In November, Jason Kunkel and I combined the unique experience and knowledge we’ve gained from building successful training programs in firms of more than 350 people, designing Autodesk Official Press curriculum, and more to present Overcoming the 7 Deadly Sins of Corporate Training Programs at Autodesk University 2017. The class was not only among a select few live-streamed from the conference, but it was also recognized as one of the top-5 industry talks presented at the conference offering over 700 classes.

As a follow-up to that class, today I’d like to continue that conversation through a new series of posts here on the CADD Microsystems blog, written through the lens of the challenges we witness our CADD Microsystems clients experience, offering practical solutions you can implement along the way. The narrative of this series will follow that of the class we shared at Autodesk University. If you would prefer to read ahead at any time, I invite you to check out the recording of our session on the Autodesk University website.

Alright, enough with the introductory platitudes. Let’s begin our discussion with the seven sins we most commonly see clients make, and frankly, have made ourselves in the training programs we built before joining CADD Microsystems ourselves.

Sin I: Miracle in the Classroom

If I send an unskilled employee to training, they will emerge an expert.

Training is often offered as a solution to a preceding event – a straw that broke the camel’s back1. The premise behind this sin is noble indeed, and the sign of both a pragmatic and caring manager. Something we frequently hear surrounding this sin is “If only my team were equipped with the necessary knowledge, we could have avoided missing that critical deadline.”

While there are indeed times where software knowledge is the root cause of a preceding event, like missing a deadline, there’s often more layers to the onion. It’s no secret that design tools like Civil 3D and Revit require more than a software knowledge to be successful. Though training classes like those offered by CADD Microsystems leverage project-based curriculums, the focus of the instruction is on the application of the software for the purpose of design, not a lecture on the principles of design. A foundational understanding of design should precede an investment in design software training. Similarly, sending a person who’s never touched a computer to training on design software is equally premature if you intend to maximize your investment in training.

Sin II: Classroom Is for Training. Workplace Is for Working.

When someone sits in a training room, that is where they will learn everything they need to know. When they get back on the production floor, it’s time to be profitable.

Sending people to training is an investment; not just the money spent on training, but also the opportunity cost of pulling billable people out of production so they can attend. For these reasons, many organizations draw a distinct line in the sand between training and working. While this is understandable in some respects, it ignores the equity of collaboration and institutional knowledge that exists within your firm. As someone whose career began as a drafter, I knew little-to-nothing about design when I first entered the industry.

Instead of blindly giving me a stack of red-marks to draft, I fondly recall the designers, project engineers, and even the project manager of my team investing the time to explain what the red-marks represented. Through this incremental time investment, I was able to develop a design acumen. Before long I could independently complete many simple design tasks, freeing up project engineers and my project manager to solve more complex problems. Likewise, as my design acumen matured through this process, I soon found myself mentoring new members of my team.

Though the classroom is an essential stop for any learning journey, it shouldn’t be its only destination. A culture of learning and collaboration in the workplace will pay unimaginable dividends in the long run.

Sin III: Teach Everybody Right Now

You will save a lot of time if you get everybody on staff trained in the same class, even if they aren’t going to use that software for another half year.

This is arguably the most common sin we experience working with CADD Microsystems clients. Just as training is an investment, so too is the software itself. Any savvy businessperson will want to realize a return on each of those investments as quickly as possible. The critical challenge so many encounter in this pursuit is the importance of reinforcement to the learning process, and the fact there’s no stronger reinforcement than the repetition of using the software on a real-world project. Research has shown, without reinforcement, we forget as much as 50% of what we learn after just an hour and as much as 90% after a month. Imagine how much your team will retain from training when they go to apply the software to a project six-months later?

Though the economics of training a large group of people all at once may present itself as a way to maximize your training ROI, unless that investment aligns with the application (or some form of reinforcement) of the software, your actual ROI will be severely diminished.

Sin IV: Everyone Is Trainable

It will just take some more time to get this person up to speed.

If Sin III is the most common among CADD Microsystems clients, this sin is perhaps the most controversial. We all strive to hire and retain smart employees, and smart employees are undoubtedly trainable – right? Although intelligence may seem like a commonsensical way to evaluate trainability, intelligence and trainability have little, if any, overlap. Instead, this is a conversation around the alignment of a person’s talents with the role they fill within your organization.

I once had an individual who attended every training class my firm offered, faithfully participated in workshops, and frankly did everything they could to learn the design technology used by my firm. Still, after all of that investment (by the employee and the firm), this individual consistently opened the highest number of CAD-related support tickets each and every month. After many months of working with this individual, we approached their manager about the situation. The manager was surprised the individual was even using our design software, as their role was intended to be one focused on performing analytical studies (in Microsoft Excel) and preparing written reports (in Microsoft Word) of their findings.

