Learning and Development: Spice Up Your Bland Off-the-Shelf Training So It Actually Works

By Emerson Consulting Manager, Patti Hughes on August 21

Chef in the kitchen

I am a Food Network junkie. I love watching the shows and seeing the amazing meals they turn out. I, too, want to turn out delicious, completely from-scratch gourmet meals; the bland and boring meals I typically cook don’t cut it in my family. But a lack of time, money, and confidence in my ability (I wasn’t exactly trained at Le Cordon Bleu) held me back for a long time.

I was stuck, until I discovered the concept of “semi-homemade,” made famous by Sandra Lee. How brilliant: take pre-portioned food, add your fresh ingredients and just enough spice to suit your tastes, and create a delicious, cost-effective, home-cooked meal in less time. I was hooked!

Early in my professional life, I faced a similar dilemma. As a manager of corporate training, I was charged with creating and delivering training to multiple audiences with limited budget, time and resources. My internal clients wanted champagne on a beer budget. How was I supposed to do that? I couldn’t hire a cadre of instructional designers, and I sure didn’t have the budget or time to find and manage consultants to build all the programs I needed.

I found an answer that worked for me: semi-homemade training! Purchase off-the-shelf training - for considerably less than the cost of a custom-built program - and add “fresh ingredients and spices” to make sure employees meet your company’s outcomes and performance goals.

Follow this simple recipe to get started:

Start with the right pre-made components.

  • Look for off-the-shelf programs that focus on achieving the behavior change and the performance you need in your organization. For example, some training packages for managers on delivering feedback in a corporate setting might not work if your supervisors are delivering feedback to union workers on a factory floor. Do a little research and read the training objectives to makes sure you get the best fit.
  • Educate yourself about the platform, structure and content of the program. You want to be sure it’s flexible enough so you can make it your own.

Add your favorite fresh ingredients.

  • Take out generic work examples and add case studies and job scenarios that make sense to your target audience, industry and organization.
  • Include exercises and activities that allow learners to practice their new skills in the context of their jobs.
  • Change the course content so it uses words common in your organization. Participants will tune out if they encounter terms and language that don’t make sense to them.
  • Build in a time and setting for participants to share ideas and tips with each other. This takes real-world relevance up a notch; co-workers can reinforce ways to use the new skills in their day-to-day jobs.
  • Leverage what works in your organization to enhance the training and create consistency with other training employees have had. Integrating your own organization’s methods and models connects their new knowledge and skills to something they already know, improving relevance and retention.

Throw in some spice

  • Consider branding or renaming the training program to connect to a larger organizational initiative.
  • Change or add visuals that you know will resonate with your audience.
  • Chunk the training content and delivery. If you have room in the timeline, consider breaking the content into smaller pieces and delivering it over time. This is not only easier on the organization, it gives you time to gather feedback and fine-tune your customization.
  • Eliminate content that doesn’t directly relate to your high-priority objectives and won’t support learner’s on-the-job performance.
  • Schedule follow-up sessions, create job aids, and plan on-the-job support so real-world learning continues after the training is over.

Semi-homemade might not be the answer for all your training needs, but when it is, these steps will help. If you follow this recipe to make off-the-shelf training your own, your organization will be begging for more!

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