Industry Best Practices for Training Employees

Earlier this summer, 13 of my colleagues and I attended a two-day Leading SAFe Agile training offered by Kforce in support of our client's SAFe transformation efforts. Training on weekends is often challenging due to drained energy levels, but this weekend was fueled by a sense of urgency. We were determined to help drive this transformation through an empowered team of professionals ranging from UX designers to a financial strategist. This training comes at a crucial time when our client is among many looking for effective methods to scale Agile.

After two months, I'm happy to say that this training has not only led to a team of newly certified SAFe Agilists on our client site, but the experience has sparked a new wave of innovation and collaboration in areas well beyond the course content itself. From re-imagining processes with new colleagues to creating cross-functional client solutions, one training class continues to transform more than just delivery.

You may be wondering how this employee training opened the floodgates to fresh ideas and new perspectives. All training is not created equal.  As a former trainer and academic, I often see training that unfortunately doesn’t yield tangible results. The training ends, and nothing changes.

The good news – there are best practices for effective employee training that we can adopt to drive transformation.

It is challenging to deliver employee training during the busy work week. One of the most disheartening moments during a course is seeing someone "take notes" from their work laptop or phone, knowing that the surrounding class is fully aware of this disengaged participant who is checking emails and working instead of paying attention.

In the case of our weekend training class, our blocked weekend was already focused on this course, so trainees were not multitasking. We remained focused the entire weekend, having individual client solution discussions during breaks, lunch conversations, and before class the second day.  

To achieve this level of engagement and focus in your training, try the following tips:

  • Schedule for large blocks of time, such as half-day or one-day sessions, to ensure participants dedicate the time needed to both learn and apply the training material.
  • Require active participation by eliminating potential distractions, whether banning laptop or phone use in the room or holding training offsite to avoid the tendency to pull someone out of the room for a moment.
  • Ensure breaks are scheduled–and honored–to ensure personal and work issues can be addressed during an allocated time.
  • Encourage continued discussions and brainstorming by scheduling short breakout sessions throughout the day to allow participants to collaborate and apply the material to their unique situations.

Trainers are known to mix up groups who "think" they want to sit next to a familiar face–until they realize bouncing ideas off the same people you see every day can be stifling. The concept forces people outside their comfort zones and allows participants to learn from experiences in other parts of the organization, ranging from curriculum-driven discussions to side conversations during breaks. Even our cross-functional organization included teams who rarely work with one another directly. 

At our client site, cross-functional teams who deliver together sit together, but our training objective to drive SAFe transformation spanned the entire portfolio across multiple platforms. By asking teams not to sit together at the beginning of class, our partnered discussions began to solve higher-level issues across teams. 

To encourage this type of new engagement, try the following tips:

  • Mix up the initial seating at the beginning of class, ensuring teams who work together do not sit together.
  • Continue to promote new interactions by moving people around the room in partner or group activities.
  • Encourage discussion by planning activities which apply concepts to a work situation through discussion with at least one other person.

As a former trainer and Agile coach, I'm all too familiar with the Kanban approach for demonstrating the progress across chapters with careful timeboxing. Timeboxing allows the trainer to ensure all topics are covered, but it should also incorporate time buffers for questions and further exploration of concepts.

Our trainer and consultant on the client site, Kunal Suri, anticipated topics most relevant to our client transformation and was quick to slow down the pace and encourage discussion. When the discussions started to run long, he noted future topics to revisit and adjusted the depth of content for less relevant sections.

To encourage the class to explore ideas, try the following tips:

  • Use open-ended questions and encourage discussion to promote applying the material to specific situations.
  • Ensure questions are asked across the participants by timeboxing any prominent participants who begin to dominate the discussion.
  • If questions are asked during a section of material that is going in a different direction or needs to be covered at once, use a “parking lot” board to write the topic down and ensure you return to this discussion the same day.
  • Encourage follow-up questions throughout the class, particularly after activities which encourage participants to apply the material.
  • Prioritize the material in each section to remain flexible when time in a previous section runs over due to a rich class discussion.

It's one thing to speak to John P. Kotter's process for leading change already included in the curriculum, but quite another to turn the class into what Robert Quinn calls a "network of positive energizers" who are "mature, purpose-driven people with an optimistic orientation."

The SAFe Agile certification may have been the reason most consultants took advantage of this voluntary training, but the two-day course connected our consultants to the higher purpose for offering the training: to reinforce a transformation within our client's organization that extended far beyond the projects themselves. Newly certified consultants from the course began engaging in SAFe implementation discussions with our client teams and their leadership team fueled by new insights from other teams within the portfolio. Additionally, follow-up meetings among participants following the class gave a new sense of accountability to implement change and a continued sounding board of ideas when issues occurred. 

To foster positive networking, try the following tips:

  • Consider using activities through the course to jot down ideas for implementing change and use a summary activity at the end to consolidate these ideas into an actionable plan following the course.
  • Encourage participants to select an accountability partner from a different team who can follow-up at given intervals to exchange status and work through new ideas or roadblocks.
  • Send a follow-up email after the class with all participant emails visible to encourage continued contact among the group.
  • Use social media, such as LinkedIn, to acknowledge participants and encourage continued discussion of the training purpose.

Whether your training sets a precedent for employee onboarding or introduces a new concept to your existing employees, these four industry best practices not only ensure your training "sticks" but also introduces a deeper level of engagement well beyond the material itself.