Notwithstanding the misalignment of this person’s role, it’s an example of a highly intelligent individual who merely wasn’t trainable in the design software my firm used. That reality was anything but a reflection of their intelligence, but instead a representation of a misalignment of their talents with the tasks assigned to them.

Sin V: The Only Classroom People Need Is Work

Knowledge is power, and there is no need to share it. If people value their jobs, they will learn what they need to do to excel on their own.

Opposite to Sin II, this places all responsibility to learn onto the shoulders of the employee. We most often encounter this culture at CADD Microsystems in organizations where “Training” becomes known as the “T-word.” Organizations rarely begin with this sin, but instead, evolve to it after a history of underperforming training. If this is you, you’ve probably arrived at this culture after trying different training providers, different training formats, even different delivery methods. Despite all of these changes, the only constant you witnessed in your training program is how poorly it underperformed expectations.

Unfortunately, retreating from any formalized curriculum means people are learning different things in different ways. While this diversity of knowledge may seem like an asset in some respects, it typically proves to be a petri dish for disparate practices across an organization. Because each project team establishes their unique way of achieving things, collaboration across project teams, even within the same department, becomes next to impossible due to incompatible workflows.

The root cause of this sin is often another sin on this list. Perhaps you’ve made adjustments to your training program, but training was separated from the point in time those trained were able to apply what they learned to projects (Sin III). Maybe you inadvertently sent the wrong people to training (Sin IV). Whatever you identify as the root cause, structured curriculum is essential to developing efficient and competent teams.

Sin VI: The “Perfect” Class

All we need is: the latest technology; one kind of training; this curriculum we made five years ago; one class for each topic, and our training program will be a success!

Every organization I’ve belonged to, CADD Microsystems included, has experienced some form of paralysis in the name of perfection. Despite blogging for more than a decade, I still find myself in the trap of perfecting a post before I publish it. Several discarded drafts preceded the post you’re reading right now. Each was probably good enough for publication, but none ascended to the personal bar I’ve imposed upon myself. If you find mistakes in this post, it’s because I headed my own advice, and pressed the publish button instead of seeking perfection.

As professionals who take pride in our work, we want things to be perfect. The reality is there will always be a better workstation, other types of training, a variety of curriculums, or something else we perceive as better than what we have today. Instead of seeking perfection, compliment the best training you have with a culture of analyzing results and adapting to the emerging needs such analysis uncovers.

Sin VII: Establishing A Finish Line, But No Mileposts

We can just tell our staff that they need to be experts in this when they are done, and they can fill in the blanks on their own, successfully finding their way to the finish line.

I ask two fundamental questions of my students at the start of every class I teach at CADD Microsystems. The first question is about each student’s prior experience with the software, and the second question is about what they expect to get out of the class they’re attending. The answers I receive to these questions are invaluable to me as an instructor since they not only let me know where a student is starting from but more importantly – where they’re trying to go. As their instructor, my job is to establish a roadmap of sorts that will take them to the destination they expect to reach from attending my class. I personally employ numerous strategies to achieve this, but the first is always introducing the curriculum in a way that aligns with my students desired outcome of the class. It’s important to note, I’m not changing the makeup or structure of the course in this exercise, I’m merely establishing mileposts that relate to each student’s stated objectives for the class.

As an instructor, the challenge I often face in this practice is students simply don’t know what they hope to take away from the class they’re attending. An all-too-common response I receive sounds something like “I just started with the company a few weeks ago, we do xyz type of design, but I’m not too familiar with our drawings just yet.” There’s a battery of other similar responses, but the takeaway as an instructor is the same; no mileposts were established for the student before training.

If a person is attending an AutoCAD training class, it’s probably safe to assume the finish line is to know AutoCAD, but what milepost should they reach by the end of the class? What milepost in their journey to mastering AutoCAD should they reach a month after training, six months after training? These are answers my experience has shown many trainees have little-to-no insight into, but yet are critical to their long-term success.

Conclusion

Delivering effective training is both a dynamic and incredibly unique to each organization. The training team at CADD Microsystems has decades of experience helping organizations both large and small achieve their professional development goals. In this post we’ve outlined the seven deadly sins of corporate training programs shared during our presentation at Autodesk University 2017. The subsequent posts in this series will focus on strategies for overcoming these sins, plus how to assemble them into a comprehensive training program. In the meantime, what corporate training sins did we miss, and how has your organization addressed them? Let us know in the comments below.

  1. No animals, including but not limited to camels, were harmed in the creation of this blog post.

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