Over the past few decades (let’s not pry into how many) I’ve taken countless hours of training classes, as so many of us have. Name a topic and I’ve probably done it – professional development, project management, change management, computer programming, professional speaking, Dynamics apps, Microsoft apps, several other ERPs, and so on… And most of it has been, well… meh.
For the last two years I’ve been with a company that provides professional training as one of our core offerings. Working with a team that makes a living providing training, I’ve discovered two incredible insights:
I now understand why most of the training I’ve received over my career, heck – most of the training any of us receive – is so ineffective and forgettable.
As so many managers have had the same experience, they don’t see the incredible value that effective training can have.
Training is Hard
Training is hard. Actually, productive and effective training is hard. And that distinction right there is the very first reason so much of the training we’ve experienced is unvaluable. Raise your hand if you’ve seen this: a training class is needed, so the person with the related knowledge is recruited to assemble and deliver the needed class. Sure, there is some knowledge transferred, and it can be somewhat helpful to the recipients, for some time. But sharing one’s knowledge vs. developing and delivering effective training that results in lasting change are very, very different things.
Let’s talk about why training is hard. And I want to preface this with a huge disclaimer: a proper examination of how to develop and deliver good training cannot be covered in a short blog (or even a really long one). Adult learning and training design are topics for masters and doctorates degrees, so I can only scratch the surface and itemize some of the critical elements. As you’re likely a current user of an ERP system, I’ll focus on this area for my examples below.
Subject matter expertise – Seems like a no-brainer but think about any effective training you’ve had (or a great teacher for that matter). They’re not just familiar with the subject or material, they genuinely know And when I emphasize “know”, I don’t mean they’ve been working with the system for a while in one role or at one company. They have broad and deep experience with it in multiple roles, companies, and industries. They’re recognized as thought leaders. They’re sought out to present. They know not only the mechanics of using the system but how it’s actually used at a company. They know the responsibilities of the users and the related business processes. They know the system’s capabilities and how it can be used as a strategic enabler for a company. They know why and how the system should be set up and used in one way for one company, and in a different way for a different company. My teammates at New View Strategies loves debating a certain piece of functionality in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, and when and why it makes sense to use it, and when and why it doesn’t. Remember that person who is volunteered/voluntold to lead a training class because they happen to have some knowledge about the topic? Is it any wonder why they often struggle to develop and deliver an especially engaging and insightful training class?
Adult learning principles – Ho boy is there a lot to cover here! But simply put, training adults involves a number of disciplines and understanding of what methods work in which situations and why. Different adults learn differently. To complicate the challenge, there is always a wide range of experiences and biases at play (not to mention how short our attention spans have become). Accounting for these complexities while keeping the whole class engaged is delicate at best and requires a substantial amount of preparation. You already know how ineffective it is to have someone read through a bunch of PowerPoint slides and call that training. At my company, we’re fond of designing training that “sticks”. Adults need application of concepts and real-life examples to truly understand, engage, and absorb the content. But it doesn’t stop there – real value is only realized when the training is retained and applied. First and foremost, helping adults retain and apply learning requires practice by the student. A significant portion of every class we provide involves hands-on exercises, where the student practices the concept just covered in a test environment. They are encouraged to experiment, we debrief the outcomes with the class so they can learn from each other, and the instructor can reinforce or correct as needed. There are many other concepts to incorporate into the preparation and delivery, such as gamification, which is a tricky balance to make learning fun and engaging without being annoying. Unfortunately it’s all meaningless if the content is forgotten, and especially with “traditional” training, it will be. You’ll probably not argue that most of what we learn is forgotten, and in fact, surprisingly quickly. Hermann Ebbinghaus first proposed almost 140 years ago that 80%+ of what we learn is forgotten in 30 days. 80%+! Including tactics in class to aid in retention and following up with refresher training is not only a good idea, it’s critical to realize the desired return on your training investment. How often have you seen this done? So is it any wonder that we don’t use that much of the system, even if we learned it at one point? Compound that with the typical scenario: a new member joins the team, so someone who learned the system a while back trains them. Declining rates of return and brain drain – it’s certainly understandable, but you’re losing money on your investment every day!
Commitment of effort – If the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve wasn’t surprising enough, what’s your guess on how long it takes (or, should take) to develop one hour of a training class? Take a guess, then Google “how long does it take to develop training”. Of refer to this study conducted by the Association for Talent Development. Yeah, it’s pretty hard to believe. For a 23-minute module of instructor-led classroom training, the average development time is 67 hours. Of course you’ll find estimates lower than that, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a reliable study that shows it taking less than 32X-40X the class length. Considering all the elements that must be incorporated to address adult learning principles and make the training stick, it’s a substantial undertaking to say the least. Add in the commitment needed to measure outcomes, refine the content and resources, and update your classes with the latest improvements in your ERP package, well – I bet most of you have never seen this kind of commitment. Our company’s leadership recognized early on what it would take to deliver world-class training and have made the commitment to continuous improvement, but you can only do this when you know what it takes. On top of the commitment to the content is the commitment to develop your trainers. The ability to successfully lead a class doesn’t just happen of course, it requires a certain personality and passion, training on an ongoing basis, and lots of practice. Last year my team completed the Microsoft Certified Trainer program, and despite every one of us having led countless training classes and presentations over the past decade plus, we all learned new insights and found opportunities for improvement. Training is a skill you can never perfect.
The Value of Training, or, the Cost of Ineffective Training
At this point you’re likely questioning how doing training the right way is ever valuable enough to warrant the investment. Let me flip that question – can you afford not to do it? Reflect for a minute about how well your team does with your current system. Better yet, sit down with them for a bit and have them walk you through how they use the system. You’ll surely be surprised by the gyrations needed to get things done, and the inconsistencies between your team in system understanding and approaches. It probably won’t take long to start identifying the impact of ineffective past training and the ongoing impact of not doing refresher training:
Lack of coordination
Lack of insights and decision support
Missed opportunities for faster turnaround, new services, better customer service, etc.
