About Training

“Hope you had a good time. Now let’s get back to work.” 
     ~Don Kirkpatrick

The next time you’re calculating the investment of some of your precious time as a leader spent Managing By Walking Around – otherwise known as MBWA – put “visit a training class” on your short list. Not because the classroom is a high probability location for your next injury – though something like that cannot be ruled out – but because the classroom is an important place for a leader to show up, be seen, and see what’s really going on. That is the essence of MBWA.
Your good followers might be surprised to see you showing up in of all places, a classroom, and you might be surprised by what you see going on. If so, you’re making good use of this important tool. Showing up always makes a statement; in this case, it’s that learning is important to you. As are the people on the receiving end of the training. In showing up, you might actually learn a few things about how important knowledge is being transferred to those good followers of yours.
Of course, you might be thinking, “With all the important things I have going on, training is …..” 
Hold on. You really owe it to yourself – and your followers and safety performance – to give the matter of training serious thought. Five more minutes spent in reading might just turn out to be one of the better uses of your time today.

About Knowledge
If you were to make up a list of all the factors that go into people going home alive and well at the end of the day, you would find it to be a very long list. Go a step further, assign a weighting to each contributing factor, you’d have what amounts to a predictive equation for safety. It might go something like this: “3% equipment design, 4% equipment condition, 3% equipment operation, 2.7% personal protective equipment, 3% peer interaction….” If you disagree with those factors and their percentage weighting, that would be a good thing, as the factors and weights are entirely made up; they’re simply intended to get you thinking.
No doubt you are. So, in achieving your goal of zero harm, what weighting would you give to the factor of knowledge?
My view is knowledge is the highest rated factor on the list. As to why, the answer is simple: the first requirement to do something safely is to know how to do it safely. That includes understanding all the rules that apply. Moreover, there will never be a rule to identify and manage every hazard; that makes knowledge as to what can hurt someone essential whenever there is no rule to govern the situation. 
To work safely, there is a lot to know, for everyone, and for every task.
About Training
That simple truth creates ripples. For openers, given that knowledge is that important to safety, so must be the training classes that transfer that knowledge. Hence, one darn good reason for showing up in the classrooms, for any subject being taught: when a leader shows up, there’s a statement being made: “I recognize the importance of this knowledge – and of the followers receiving that knowledge.
Second, it is imperative that training successfully accomplish its goal of knowledge transfer. Measuring the success of training and learning is every bit as important as measuring the quantity and quality of the products the operation produces. As to exactly how to go about doing that, the best advice on the subject dates back to a doctoral thesis written in the 1950’s by a graduate student named Don Kirkpatrick. It’s now known as the Kirkpatrick Four Step Evaluation model:

  1. Reaction to the training.
  2. Learning from the training.
  3. Behavior change from the training.
  4. Resulting business performance from training.

It all makes such perfect sense; you’d be hard-pressed to improve on the model. But putting it into practice does require some doing; in a word, that’s execution. Measuring training, starting with Reaction and Learning, should be done, and can readily be done in a formal way.  It can also be done in a very informal way, simply by showing up. As Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, Yogi Berra, put it, “You can observe a lot, just by watching.”
No PhD in learning and development required to do that.
Observing Training 
Back in the 60’s, when Kirkpatrick was employed as a training professional in industry, he witnessed first-hand steps three and four: the behavior change and resulting business performance improvement from training. He described the typical reaction by the supervisor of the person being trained: “Hope you had a good time. Now let’s get back to work.” Being left out of the loop will do that.
Here we are, all these decades later, and that kind of thing still happens a lot. When it does, it leaves behavior change and the resulting business performance improvement entirely up to the individual who took the training. That is not a good way to run a business.
On that point, please take note: there is a world of difference between academic education and industrial and business training. Academics pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge; the goal of taking a course is to acquire the knowledge and demonstrate the learning. Period. In business, acquiring knowledge is a means to a greater end: putting that knowledge into use to make a difference in business performance. In the case of safety, the purpose of acquiring knowledge is to improve the odds of going home, alive and well at the end of the day. If new knowledge does not help achieve that end, there is no point to doing training. 
Not unless you want to turn your shop into a knowledge factory.
All of which begins to suggest a second purpose of performing classroom MBWA: to get a first-hand view of how knowledge is being taught and learned as two of four steps designed to achieve results. Like most other targets for your MBWA, I doubt you’ll need much time to get a sense of how well things are going. Of course, if you don’t like what you see, it will be necessary to do something to change the situation.
But what if you do like what you see?
Setting Expectations
Recently, at the end of a class, I was sitting in the back of the room (well, actually at a table in middle of the room) when the leader of all the class participants weighed in on the subject of the class. It got me to thinking about the role and function of the leader in a training course.
It’s become commonplace for leaders to show up at the beginning of a training class. Known as “the kick-off”, speaking then lends importance to the subject about to be taught. But consider all the times that courses are run with no such management presence at that start, such as the new hire safety orientation, basic safety training, annual refresher training, and all the apprenticeship classes. Of course it’s unreasonable to expect managers to show up everywhere. That’s not the question; rather, it is this: “By what criteria is management’s presence requested – or insisted upon by the leader?”
Consider that a point to ponder. The obvious answer: show up when it’ll make a difference. But that begs a more interesting and useful question: “When is the best time for the leader to show up?”
You might argue it’s at the beginning: get the students interested in the subject, motivated to learn. I’d argue that a good teacher can – and should – do that: teaching is defined as “to cause to know a subject.” Not very many words are defined by two verbs and only one noun.
If you follow my logic, you can begin to see the power and influence to be gained at the end of the class. That’s where expectations are best set. 
Setting expectations is one of those key practices that distinguish the best leaders from their peers. One unique feature of training is that new knowledge sets up expectations: “Here’s what is new and different in how you go about doing your job.” There is an implied expectation: “You are now expected to do your job differently by using this new knowledge.”
There are those leaders who both understand the power to be found in training, and, in turn, take full advantage by setting expectations that are clear and actionable. “Class over, content learned, here’s what is now expected of you.”
Which is exactly what this leader did, by virtue of her words. “Starting tomorrow, here’s what we are going to do with what we just learned….” Of course, it helped immeasurably that she’d taken the class, right along with forty members of her team.
For training, setting expectations like those is a far better practice than, “I hope you had a good time. Now let’s get back to work.”
Paul Balmert
July 2023


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