Technology needs education over training

By Joel Allyne
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/05/2001

No one would dream of being sent to the Olympics without years of training. And yet companies often send employees and team members into the fray with little or no training other than “on-the-job” or “spot” training.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the implementation of systems — of all sizes and scopes — from the personal desktop computer to large enterprise-wide applications and systems such as SAP or PeopleSoft.

The average ERP implementation project has an estimated total cost of ownership of $15 million and takes 23 months, according to the Meta Group. The long list of ERP failures is well documented in the trade press. One thing is common in all these cases: after the fact, most organizations recognize the importance of training in the success and failure of these projects.

On the end-user technology side, the deployment of desktop computers is often done with little consideration for training. Most end users learn a little about the software and often use 10 to 20 per cent of the features and functionality available. They learn enough to get started and never get out of that bubble of comfort. Why bother upgrading to the newest and latest versions?

Total cost of ownership was developed to document trends in information infrastructure costs. It’s been determined that the cost of putting a desktop PC on a person’s desk is about $30,000 over the lifetime of the machine — far more than the upfront cost to buy it.

This includes hardware, software, training, maintenance, support, documentation and so on. Similar models have been developed for mainframe-based or client-server applications running on larger machines. In some cases, training accounts for 15 to 25 per cent of the total cost of ownership but is often not harnessed in an organized fashion.

So how can you give your organization a better than average chance of success? Here are some tips:

Match training to time with implementation. Research shows that individuals forget much of what they learn over time unless learning is supported by use. The adage “use it or lose it” applies. The further apart training is from actual system usage, the less effective this investment is.

Give training context. The traditional “this field shows this; this option/button does that” training has been found to be rather worthless overall. Training should give users context that allows them to understand the flow of information across the business and their role in the information chain.

Focus on why versus how. Education teaches people “why, where, who and when.” Training is about “how.” People need to be educated rather than trained. Indeed, the very nature of progressive management techniques, such as empowerment, requires a focus on education rather than on training.

Utilize different techniques for different learners where possible. Research shows that each person learns in a different way. One such theory, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), tells us that some people are strongly visual: they learn best by seeing colour pictures, videotapes or graphics. Others like to hear information and may learn best while listening to music. A large percentage of the population is kinesthetic, learning best through physical movement. While it may not be possible to cater to each person individually, training materials should vary the way cases and examples are presented to give equal opportunity to various learning styles.

Tailor training to match business processes and business models. Out-of-the-box training often does not provide organizational context. Wherever possible, put training in terms staff can understand — in the context of their old and new (or expected) business processes.

Consider a variety of techniques to meet training needs. Video, classroom and computer-based training (both desktop and Web-based) are available to organizations of all sizes. These technologies augment classroom training and allow you to consider a full range of options:

•individual training on demand;

•telephone “walk-through” training — with the user at his or her desk — utilizing remote control software;

•specific training for small groups — at implementation and upon request; and

•tutorials and instructional guides (print or web).

Use help centres to support training efforts. There is an old Zen saying: “when the mind is ready a teacher appears.” Context-sensitive help and help centres support this goal when used effectively.

Use your intranet to share ideas and tips. Cross-learning between individuals can be shared verbally or documented more rigorously. The more formal this sharing of “learning” the better.

Formalize training for new staff. Replacements and turnover are a fact of life in most organizations. Make sure you have ways to bring new team members up to speed — even after the trainers have come and gone.

Make training program a continual one. Learning doesn’t stop when the class is over. Indeed, some of the best learning takes place in the field, where users put learning to the test. PC users can learn a lot by experimenting or even paying attention to tips — learning one new thing at a time.

In summary, whether you are implementing ERP systems or deploying desktop (or laptop) computers, the cost of training over the lifetime of the system or the machine is significant. Maximizing the effectiveness of training is key to getting the most out of this technology. Make training a priority — not an afterthought.

Joel Alleyne, CMC, is chairman and CEO of Crucible Management Solutions Inc. and a member of the Association for Creative Change and Organizational Renewal (ACCORD). He can be reached at (416) 596-9533 or by e-mail at

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