MonthApril 2017

How to Improve Training

I had a long talk with a co-worker today about training for WebEx. There are training classes being offered and a need for people to take training based on the calls to our help desk. However, people are not signing up for the training sessions. He wanted to pick my brain to see if I had any ideas on what they could do to encourage more people to attend training.

I wish I had recorded what I told him since I was overflowing with ideas, having given this a lot of thought in my former job when I was a team of one and had to streamline my training efforts and education to a large user community.

The ideas here are about training adults to use WebEx in a government environment. But many of these ideas can be tweaked and applied to your own user community.

Find Your Allies

Somewhere in your organization people know who needs training. If you’re at a loss where to begin, start with managers or team leaders. They’ll know who could use training because they need the help or can find power users who want training. In many groups there’s a go-to person for, in this case, WebEx. They’re the unofficial support person and person everyone relies on for help.

They’re also a valuable source of information. They can tell you where they struggle and what trips people up. Is training unclear on a topic? Is that topic missed in the training? Does the training reflect reality?

Finding these power users and getting an email correspondence going, or sitting down for a 15 minute call or meeting can teach you more about what you need to be doing than weeks of struggling on your own. Everyone uses WebEx differently.

When I schedule training with a group of users, the first thing I try to find out is how do you use the tool? Because everyone uses it differently depending on their job. An Administrative Assistant scheduling for an Executive is going to use it very differently from an A/V Support professional managing a large meeting space.

Find the Pain Points

Everyone struggles with technology. The secret to better training is to find where people struggle then lessen their struggle. Talk to your super users. Talk to your new hires. A fresh set of eyes can help spot a problem you’ve overlooked because you’re so familiar with the system and its quirks.

Do you know it can take up to 24 hours for a recorded WebEx session to become available to the host? Or that certain elements such as the Multimedia Panel are not captured in the WebEx recording? What about the audio solution(s) available? Do they have the same attendee limit as your WebEx system or will you need multiple options to reach capacity? Can you accommodate international participants?

People try to help themselves before calling for help. Make sure all available documentation is up to date. Especially in large organizations, information can get siloed into different places. There may be a set of documents on an Intranet site. A SharePoint site may contain a different version of those documents. Got a Wiki? Well, those may be different as well. Be sure you’re telling everyone the same thing.

I’ve walked into situations where I had a user tell me there was a set of documentation they used I never knew existed before that moment. It’s good to get a handle on what is available to your user community. If you need to, ask them. If someone tells you “that’s not what the documentation here says”, ask them where they’re looking and get it updated or corrected.

Schedule Conflicts and Geography

Live trainings are great. There’s no better experience than being in the room with a trainer and learning in person. That may sound weird coming from someone who supports and lives in WebEx, Jabber, Lync and other collaboration technologies all day. But I still feel there’s no better way to learn something new than sitting in the room where you can look the trainer in the eye and ask questions.

That’s a perfect world. For many people, they’re never going to get into the room with the trainer. Even if the training is offered remotely through WebEx, GoToMeeting or another tool. There are still some people who will never make it to a training session.

Geography plays a big role in large organizations. Do not schedule an 8am training in Washington, DC if you expect your Seattle office to join. It’s 5am there! The problem is only compounded if you are catering to an international audience.

Even without geographical constraints, there are people in the same building who will never make a live (or online) training due to their job. Remember those Administrative Assistants? They may have a hard time blocking an hour of their time to better learn a tool they use daily, because it’s not directly part of their job. Anyone who works phone support may not be able to leave that phone. And there are still others who will simply have conflicts of all sorts during the scheduled training times.

On-Demand Content

The solution for these folks is to create content for them to consume on their schedule. Are you holding a training class? Record it with WebEx or another tool and make the recording available? Create documentation (and I am not talking about the slide deck from the training class.) Create documents that stand on their own and do not need a presenter to explain their contents.

Even more valuable than a recorded live session if you’re able to manage it, is to record a session with the trainer without a live audience that is just the content. While question can be helpful in a live session, there can also be interruptions, audio issues and other distractions which detract from the content that make it frustrating to watch.

If the user has set aside time specifically to learn this content, make that content as valuable as possible. Cut out the 15 minute introduction before the presenter gets started. If there a break for a group activity in the training? Edit that out. It’s easy to take a recording of a live session and put it online for those who could not attend to watch. But there is often a large amount of dead air while people work in groups or take bathroom breaks.

The person watching the session doesn’t need to spend an hour on a recording that only has 35 minutes of actual training. Respect their time.

Target a specific group

Targeting a specific group can be useful if you’re trying to improve your training for the organization at-large or simply want to offer better training to that community. A couple of groups I identified as good places to start for WebEx are:

  • Administrative Assistants
  • Trainers
  • Help Desk
  • A/V Support
  • WebEx Support Group

In your organization, there are people who use and interact with your tool differently. By identifying them, you’ll see weak spots in your information or training you never knew existed. It’s important to talk to people with all varying levels of comfort with the tool.

Since WebEx training is my example, here is how I would target these groups to better serve them.

  • Administrative Assistants

They’re going to see weird edge cases. Executives are going to have mobile devices and different models of hardware than many other users. If there’s an incompatibility in a product, they are going to find it.

This is also a group who lives in other people’s calendars and email all day long. They’re my experts on how WebEx works in Outlook when scheduling for another user. They do this all day. They’ll know where the shortcomings are and where the system breaks down.

  • Trainers

Other trainers are a valuable resource. Especially in my field since WebEx is our tool for meetings, it’s often used for trainings as well. Ask other trainers where they struggle. Find out what questions they have or where people who attend their trainings have problems.

They’re a group who is already focused on teaching skills to other people and they’ll have their own outlook on the tools they use to do the work.

