Technology Change: The Argument for Custom Training

By Emerson Instructional Technologist, Michael Cassady

People learning new technology at a computer

I don’t remember the first time I used a hammer, but I know my dad didn’t just hand it over and say, “Good luck!” He had a vested interest in my health, so he took the time to teach me. There’s a simple lesson in that: learn to use the tool, or else it’s gonna hurt.

I know I’m not the only person to learn this lesson, yet I keep running into companies integrating new technology with little or no training. These companies have a vested interest in the health of their business, yet they hand over new technology and say, “Good luck!” I don’t know why – whether employers have a lot of confidence in workers learning independently, or whether new technology is considered a cure-all on its own, making the human element irrelevant. But the reality is, technology is not a solution; it’s a tool. If you want to hit your goals, you must take responsibility both for acquiring the tool and teaching employees to use it.

That doesn’t mean just tossing one more thing in your shopping cart. You can sometimes get away with buying a tool with no customization, but you can’t buy training off the shelf and expect it to work. Your business is unique. You have your own processes, procedures, jobs, reward systems and – most importantly – your own business goals. When you bought the technology, you expected some business benefit. Your employees must use the tool well, in the context of your business, or you won’t get the benefits you expect. Training for new technology should be mandatory and customized.

Tech companies might claim their product is so intuitive anyone can use it immediately. They might use smartphones as an example. No one sent you to training for your first smartphone, right? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t trained. You probably used a lot of trial and error, went online for help, and asked your friends or associates at the store where you bought it. For years, I ranted about my screen constantly rotating before a friend showed me a quick way to lock rotation. It’s really easy to do, but it hadn’t even occurred to me a feature like that existed. Now that I know, sure, it’s intuitive, but as an inexperienced user, my phone just seemed broken. Very few of us would be able to properly use our smartphones without friends acting as trainers. NOW your smartphone isn’t hard to use; now each one is intuitive, because your “intuition” depends on your own experience with the many smartphones you’ve owned. You’ve lived it, and that was your training, so now you don’t need to think about it. Do you want employees stumbling through your new technology until it’s intuitive? Do you want to wait that long to get your ROI?

Ok, that’s why training is important, but why custom training? Having spent years in the thick of technology implementations, I can tell you that all training is not equal and you get what you pay for. “Vanilla” training is cheap up front, but it’s not very effective. And its cost doesn’t include the high price of low productivity. Even if you implement technology as-is, right out of the box, vanilla training is dry and one-dimensional. No one wants to read a user guide, and frankly they’re not always helpful. Just look at Ikea. They market their products as easy-to-assemble furniture with easy-to-follow instructions. In reality, putting their furniture together is a notoriously frustrating process. Vanilla user guides simply aren’t enough to properly train a team to do their jobs effectively with new technology.

Besides, most technologies allow custom configuration, which most companies take advantage of, and which immediately makes vanilla training irrelevant.

If people struggle with smartphones and Ikea furniture - which are relatively simple and have a low cost of failure - how do you think your employees will fare with your pricey new technology? You need them ready to perform their own jobs with your technology configuration and your business processes in your teams and culture to hit your business targets.

Do it right or don’t do it at all. Create training and support that fits your organization. Provide multiple avenues for learning, both guided and self-paced, as well as performance support on the job. Make it engaging, memorable and even fun - something your employees will want to take and refer to in the future. Build something that engages the whole learning community, encourages dialogue, and provides rewards and recognition for hard work - learning that makes your teams perform better. You need a custom training solution. The health of your company depends on it.

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