best practices for the areas in which staff will be trained;
___ adaptable to participants’ needs, with prior students who are strong references; and
___ flexible in terms of class style and willing to customize classes to your needs.
6. Measure the impact
High-quality training should always result in measurable job improvement, confident staff, and successful IT projects. If your vendor is committed to ensuring your success, the company will value candid feedback so they can continue to raise the bar on their instructional quality. As you scrutinize the programs your vendor offers, ask if you will have the opportunity to rate the trainer, materials, and overall success of the training class anonymously. If opportunities for objective feedback don’t exist, it may be an indicator of halfhearted commitment to quality control, which any ECM company must provide if its products and services are to meet business needs.
Remember: learning is not an end process
Change is the only constant in the IT world. It’s important to remember training is not a one-time event if you want to continually improve your company’s business performance. Learning never stops; quality instruction ensures learning is timely and meaningful to the task at hand.
American business writer Thomas J. Peters, author of the best-selling book In Search of Excellence, summed up the value of investing in training by stating, “Train everyone lavishly; you can’t overspend on training.” Nowhere is this truer than helping your staff to succeed with your ECM system. When training is supported by clear goals, flexible scheduling that meets your needs, and managerial support, your company is sure to reap great rewards for its investment.