Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Master of None

The job of a trainer, simply put, is to know everything and be able to teach it to others.  But it's impossible to know EVERYTHING, you say?  Strictly speaking, yes, it IS impossible to know everything.  But within the confines of a job or organization, it is quite possible to know a little something about every topic.  You may not be an expert of anything, but knowing just enough, well enough, is all any good trainer needs.  Just because you may be a Jack of all trades and a master of none does not mean you can't fool your trainees.  Here are my best tips for faking it:

In some situations, it is easier to have the expert deliver the information.  Depending on the subject matter, and your comfort level, it may be easier to teach training techniques to the expert than have the expert teach you the information.  You may even consider co-presenting as it is a great way to ensure the accuracy of information and the presentation of the material is delivered in a way to maximize retention rates.

When you act as though you know what you are talking about, people tend to believe you.  After all, Hitler's success was owed, in part, to his oratory skills.  Of course you are nothing like Hitler, but teaching is a brainwashing of sorts.  Because training is meant to alter the way people think and do particular tasks, the presentation of your training means everything.  By being persuasive and authoritarian, you convince trainees of your expertise on the the subject matter.  Add a little flare for the dramatic and you are training gold. Give the trainees something to remember, and they will be more apt to recall the information at a later date

If you don't know, you don't know.  There is nothing wrong with answering a question by admitting you don't know the answer.  Responding with an 'I'm not sure,' however, should be immediately followed with a 'but I'll get the answer for you.'  Following up with trainees leads me to the next point of . . .

Providing your trainees with contact information, so they may ask questions after the fact, is a great way to buy you time answering questions you may not know the answer to.  It also establishes great rapport with your coworkers, employees, or others you have trained.  Of course, just giving contact information isn't enough - you need to actually be accessible.

Unfortunately for J. Pierrepont Fench (from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,) sometimes you just can't fake your way.  If charisma just won't do the trick then learning the material is the only option.  Depending on the subject matter and your comfort level with it, you may just have to become an expert.  So, while you may still be a 'Jack of all trades,' you can at least be the master of ONE!

See my post, Prepare to be Dazzling, for more insight on how to prepare for your best training ever.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Teaching the Unteachable

When I first began this blog I wrote about the importance of assessing and understanding the needs of those you work with.  I suggested asking employees what they wanted to learn and how they wanted to grow.  What I didn't cover, however, is how to teach those who have no wish to learn or grow. Although there is nothing intrinsically bad about not wanting to learn or grow, it can be a potential nightmare for trainers and supervisors.  Before a situation can be improved, however, we must identify the underlying problem.  After all, doesn't everyone deserve to be happy in their job?

Growing is often associated with growing up.  Going from child to adult or junior associate to CEO are all examples of growing upward.  Yet in the library field, growing up is quite difficult without an MLS.  Many workers employed by library systems, however, are non-professionals (meaning their job description does not require a degree in Library Science.)  But this does not mean they haven't made a profession out of their job.  During my time in libraries, I have met many professional non-librarians who care just as much about the state of the library as their card carrying librarian coworkers.  The only difference is the desire, or lack thereof, to grow upward through the organization.  This often means these professional non-librarians have been doing the same job for years. And they are comfortable doing what they do.  So, how do you train the person who already knows their job?  You don't.  You train them to do the job better - to grow outward.

In most library systems, having an MLS is what separates managers from employees.  But management isn't the only thing taught in Library School.  I would certainly hope that if you are a librarian, you took at least one core class on searching.  This one class, which often covers an entire semester, is hastily taught to new hires in their first week.  Using Model Reference Behaviors, conducting better searches, and evaluating information are everyday practices which can always be improved upon.  For the employee who does not wish to grow up, training based on the information they need to do their job is essential for them to grow out.  For these employees, a survey may give you some answers but a conversation will get you the results you want.

When an employee has no wish to grow up or grow out, you may feel like you've hit a brick wall.  This person is simply aimed at getting the job done to make ends meat.  If there are no performance issues at play (ie. the employee does the job satisfactorily but has no interest in learning or training,) you may want to consider two reasons:
  1. Personal: The employee has personal issues that are currently distracting his ability to put in additional effort at work.  This is often the case if you notice a drastic change in behavior or personality. You don't need to know specifics of a personal problem, but knowing that there is an issue can help both you (the trainer/supervisor) and the employee.
  2. Professional: When an employee is no longer motivated by the job, disinterest is the result.  When we first start in a position, we are filled with the excitement of learning new things.  As time continues, we often get stuck in a rut. 
For both of these situations, a one-on-one conversation is the way to go.  Such a conversation should focus on the employee's goals, both professionally and personally, and should be motivational for the employee  (beginning a conversation with "I've noticed something lacking," is not the right way to go.) With some creative thinking, you may be able to find a way to satisfy personal aspirations with professional ones.  For example, an employee who loves scrapbooking but has been lacking motivation may find training coworkers on reader's advisory for scrapbookers or starting a scrapbooking club at the branch uplifting.  By engaging the personal and translating it to the professional, you increase the likelihood of this staff member wanting to grow, learn, and participate more.

Unfortunately, there is no tried and true formula for teaching the unteachable - it's different for every employee.  Starting with a good conversation, however, is the key to any staff member's success.