My 20 years in Corporate Training: 5 Lessons Learned

I recently got asked which is my most important experience from working with customer training at Valmet. Of course I could not name one single takeaway from an entire work life in this industry, but it got me thinking. So join me below for my current top-five list of lessons learned:

  1. One size never fits all
  2. P is for process
  3. Eyes on the real problem
  4. Tools are not content
  5. It's all about the people


One size never fits all

There is nowhere to start but here. However self-evident, it needs to be said again and again: we are all different. What works for me may not work for you - or for anyone else for that matter. These is no blueprint that solves everyone's training issues and there is no magical fix that works for everybody. So do not rely on fancy sales pitches or shiny software demos to make decisions related to the learning needs for your organization. It all starts with the needs of your organization. Nothing else.

That said, bench-marking and case studies can help you avoid costly mistakes and learning from others can provide a valuable shortcut to a perfectly designed learning path for you and your team. Look at peer companies, competitors, other industries - what do they do? Hone in on the most relevant examples and pick the cherries from the cakes. You may end up with a standard package, a customized solution or (most likely) a combination of the two. Which one it is does not matter, as long as it solves YOUR problem, not someone else's.


P is for process

Imagine you are in the middle of a busy training season. The course schedule is packed, you have invested in some new learning software and the participants are lining up for training. In the messy middle, we often lose track of the big picture. In situation like this, I have found myself doubting our entire training plan and picturing all sorts of worst case scenarios. Are we doing the right things? Will our learning investments pay off? Will these courses really help improving our operations?

This is when it helps to have a solid process in place. At Valmet we use a cycle of Map-Design-Execute-Evaluate to keep our customers' learning initiatives on track. After a course or an intense training period, it is crucial to look back and follow up. Check learning reports against the set targets and go through course evaluations for detailed feedback. Have a chat with your team to hear what they valued most from the training and which improvements they would like to see.

If all is good, you can tap yourself on the back and celebrate work well done. If there are issues or uncertainties, roll up your sleeves and find out how things can be improved. You may have to put in some extra work, but you will gain valuable insights that will save time and improve quality the next time around. It will be worth it.


Eyes on the real problem

As much as I would like to think that appropriate training is the supreme problem solver, I know it will never be. Remember to step back and verify that the problem you are trying to fix is actually related to learning. Maybe the software training you are planning will not change the fact that you are using the wrong tool for the task at hand. Maybe all training in the world will not change the fact that your equipment is outdated. In both cases training may help you getting by from day to day, but it will not solve the root cause of your problems.

Once you are sure that what you need is to develop the skills and competence of your personnel, roll up your sleeves and get started. If you are not sure, there are plenty of companies like Valmet, who can help you find out. Bottom line: Identify the problem, design a training program that will take you towards a solution, and you are geared up for success.


Tools are not content

I'm a techie and an early adopter. I'm like a child at Christmas Eve whenever I get to try out a new software or gadget. It is in my nature to believe that this new thing will make my life so much easier / solve all my problems / bring me huge amounts of joy / etc. Yet I have learned (sometimes the hard way) that not even the best technical platform in the world can compensate for poor content. Yes, it is nice to work with a smooth user interface and a well thought-through data architecture, but it really does not help if there is nothing to learn.

So whenever you evaluate a new tool or solution, try to look beyond shiny designs and nice-to-have features, and make sure you get the content you need. A castle in the air will not help you build knowledge and expertise. On a good day, it may "only" cause you additional cost. Worst case scenario, it is counter-productive, has negative impact on learner engagement and may prevent you from reaching your targets.


It's all about the people

Have you ever been listening to a really good presenter? Someone who gets your full attention and who can explain the most complex problems in a way that the audience can understand and appreciate?

Learning is communication, and communication is all about the people. Sometimes an old-fashioned lecture is a better learning solution than any digital tool available. On-the-job learning, mentoring, coaching - there are numerous learning methods involving human interactions also outside the classroom. In my experience, we often get the best results when combining digital tools with instructor-led learning. The options are endless. Getting that "human touch" can help motivating and pushing learners to go the extra mile. We're all human, after all.

I may come back some day with more details on these topics. Until then, I'm excited to learn whether you have similar experiences. What is your number one takeaway from learning initiatives in the workplace?


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