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Question: There’s a lot of emphasis on training at The Martin Agency, but most of it is formalized or in seminar format.  Where else should training take place?

Answer: The formalized training programs are designed to provide a solid base or foundation.  But I really believe that the best training is on the job, coming from your boss or supervisor, who we hope will take his/her training responsibility seriously.

So for the supervisors/bosses, here are 10 tips on how to be a good trainer for the people who work for you.

Provide continuous, on-going feedback.

Training is a full-time job and should be done whenever the opportunity to train presents itself.  Here’s an example – after a meeting, take the time to talk with the junior person to explain why you said what you did in the meeting or how what they said could have been done in a more effective way.  Have this conversation right after the meeting, while it’s current, not three days later.

Expose junior people to areas beyond their responsibility.

Everyone likes to keep meetings small.  But it’s a good practice to let junior people attend meetings they have nothing to do with and to let them sit there like a sponge and absorb.  Someday they’ll be running that same meeting, and it would be great if their previous exposure enabled them to run it well.

Be straightforward, fun and fair.

You’re not doing junior people any favors by softening constructive criticism or dancing around an area where they need improvement.  The goal is to make them better, smarter and more effective, not for you to be well-liked.  In the end, there is a greater appreciation by junior people of truthful, direct conversation, than unclear, politically appropriate rhetoric.

Get to know your staff on a personal level.

Make the time to get out of the agency and go for a drink, lunch, coffee, whatever and get to know each other as people.  I guarantee you that it will not only improve your working relationship, but it will enable you to get insight into the junior person that will help you be a more effective trainer of him/her.

Encourage and accept constructive criticism of your training techniques.

Accept the fact that your training style/technique may not be right for everyone.  Be willing to customize your method of training to fit the individual to get the best results.  The ability to do this may be a function of trial and error or figuring it out with the help of the junior person.  But people learn differently and you need to adapt a “horses for courses” approach.  (If you don’t get this metaphor, come see me.)

Set a good example because you’re actually training all the time.

Junior people look to their supervisors to see how they behave, communicate and handle problem situations.  That’s part of the learning behavior.  Often this may be more powerful than a seminar or training class.  It’s important to be cognizant that you are an on-going role model to your staff.

Ask junior people about what training they feel they need.

Your assessment of the training needs of an individual is important, but it may not address areas that the individual feels insecure about but has kept hidden.  You need to elicit that information from them by getting them to open up and admit where they need help in a way that is not embarrassing or demeaning to them.  It’s important to follow this up with action, once you have the information.

Get people to bring you suggested solutions to problems.

We’ve touched on this before, but getting people to go through the behavior of thinking how to solve a problem can be an excellent training device. It’s real time, not theory and it can often be a good solution or be a catalyst that can lead to one.

Train people in how to train people.

Training is so important that you should try to make “how to train” part of your training of junior people.  It is an important part of teaching them how to be a good manager and it’s a good reminder for you of what you should be doing to maintain your training practices.

Don’t be afraid to let people fail.

You will usually be able to do tasks better and more efficiently than junior people.  But you need to selectively pick opportunities for them to handle things on their own.  The key here is to let them know that they have authority and accountability on the project, but that you are there as a consultant and safety net, if needed.

Not everyone gravitates to training with the same level of enthusiasm.  And certainly some of us are better trainers than others.  But part of your job is to advance people’s careers or even groom your successor.  So I urge you to take your training responsibility seriously.  In the long run, it will be better for you, the trainee and the agency.


Bruce Kelley

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