Process is critical to every business, and research increasingly tells us that “tiny habits” matter. It is the small actions, not the sweeping initiatives, that truly define our businesses… and our lives.
Every individual has had to learn a set of processes that are tedious or difficult to follow. Think about the sales rep used to using Outlook to log follow-up tasks who is now asked to re-input the same data into the CRM, or the call center representative who must ask every customer who calls in, even the irate ones, to answer a three question survey.
But at the same time, every manager or decision-maker knows the pain that follows when sales reps are not documenting their activity, or when customer service reps do not collect meaningful data on customer satisfaction. In some environments, the consequence of ignoring processes is even more dire: accidents (and lawsuits) happen. People get hurt.
Policy and process are top priorities for L&D
L&D is often asked to help solve the “process problem” and get employees proficient at following the right steps. In fact, 41% of respondents to our 2014 Learning and Remembering Survey listed policies, process, and procedures as the primary type of knowledge employees must know on the job.
So if processes and procedures are considered so successful to employee success on the job, why do so many organizations struggle to effectively train their employees on how to follow them? Here are five possible reasons—and questions L&D professionals can ask to overcome these challenges.
1. Too many processes
One challenge might be that there are too many processes, or the processes are too complicated. Depending on your role within the organization, you may have limited ability to fix this issue. Your job, then, is to help employees focus on the right processes, the most essential information.
Questions to ask: Think about your C-suite: which processes and procedures would they care about most? Which processes have the most direct impact on the bottom line? Those are the processes that deserve the most attention and emphasis in your training. You might still need to produce training on a large number of processes and procedures, but the training you produce for processes that impact sales, customer satisfaction or safety should be more robust and impactful than training that teaches the employee dress code, for example.
Which processes and procedures are absolutely essential to the business? Align your efforts with the areas your C-suite cares about most. Perhaps one process is customer facing while another is about storing documents, for example.
2. Content overload
Similar to the problem of too many processes is the problem that arises when employees are presented with an overwhelming amount of detail on processes they must follow. In our Learning and Remembering survey, 24% of respondents cited the amount of content as their primary challenge and 38% cited knowledge transfer and retention as the stumbling block, which is often closely related to the overwhelming amount of content employees must complete training on in a given year.
Questions to ask: How often do they need to follow the process? Is it information they must know cold to perform their job function, or an infrequently used procedure that can simply be looked up when needed? Reduce learner’s cognitive load when possible and focus on the three to five key steps they absolutely must follow.
3. Lack of motivation or buy-in
Middle management might report that a certain sales documentation process is complex or difficult to follow, but that may not be the real reason employees are falling short. Lack of buy-in from the middle managers who actually coach and support employees on the job may be the real culprit. If the process is a change from a past workflow or standard way of doing business, you can expect excuses and resistance. In situations like these, L&D is really being asked to do more than simply apply adult learning theories to make instructionally sound courses; the learning solutions you produce are also an internal marketing tool to sell employees of the benefits of following the new process.
Questions to ask: How can we make middle management see the impact this process and procedure has on the business—and their jobs? Sometimes, L&D functions spend so much time producing process training for front-line staff that they neglect the needs of middle managers to be included in the bigger picture. Make middle managers feel like leaders who can see how their actions are linked to the company strategy. Design experiences to show them how everyone benefits when proper processes and procedures are followed, including themselves.
4. Practice Makes Perfect
Training technicians how to use a software tool? Why not create a functional simulation of the software within an eLearning course that allows them to practice following key steps? For processes that are more complex, a single eLearning course or series of short vignettes may not be enough. Instead, consider a blended approach that introduces basic concepts in online prework, followed by live training sessions with an instructor.
Example: A customer training program we created moves basic terminology and introductory content into eLearning courses and game-based modules. Technicians then attend a live, instructor-led session where they are able to practice operating the machinery with an instructor present. Reinforcement is handled via a flashcard app post-training.
5. No “pain,” no change
Training is often the go-to solution when learners are not following a process or procedure. But once again, let’s assume that your employees are human beings who are intelligent and capable of following basic steps. They could learn the process and follow it if they wanted to, but they have not found a compelling reason that motivates them to do so. Training is sometimes developed in a vacuum that is very different from the actual work environment. In the learning solutions you produce, strive to show employees how following a process or procedure benefits them, or actually helps relieve a real or imagined pain they encounter on the job.
Example: We developed safety & compliance training for hair stylists in Regis corporation salons. A key interaction in the “Slips,Trips, and Falls” course asks stylists to try to retrieve items from a high shelf. If they do so with the “shortcut” process, the character falls off the ladder and sprains an ankle. The course actually shows the consequences that arise from taking the “shortcut,” and how the shortcut is not really faster if an accident happens.