The Fours Cornerstones of Outstanding Software Training

August 4, 2022
Dave O'Connell
I’ve been in multiple enterprise level software training departments over my years in adult education both as a trainer and a leader – Nextel Communications, Northrop Grumman, Aptify, Community Brands, Nimble AMS – and one of the most consistent underestimated aspects of training is the amount of time it takes to build excellent (not just acceptable) instruction. In series I’m releasing Monday thru Thursday this week – one per day - I’ll cover of the four cornerstones that I believe constitute Outstanding Software Training.

FIRST Cornerstone of Outstanding Training – Solid Agenda Creation

Sounds simple, right? Not so much if the effort is on a large, multi-faceted system that affects multiple departments. That takes planning, and planning means MEETINGS, and not just simple one-off, “Here’s what we need”, meetings – you need meetings where you get into the guts of what you want the software to do for EACH audience/department/function it is targeting. So that effort, in turn, means you need your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from those departments in those meetings as well. And they need to know what they want. So, when do you target that meeting? At the beginning of the software implementation? Do they get a tour first, so they know what the “new” software can do? Or, are they already using the solution…but, maybe they don’t really realize ALL it can do – they only think they do…hmm. Well, a great trainer figures that out, they ask all “those” questions and they have comprehensive knowledge of the solution so they can figure out the gaps. That is what you are looking for…a trainer that will not just take the path of least resistance, one that will fight for an agenda that makes sense for the client.

SECOND Cornerstone of Outstanding Training – Non-Generic Training

This is a tough one. But NOT as complicated as it might seem. Most enterprise level solutions have core of functionality that behaves the same regardless of what client adopts it…after all, that is WHY the client buys it, because of the way it works! Often clients fall in love with the idea that they are unique…and they are, but not because of how of an enterprise level system works. They are distinct because of who they serve and how they serve them. So, in terms of the AMS they adopt, those solutions all have the same core components in common: Membership, Events/Meetings, Donations, Committees, Subscriptions, etc. – All AMS’s cover those elements regardless of whether they call them something different. So, for a trainer to create training that is non-generic – ON the client’s data, WITH the client’s specific configurations (and yes, gulp, some “customizations”) - takes, an effort to learn only about 20% of something “new”. Yep, just about 20%. In other words, they already “know” 80% of the client’s solution, by way of being familiar with the AMS software’s core functionality. So, the offering of “custom” training is not as involved as it might seem – especially if the trainer is knowledgeable on that platform. Granted, it does take dedication, and meetings, and more emails and agenda drafts by clients and trainers to get it exact. But the solution is well worth it - custom solutions are much more digestible and memorable than “generic”! They are relevant, include examples and real-life scenarios that will resonate with the audience, and just “make sense”, as I’ve heard many attendees of such training declare. So, find a training solution that delivers custom – and does it well and comprehensively, it is WELL worth it!

THIRD Cornerstone of Outstanding Training – Thoroughness

And what I mean here, is on the trainer’s part. And by thoroughness, I mean focus on the details and a tenacity to get them. And whether that doggedness is in developing an agenda, creating detailed instructor notes, constructing an initial intro ppt, or the organization and tracking of the 50 emails/texts/Slack entries, etc. sailing back and forth. A great Trainer must KNOW the details, and to know them, they MUST be thorough. After all, they have to deliver those details back to their training audience; they are teaching them how to do their job in this new software – and that is a huge responsibility. Remember, from that trainer, your employees/team/co-workers get their first comprehensive look at how the software should work for your company/org/association – you want it to be excellent – you want it to inspire them to learn it. And to do that, you want a trainer that pulls the granular business process details out of the client appointed SMEs. And that take focus and tenacity. Let me provide you a graphic example. If you take a typical End User level course, let’s say it is an Introduction to __________AMS software. And this course is a pre-configuration, “let me show you what the software can do” general audience type of class. The entire effort to create that training might involve about 20 -30 pages of detailed instructor notes. And that means that the instructor must build step by steps for ALL processes with detailed, but generic examples that display the capabilities of the software. Now imagine this NOT the pre-configuration, “tour”, which can be “generic”, “canned”, and “pre-built” for repetition…no, no, this is the week before Go-Live, we just sunk 100 gazillion dollars (or at least, it feels like it!) into this brand new, shiny software solution for our End Users, and we need them to know EXACTLY what they need to do next Monday for our Association to continue to exist, type of training! No pressure, right?! And let’s take one important process, for instance, “in order to purchase a new membership subscription in____________ software, you must execute the following 20 steps”. And the effort to get those steps takes 2 recorded conversations with SMEs and an exchange of drafts…now, multiple that times all the configured processes that have been done to the system in the Implementation AND add in the incorporation of the client’s unique data! You have some serious WORK! And you are going to need someone thorough and tenacious enough to get it. Well, you better, if you want adoption. You better have a trainer that takes exact notes, with exact values, leading to exact outcomes, and is thorough, tenacious, and focused on the details to get them. So, research carefully, does your trainer/training org do that? Are they capable of that? Are they thorough enough to create successful training?

FOURTH Cornerstone of Outstanding Training - A Dedicated Educator

This is often the MOST overlooked aspect of a great training deployment. To be clear, you can have the previous four of the foundations of great training dialed in perfectly: a solid agenda, non-generic training, and a thorough, focused, and detail-oriented leader, but if you don’t have someone with classroom experience, that knows how to deliver in front of an audience (and, let’s face it, sometimes a skeptical one), the whole effort could fall apart. C’mon, have you ever had a BAD presenter, trainer, or teacher?! Everyone has! – remember how that class/training went? Remember how people felt leaving, or even during? So, before you say, “Ah, we’ll just have the IT department deliver it”, or, “We’ll have Bob/Suzy whose the SME in _________department deliver it” and save a few bucks…ask yourself, “How’s that worked out for ya?” Do Bob/Suzy have vast experience dealing with platform training? Is that part of their, “job description”… when you hired them, did you let them know they might be taking on training of a major software deployment? Heck – are they even comfortable in front of an audience (Oh, and you might think they are, but Google the number one fear of people in America…yep, speaking in front of groups - personally, I go with spiders…ugh!)? Do they understand classroom dynamics? Have they studied the distinctions of how a kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learner comprehend content AND accommodated that in their training? (And yes, there are 500 different theories on learning styles… but do they know ANY of them?) Have they built labs/exercises? Did they do a Pre-Assessment of knowledge? Are they offering Post Assessments of both comprehension and training effectiveness? And hey, while we are at it, are they proficient in turning training into videos and asynchronously digestible content (Yes, that’s here to stay, just ask your millennial staff members – and it is a GOOD thing)? And I’m not talking, “Yes, I recorded the Zoom meeting, and you can wade through 5 hours of monotone to find the 3 minutes on How to issue a CC refund”. No, can they break that training up into 5-10 min videos that are clearly labeled and easy to find. Be nice to have, huh?! Get a trainer/Org that can do all of THOSE. If you don’t, you are short-changing the very people who make your organization purr, your end users.
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