Training tips for a learning organisation

Published: 13th February 2020

By: Lasse Hamre

Everyone knows how to exercise and train their body, but how do you go about training an organisation? My work on change processes within many exciting organisations has provided me with important lessons that I will share with you in the following four training tips.

These training tips will be especially useful for learning organisations that want to be well prepared in the face of a highly unpredictable future. Training provides the conditions for change, a longer life expectancy and a healthy working environment.

1. Find out what you need to train

I know this sounds obvious. But many businesses train far beyond the scope of what actually needs to be trained. For example, we were tasked with updating the sales training for an organisation that did their sales and customer care over the phone. We began by studying the existing training courses they had, and quickly discovered that they were full of theory. The distance from theory to practical sales work was so large that people failed to translate that theory into action.

So we started by asking: what is the employee actually doing on the phone? Well, to start with, she listens. She forms a mental image of the customer’s situation. At the same time, she looks up relevant information on the computer. Then, through a systematic dialogue, she defines the customer’s needs and leads the conversation towards a possible purchase. Doing all of this at once is advanced multitasking. Adding theory to this situation simply becomes too many balls to juggle, but training can help.

Train one thing at a time. First train the listening, then the dialogue, and finally the product knowledge. Then you can assemble the training elements to apply to increasingly complex situations, and gradually add in some reflections and discussions around relevant theory. Eventually, some of the actions that have been trained will become automatic, so that the seller can fully concentrate on the difficult challenge of getting the customer to want to buy.

Anyone who wants to train for change must first find out what is likely to happen to the organisation when it changes. Very often, it affects the way work gets done, and in those cases, the training discipline will result in exactly that: new ways of working.

2. Let people train together

Learning is not just the development of individual abilities; it also serves to build organisations. With that in mind, let people train together. There are several benefits to letting people work together. It’s motivating because you can give and receive feedback. You activate relationships, and relationships hold the organisation together. It’s also through relationships that the organisation reaches the market. Training on topics such as sales, service or leadership without also training on relationships is like learning to bike without a bicycle. People who have done training on relationships know how to deal with interpersonal challenges like shyness, disappointments, trust and credibility, yes, almost everything that is important when a person meets another person.

Change is almost always accompanied by latent resistance. Anyone who has trained on relationships is better equipped to find their way through the resistance.

3. Establish good training habits

Time has to be set aside for training. Training should be readily available. It’s very easy to fall back into old habits, but if you’re supported by structure, routines and technology, the training can be a breeze. Set personal goals, measure progress, and be generous with honor and glory along the way.

We’re all at our most effective when we’re in the flow zone, the sweet spot between current competence and challenges. It is in the flow zone that the best work gets done. This is where employees show their value and in turn create value for the organisation. If value is created through meeting with the customer, then the training should be done as close to the customer meeting as possible. The classroom is old school, now it is “training in the flow of work” that applies.

Everyone has probably experienced the New Year’s resolution training sessions that somehow abruptly take a backseat to insignificant (but suddenly very important to take care of) activities. It’s not easy to change behaviour. What sounds easy in theory can be virtually impossible to translate into new habits. For example, when I needed help with my bad back, I enlisted Duncan, my personal trainer, to help me accomplish what I needed to do to make things better.

This leads me to my fourth training tip.

4. Get help

There are advisers out there who have expertise in organisational development, behaviour change and corporate culture. There is no shame in seeking help. Advisers often bring in new thoughts, and through meeting with your people, new ideas will arise. The adviser will also be able to help and motivate you if the training starts to hurt. But you’ll get through it. And the learning organisation will get better and stronger, and will live longer.