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Training done right: Effective communication the key

Good training has always been important in the workplace, but today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world of work makes training more important than ever. Changing technology requires frequent skill updates for employees at all levels of an organization. And certainly supervisors need training on new laws affecting the workplace and refreshers on old ones. 

But just gathering employees for a canned video or poorly prepared in-person presentation may not be worth the time and effort. Training that truly adds value requires solid communication, and that calls for consideration of interpersonal skills and finesse in word choice.

For example, Michael P. Maslanka, an attorney with with FisherBroyles, LLP in Dallas, Texas, and an assistant professor at the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law, takes a lead from Mark Twain, who once explained that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

“Let’s say that one employee needs to apologize to another. The wrong way: ‘I’m sorry if you took my comments the wrong way.’” Maslanka calls that a non-apology. A real apology would go something like: “I am sorry for what I did (or said).”

Gestures also are part of effective communication. How trainers use their hands affects how they get their points across. For example, if a speaker wants to stress one point, holding up one finger as a visual can emphasize the point, Maslanka says. Or if a trainer wants to point out three ideas, holding up three fingers can get the audience’s attention. Those gestures can help people remember “much better than some PowerPoint slide,” he says.

Maslanka says too many trainers try to cram too much into a training session, and skillful use of words and gestures won’t fix that problem. “People can generally remember just three things,” he says. “Think about what are the three most important points and talk about them. Save the other stuff for another training session.”

Tips for success
Training efforts can be disappointing if not carefully thought out. An article on Business and Legal Resources’ Training Today website outlines a number of tips for effective training sessions, including:

  • Set training goals with a committee that includes top management.
  • Align training goals with the company’s strategic and financial goals.
  • Set up an accountability system to measure the effectiveness of trainers and trainees. Also, determine whether trainers successfully communicate information and whether trainees successfully apply what they’ve learned.
  • Design a schedule that includes ongoing training.
  • Always have a representative from upper management on the training committee to ensure that training is an integral part of the organization’s present and future plans for success.

Supervisor training crucial
Employees at all levels need training, but training supervisors on an organization’s legal responsibilities and potential liabilities should be high on the list of training needs. Julie A. Moore, an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Morgantown, West Virginia, wrote of the importance of supervisor training in the February 2017 issue of West Virginia Employment Law Letter.

“In addition to being the ‘eyes and ears’ of HR and senior management, frontline supervisors can also be your company’s ‘voice,’” Moore wrote. “Accordingly, when it comes to employment issues, supervisors can either be your first line of defense, if they’re well trained, or a walking liability, if they’re untrained or poorly trained.”

Wage and hour law is one of the areas supervisors need to understand, Moore says, since wage and hour lawsuits “are difficult to defend because, unlike discrimination or retaliation claims, they don’t require proof of an unlawful motive or intent.” Supervisors need to be trained on state and federal overtime laws, the difference between exempt and nonexempt status, and the employer’s timekeeping requirements, she says. They also need tips for preventing off-the-clock work and managing unauthorized overtime work.

Harassment is another top issue requiring training. “One reason harassment training is important is the liability that can be pinned on an employer if it knew or should have known about harassment but failed to take immediate and appropriate action to end the misconduct,” Moore wrote. “An employer will be deemed to have known about harassing conduct if a supervisor is aware of the harassment.”

Moore also emphasizes the danger of skipping training because it seems too time-consuming and costly. “The time and expense of training your supervisors pales in comparison to the time and expense of defending a lawsuit,” she wrote. “A day of quality supervisor training is easily worth a year (or more) of time spent defending a lawsuit that could have been avoided had your manager handled the underlying situation properly.”