By: Jim Morris, CSP- Safety Consultants at Cardinal Compliance Consultants
Early in my career, my definition of quality training was knowing all the regulations and having all the answers. I had funny pictures, played funny videos occasionally, and thought I did a good job until I recorded a training session and listened to it. Listening to that recording I realized that I was communicating to these new hire employees that training was a requirement instead of an investment. I used a power point that I had downloaded from the internet, spent very little time making it industry/trade specific, I gave them a chance to interact, but I didn’t truly encourage a classroom culture of discussion (there’s a difference). I didn’t invest time into the training and ended up communicating to the class that you don’t need to invest yours either.
My training began to improve over the years after listening to that recording, but only with a lot of active efforts and with more to come (I’m not good enough yet). I’ve improved by evaluating two factors that go into every training:
· Myself as a Presenter – As the presenter, I am the lynch pin that determines whether this class can be successful or not. I am the focal point of the student’s attention and I must send the message that this information is important. My communication and public speaking skills limit all training sessions. The reality is, safety training is held back by the person presenting the material. Three elements to be a good presenter include:
o Being Engaging – I told someone yesterday that one of my clients that I perform training for has developed a much better classroom culture. With anywhere from 80-100 people in the training room we get a solid 30 minutes of dialog. How did the culture go from a disruptive environment to students asking questions during and after class? I stopped giving them chances to interact with me and I interacted with them. I asked general questions to the class but followed up by asking specific students what they thought. If I received different answers from the crowd, I’d hold a quick discussion and vote by raising hands to see what ‘we’ thought the right answer was. To engage a group during training you must invest a lot of personal energy because it’s not easy.
o Knowing your audience – Every group you train will be different. Whether your training hourly employees, management, or safety professionals, you’ll have to adjust your approach. All demographics of people will have different concerns and it’s my role as an instructor to learn how to communicate my message to each class.
o Honesty – I start my classes often by reminding my students that I’m not the smartest safety professional they’ll ever meet. I do this because I’m not in class to prove how smart I am but because I want to set the stage upfront, that I’m not making this presentation up as I go. I’m knowledgeable, I’ve done my research, I’ve applied my experience and knowledge personally, through seven different industries and in countless job specific functions, and yet you still may ask a question that stumps me. I don’t know everything, but my students have a lot of valuable knowledge too, they just don’t know it yet. If I’m honest with my class that I can learn from their experience as an employee, they are more likely to share, and I get an opportunity to better define how to apply a regulation to yet another workplace.
· Content of the Presentation – Good training needs good content. Safety training needs to be correct from a technical perspective, but it needs to be the right information at the right time (not proof that you’re the smartest person in the room).
o Purpose / Format – Not all meetings and training have the same purpose therefore they do not all need to be conducted the same way. When training safety professionals on regulatory updates, I present information in more of an upfront manner than when conducting new hire orientation for hourly employees. Why? There’s a time I simply need you to know a rule and at others I might need you to understand why you need to follow the rule. There’s a time I’m seeking feedback and a time I’m simply relaying information.
o On point – When preparing training you need to understand your goals and objectives. If your goal is for the employee to learn regulatory requirements, then you need to review regulations with them. If your goal is for them to recognize hazards, you need to review hazards with them (workplace specific hazards). Decide what the outcome of the training should be and then set your objectives to achieve this.
o Technically Correct – This goes without saying. If you are presenting information that is technically inaccurate, your compromising your employees’ safety and creating regulatory liabilities for yourself.
So how do you improve your training? I boil it down to two simple questions to ask yourself.
1. What are you communicating? – Am I teaching someone a skill, making them aware of a hazard, or helping build their technical knowledge base? Before I teach someone something, I need to know what I am teaching them and adjust my presentation content accordingly.
2. How are you communicating it? – Am I sending the right message? Am I regurgitating information and telling employees how smart I am, or how relevant this information is? Am I giving people the opportunity to interact with me in my class, or am I interacting with the audience?
By investing your time and energy into your training session, understanding your goals and objectives, you can push your training beyond meeting compliance needs and start engaging your employees on a more productive level.