Friday, March 9, 2018

Building a Training Strategy

By Elaine Carr, CPLP

Several years ago while interviewing for my job at ICMI, an employee asked me, “What’s the biggest training obstacle for contact centers?” I thought for sure this must be a trick question. The answer is just so obvious. When I answered, “Getting people off the phones to do training,” the interviewer threw her hands in the air indicating I scored a touchdown. I would still answer the question the same way today. One thing that will help, though, is having a training strategy.

A training strategy is a plan for what training is needed and an action plan for how that training will be accomplished. It should be part of a greater corporate strategy, or at least the contact center strategy. It should encompass all employees, and not just new hires or just agents. Too often contact centers resort to just providing new hire training and then—maybe—additional training only when things change (like procedures, systems, new products, etc.) or when performance slips quite a bit. A training strategy helps the focus remain on improving skills at all points and keeping performance improving rather than only reacting when it slips.

To create a training strategy, begin by understanding your business. I don’t mean understand training or understand contact centers, although both are important. You need to understand the entire business in which the contact center exists. Look at it’s mission, vision, and goals, and its strategic plan. Make sure you understand what they really mean, what the organization is trying to accomplish, and how the organization makes money. Your training strategy needs to be aligned with what the organization is trying to accomplish and what the contact center is trying to accomplish. Training should be a major enabler in achieving the organization’s goals, so you have to understand those goals thoroughly.

The next step is too look at what the contact center needs in order to help the organization achieve its goals. What skills are missing? What skills aren’t needed now but might be needed in the future? Work with other leaders to assess their major concerns, understand your customers’ evolving needs, and know the existing competency levels of employees. This is a basic needs analysis conducted on a wider scale than just a single course or single program.

You will also need to assess what training resources you have. What training staff do you have and what are their capabilities? Consider facilities, open social networks, employee engagement, subject matter experts available, supportive leaders, and supportive learning technologies. Also consider external resources that you might be able to bring into play. Be realistic here. If your training staff doesn’t have the skills to train effectively or you don’t have much support from other managers and leaders, you will not be able to accomplish as much and may have to scope your strategy differently, beginning slowly and developing the support and resources that you need.

You probably have more on your list of needs than you can realistically accomplish, or at least can’t accomplish all at one time. So you have to prioritize your efforts. Where is the need the greatest or where will filling the gap be most impactful? What are some easy wins that might help you get more support? Where might you be able to recombine resources to make them more effective or to spread them out further? Prioritizing means being creative and realistic about what you can do. It creates focus.

Be sure to include other leaders throughout the contact center in making your priorities. This will help them support your final action plan. The action plan should include back-up plans and approach how and when training will be provided, and what happens when volume requires training to be stopped or delayed. That’s where real creativity is required! Can you do a series of short 10-minute elearning units so that agents don’t have to be away from work for very long at one time? Can you create blended learning that involves several types of instruction broken into smaller bits? Instead of doing training, can you develop a job aid that will help fill the gap? Can you incorporate some of the training into the team’s huddle meetings? Will providing resources to supervisors for better coaching address the need? Be sure to consider everyone and not just the agents. New and experienced supervisors have very different training needs that often get overlooked. Managers and business analysts also have different training needs.

Be sure to think about the future and not just the present. Otherwise, by the time you execute the training strategy it will be outdated, and you will no longer be addressing current needs. That reminds me of the freeway construction that never ends – once one end is finished, they start all over again at the other end because traffic has outgrown the infrastructure. We aren’t fortune tellers, but we do have to be thinking ahead and making educated guesses about what the workforce will need tomorrow.

When you have an action plan in place, make sure to distribute it and make it known. If you can come up with a visionary statement to summarize and focus people on the training strategy, all the better. Get it put on some signs, on the intranet, and wherever else it can be visible so that everyone is focused on it.

Of course, we work in contact centers, so we are never done with an action plan. Our work requires flexibility, so we must have back-ups plans and we must regularly re-assess and re-plan as circumstances change. I would look at the training strategy at least quarterly and annually do a re-assessment and overhaul.

People and the needs of the contact center (and thereby, the needs of the organization) are at the heart of a good training strategy. Having one helps move training from hit or miss efforts with new hires to an effective approach for all employees. Training is one of those things that has proven very effective at increasing employee engagement, and a good training strategy helps make effective training with engaged employees a reality.

A professional in the training arena for more than 25 years, Elaine has 18 years’ experience in the contact center industry. She has both outsourced (domestically and internationally) contact center services and worked in companies doing the outsourced work. The variety of business that she has experienced in the contact center world includes financial services, incentives, transportation, government, healthcare, insurance, retail, and utility services, giving her a wide-ranging view of the industry. She is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) and holds a Master (Level 3) Gamification Certification from Sententia. Currently, Elaine utilizes her contact center and training experience at ICMI and HDI as the Group Instructional Design Manager.

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