Not to mention the mental toll that all of these impacts take on your team. Who likes being frustrated, wasting time, or correcting other’s errors? Whether deliberate or not, when you don’t invest in a team’s growth and capabilities, you’re sending a signal that they’re not worth the investment. That’s probably not the culture you want to foster.
Need some more reasons to make the investment? The most frequently asked question we receive from our customers is, “what else can our Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central / Dynamics NAV system do for us?” Essentially, what else is there in the system the user doesn’t know about? What a great question! But how does one know what they don’t know? We were asked this so often we developed for our website six Business Central / NAV self-assessment scorecards, covering the primary functions of an organization, so users can see for themselves features and functions that they’re not using. Would you like to guess what the average level of use is for finance? 41%. Companies use, on average, less than half of the available finance features and functions in their Business Central / NAV system (and one could argue that the finance team would be pretty familiar with system). Perhaps a more universal example is Microsoft Excel. I believe everyone is familiar how powerful Excel is, and when they think about it, how much Excel does that they don’t know about it. I looked up one time how many functions there are – over 400! That’s notwithstanding PivotTables and macros and data analysis and so on. So I think it’s fair to say it’s a given that few of us are using most of the features our ERP system provides. Add on top of that for most, it’s been a while since their system was initially configured and installed. Has your business changed any since that initial implementation? Has anyone evaluated those changes and considered what changes might be needed to your system setup and processes? How about any new features that have been added during your upgrades? It’s seldom that an organization invests in identifying what new features are available and how those will benefit the company. Throw in the natural memory loss and turnover, and the value of good training is evident.
The business case for training
If you need to build a case for training, start with that list of wasted time and effort, errors, and missed opportunities. Then select the ROI approach that makes sense for your organization and target that goal with the right training. One of the most common goals we see is the desire to reduce the time and improve the accuracy of month-end close. Cutting your close time in half has astounding effects on the accuracy of your financials, your decision making, and your team’s morale. Time spent checking and re-checking items can be almost eliminated and results are available in real-time – the ROI is impressive and compiled from a number of improvements. But please, don’t repeat your past approaches to training and improvement, and expect different outcomes suddenly. As you now know, good training is an investment, and to measure improvements and outcomes also take effort.
I’d like to forward the idea that if you need to develop a business case to make the investment in training, you’re approaching the opportunity all wrong. I certainly understand the need to target an expected value and measure the realized benefits of an investment for a company. But therein lies a real pet peeve of mine. Companies far and wide invest tens of thousands to millions of dollars implementing their ERP system – show me the business case and ROI calculations and results from those investments. In my experience (which admittedly is mostly with companies that spends tens or hundreds of thousands, and not millions) business cases are light and informal if they’re done at all. If that’s a company’s decision that’s fine, BUT why then demand detailed calculations to prove the value of training, or worse, immediately decline to invest in the effort? What sense does it make to spend so much money on the initial implementation and then let that strategic asset wallow? If you’re not viewing your ERP system as a strategic asset, you are missing out on countless opportunities for cost savings, better decisions, and company expansion. I like to compare implementing an ERP system to buying a house. Anyone that has ever owned a house knows that the expenses do not stop after one moves in. Sure, you can continue to make minimal investments to maintain livability, but what happens to the value of that house? However, when treated as an asset, you’ll make the proper investments to improve the house and be rewarded with a higher ROI. Similarly, your ERP system is not a one and done, nor should you seek to minimize the cost of maintenance. Continue investing in your system with ongoing training for your team, explore new functions and features of the system and related tools, drive process improvement, etc. and you’ll be rewarded with new opportunities previously unimagined.
Why Isn’t YouTube Good for Training?
So yes, finally, it’s time to address my declaration that is the title of this article – “Why YouTube isn’t training.” I’m hoping it’s abundantly clear at this point. If you’re embarking on a new implementation of an ERP system or upgrading an existing one, please reflect deeply on the opportunity at hand to examine your business processes and your team’s capabilities, and invest in a proper amount of training. Over the years I’ve talked to many dozens of companies about their project experience, and one of the top two causes of any issues they experience always includes not enough training. Moreover, include in your initial project plan an approach for refresher training after go-live. You won’t be sorry. If you’ve been on the same version of your ERP solution for a while, it’s time for refresher training on what you’ve already covered, and additional training on new areas of the system. Please, don’t wait for issues to blow up and then try to react, make it part of your culture and foster a focus on continuous improvement. If you have a new employee (or at any time with your existing employees), please don’t point them to YouTube or the Microsoft documentation and expect them to learn the system. Let me be clear, both sources are fantastic for clarifying a question or starting to explore a new feature. I personally know many of the professionals that spend many hours recording and producing the videos easily found on YouTube, and they’re very well done (heck, we do them too!). But realize what they are and are not. I believe most of the authors will agree with me that they are not intended to be a substitute for end-to-end role-based training, nor fill in for targeted, process-specific refresher training. To realize the impact you need to drive your company forward, you need role-based training that incorporates adult learning principles and “sticks”.
I hope you’re energized by the opportunity that awaits you. As you start your planning and budgeting process for 2022, now is the best time to invest in training. It will help you discover new ways to unpack the benefits from your strategic asset (your ERP system) and help you identify key initiatives for next year. If you are a Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central / Dynamics NAV user, we have a full line-up of online and in-person classes coming up – please check out our upcoming schedule, and I hope to see you in class!
Blog by: Mark Rhodes, New View Strategies – Discover how much more your Business Central / NAV system can do for you.
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