Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Can You Train People When You Don’t Have All the Answers?

Recently I worked with a client who had given a new role to a group of employees – a role they had to take on quickly, without a lot of preparation. The employees are a capable and willing group and did a great job meeting the immediate need. Once that need passed, the organization decided it might be a recurring role and started identifying how to better equip people.

Quite a few people said they would like training. There were a couple of things to consider:

  • The role was so new it didn’t have specific procedures or processes.
  • Management didn’t want to get overly prescriptive with how people did the work.

The challenge was how to give employees the support they needed and allow them the latitude to use their own good judgement.

The leadership role is really to build the riverbanks and let the water flow freely. ~ Bonnie Brooks, vice-chairman of Hudson’s Bay Company

Start with Needs and Wants

By doing a needs assessment with employees and a sample of the supervisors and managers responsible for the role, we were able to identify their top needs for training, as well as the tools and support they wanted to have. The catch: some of the tools and support processes they wanted don’t exist.

I proposed a solution that involved a hybrid of training and employee engagement to address the findings from the needs assessment. The training would focus on:

  • Concrete skills and information they requested
  • Practice applying those skills and information to relevant examples
  • Group work identifying and developing ideas for the tools, processes and guidelines

Give – and Get – the Good Stuff!

Each session started with a welcome from management and a clear explanation that the group’s input would help shape any guidelines or tools for the role going forward. Not only that, but the organization had confidence in their ability to do the role and make good decisions.

It was an empowering message that set the stage for the work to come.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. ~ Bryant H. McGill, author and activist

By the time we got to the group engagement part of the day, they had a solid grounding in what they were expected to do in the role and some new techniques to apply. They worked together to develop a list of tools, ideas for processes, and some potential guidelines to apply to their work.

Interestingly, I worried that people might not like being asked to create the things that management would normally just supply. It did not come up! They were capable, interested and empowered.

Everything they provided – on flipcharts and evaluations – was gathered up to help inform next steps regarding training and tools. These employees are helping create their own work tools, processes and guidelines for a change in role. The company is building trust with its employees and putting their knowledge, experience and judgment to good use. It validates my belief that when you put faith and trust in your employees, they can do great things!

Loop Back to Multiply the Trust

It’s not all done yet. The next step is reviewing and using the information to provide guidance and tools, without going too far.

This was an opportunity for the company to show trust in its employees, and it’s also an opportunity for the company to earn trust from its employees. This is where sharing the final results comes in. Employees want to know they’ve influenced the final outcomes and see what comes out of their work.

The next time you think you can’t train employees because you don’t have all the answers, consider whether you can engage them to help create some of the answers.

This kind of work feeds my soul – mostly because I think it feeds the soul of employees too!