Not all training is the same, nor should it be. Teaching soft skills is not the same as showing someone what happens when they flip this switch or unplug that cord. Even the reasons for holding a training event differ. While few like to admit it, the main objective of some classes is to have offered it. However, there are classes that are taught where true learning is imperative. This is where the dissimilarities begin to evaporate, especially for those companies that manufacture or produce a technical product.
Compare your company's organizational development (OD) training with your customer and product training and you may find large and inconsistent gaps between the two. Compare the results of the applied learning from these classes and you are likely to find little difference.
Certain soft skills are imperative to the success of a company, while technical product knowledge is required to increase sales, expand value, and augment profitability. Soft skills are required by the court of public opinion, while technical skills are required by the court of customer application.
Many companies invest large amounts of money into employee development and talent management because they understand that talent development is a key factor in talent and intellectual property retention. Much of their efforts go into making sure the right training is given to the right people. They develop precise and comprehensive agendas and metrics, and create detailed processes that guide them to their end goals. But those goals are almost never the satisfactory completion of a particular class or program alone. They are observed and mentored on the job, and their evaluation of real-life situations is a critical component of their successful talent development.
OD instructors have an advantage, of course. Mentors and supervisors are part of the program as well. But if they have proven results, why are we so slow to adopt these same rigorous methodologies in customer training, and even less so when that training is merely technical training on our own products?
Perhaps the two principal reasons are that we fail to truly understand our audience, and we fail to understand how adults learn. We are all too quick to give a subject matter expert (SME) the task of teaching a technical topic without worrying about how true learning really happens. An assumption is made that often has negative results: Knowledge can be distributed and the one with more of it has more to dole out. We mix up facts with the comprehension of those facts.
A very young child can impress us by stating that 2 + 2 = 4. If, however, that learning is a mere repetition of something she has heard over and over, we may have well "taught" her a much more complex (and more impressive) algebra equation. Technical training programs, as much as any other type of training, must emphasize learning philosophies that maximize long-term retention and future development. Failing to do it well not only will decrease the value of the training, but can be detrimental to the success of the product itself.
Know your audience needs
I have trained or managed product training for several companies, and have networked with numerous trainers from companies large and small during my career. There seems to be a common thread between the companies that get it right and the companies that struggle to train their customers on their products.
More often than not, the companies that struggle want to provide one training class on their product. Don't bother trying to define the audience; the answer is almost always the same: everyone. Some will argue that they don't go as deep when training a sales team as they do when training a more technical audience. That is a good start, but merely stopping a class before it gets too deep is not truly understanding one's audience.
To be fair, there may be some products that are so basic that a one-size-fits-all approach does work. …