Tyler Robinson is the Chairman of the Executive Board for Young Government Leaders, and Portfolio Risk Officer at the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
You are walking down the hall in your office when you see a manager and an employee hunched over a computer discussing how they are going to put together a presentation for their senior executive by the end of the day. It may just seem like another day at the office trying to beat a deadline and get a deliverable out the door, but what you are really witnessing is training.
What is training? The dictionary defines it as “a process by which someone is taught the skills that are needed for an art, profession, or job.” In our example, the manager has put together these presentations many times and is sharing their knowledge on some of the things they have learned. This is not to be done in a micromanaging way, but in the spirit of helping the employee put together a quality product.
Most of us have spent a couple decades in formal education, but what happens after we enter the workforce? Does the need to be taught skills go away? Certainly not, and I believe there are two main buckets for being trained. One is on-the-job training, learning from those within the organization or learning by doing. The other is outside training. If you consider training as only sending someone away for a couple days, I would argue that you are missing a golden opportunity to teach your employees skills while they are at work, generally for little to no cost. In an age of sequestration and tight budgets that last point can’t be understated.
Before implementing any training activities, consider the needs of your employees. In the 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, just under 50 percent said they believe their training needs are assessed. One way to aid in this assessment is to divide your employees’ needs into two areas: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are those measurable skills that allow the employee to do their job. Soft skills deal more with interpersonal skills.
Identified hard skills can be the topic of your training; identified soft skills can be the delivery mechanism for that training.
Below is one exercise you can try with your team to improve one hard skill and two soft skills at the same time. Identify one person on your team who is an expert in a particular hard skill. Ask him or her to prepare a short presentation (5-10 minutes) for you next staff meeting. Work with the person and help as needed. Practicing beforehand is beneficial.
Next, at the staff meeting, have this person get up and give their presentation and have each team member ask one or two questions at the end. Along with asking a question or two, have each team member write a short paraphrase of the presentation.
This is doing a few things. It is sharing some technical knowledge amongst your staff, it is sharpening the communication skills of the presenter, and it is enhancing the active listening skills of your staff. You can rotate and have a different person give a presentation at subsequent meetings so everyone can grow in each area.
This safe environment to practice communicating and active listening is especially important for your younger employees, as they may not get many other opportunities to brief leadership on projects until they become more senior. When that time comes, you want them ready and comfortable. Also, listening is a skill, I find myself at times coming to conclusions and thinking of how I am going to respond before someone has finished talking. Taking time to practice listening may seem easy, but it can be difficult. Being required to both paraphrase the presentation and ask a couple questions helps one understand what is being said and respond accordingly. At Young Government Leaders we have noticed that our members want more and more training, especially in the area of soft skills. We are in the process of creating YGL University to help in this area and invite you to come along for the journey and take every day opportunities to develop your staff.