  • Help Desk / WebEx Support / A/V Support Staffs

I’m lucky enough to work in a place with a dedicated WebEx Support group. Your Help Desk may be the catch-all for all things broken. These people are a treasure trove of information about problems in the organization. No matter what you want to train people on, your Help Desk has information you need.

Who else talks to the user community every single day? There are always people within your help desk who are anxious and willing to share what they know with you. (And many times, nobody is asking them.) It’s a resource that gets overlooked. Anything the help desk staff is able to teach you about training or supporting your users will in turn help them out.

The fewer calls they get, they more time they have to focus on other problems. If there’s a recurring issue with your application, the help desk will know about it (and will be cursing your name as they field their 100th call for the week about it.)

Talk to your support staff, open a dialog with members of the team, or work with the help desk managers. They will be able to find members of the help desk who will be able to help with providing ongoing information to make your training better and lessen their workload.

Vary Training Topics

Often times, there’s a perceived need to offer the same introductory training all the time. There are always new hires to your organization or people new to your particular application. While there is value in getting those people introduced to the tool, you lose everyone else.

Remember those power users? They’ll never attend your training because they know how to use the tool. They want to use the tool better. Even people who are not power users, but want to learn more will not repeat the same training over and over. But if give them a reason to come back, they will.

I gave a couple of examples of how you could vary the schedule for a weekly WebEx training session. There are three different “Centers” in WebEx. They each have a purpose and a feature set which makes them stronger in some scenarios than others.

The Meeting Center is for meetings. Imagine everyone around a conference room table. Everyone has the same privileges and there’s no hierarchy of control.

The Event Center is for events. This allows a set of panelists to have greater rights such as an open phone line and share their webcams with a large number of attendees who are muted and unable to share video.

The Training Center offers features for training such as the ability to virtually break a single conference phone line into multiple groups for smaller discussions.

There is more than enough content to cover each of these centers in an hour-long session. There are the first three weeks of your month. Each week, a different topic. For the fourth week, offer a deep-dive into a specific topic.

How does closed captioning work? Tell me everything I need to know about recording, converting and sharing my meeting. How could I manage large events better? Hold a session for the 10 Tips to Make Your WebEx Better! Open the time for a Q&A session where anyone can join to ask questions and either answer them on the spot or follow-up in a later session. (You just got your next session’s content!)

Create a calendar

For WebEx, it’s easy to cycles through those 3 centers on a monthly of bi-monthly basis. Then fill in the weeks in between with special sessions into a single topic. It’s just as important to tell people ahead of time what to expect and when. I may not care about Training Center because I’ll never use it, but Event Center sounds like it will solve my problems with attendees unmuting their phones and talking in a meeting with 350 people.

This is also a perfect opportunity to see what new features or changes are coming and work those into your training before they happen. People hate change. Especially if it’s a tool they’ve come to rely on and have developed muscle memory about how it works and where menus are. Even for something as simple as an interface change, that could be enough to focus on for an entire session.

The idea with offering different content is to reach the greatest number of users. So make a calendar and publicize that calendar. Make sure people know what is coming up. Take note of what popular topics are and what few people use. Then change-up your schedule or training accordingly.

Listen and Learn

Every time I host a training, I always learn something new. I see a new problem no one ever reports to our support group. I learn a new way to use the tool I had never considered (because everyone uses tools for different things). I learn where my flaws in training are and how to improve them.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your training, take the time to look and listen for feedback. Offer multiple ways to provide feedback. Host an open Q&A for the people who want to come to a room and meet in person. Provide your phone number for those who prefer the phone. Give your email for those who think best in text.

Your user community is a valuable resource and can give you everything you need to make their lives easier. Your task is to find those people and groups who will help you succeed. Once you start looking, they’ll start coming to you.

Rules for Email

I spend a lot of time in email. If you’re reading this, you also spend a lot of time in email. Either you’re waiting for new support requests to come in, or work to show up from your boss or you’re corresponding with friends and loved ones. Email is everywhere and it comes in like a tidal wave. It’s worth setting some ground rules with people you email.

Set Email Hours

For instance, I don’t email people outside of work hours. If I happen to look at email after work to pull some bit of information I need and I see something needing a reply, I may draft the reply and leave it as a draft. I don’t need to send that reply now.

I do this because I don’t want to teach people I am reachable by email outside of work hours. Even if it’s just one person, word spreads. If I email one person back in the evening or the weekend, it won’t be long before people are emailing me at all times for responses and expecting one.

Blind Carbon Copy (BCC)

I will let this author share my thoughts about BCC as they’re clearer than anything I’ve ever said.

There are only two legitimate uses for bcc. First, explicitly moving someone to bcc who no longer needs to be part of the ongoing exchange. Second, to send email to a large group of people by putting all of them on bcc. I strongly recommend never using bcc any other way. If you want someone to know about an email you sent, send it and then forward it…

Some Things I Have Learned About Email

That second point is particularly important. When you send email to a group using the TO or CC line, then you’re not just emailing everyone. But you’ve given everyone on that list the addresses of everyone else on that list. Even if it’s a small list, those people may not want others to know they’re part of it. Or to give up their email address.

If you have a large list, then you’re asking for a reply-all nightmare. I’ve emailed groups of 500 people before using a series of BCC emails. If you don’t, and any of those people decide to reply-all, you’ve got an email going to 500 people every. single. time.

Please take me off this list.

Thanks

I’m not going to ever reply to an email with Thanks if it’s the end of the conversation. You don’t need another email to delete from me and it doesn’t add any value to our conversation.

I’ll email a response to any questions I am being asked, or if I need something and you reply you’ll do it. I’m not going to close the thread with a Thanks. I don’t see the point of it and it annoys me when people respond with their own Thanks.

Meeting Acceptances

By default, Outlook will send an email reply when you Accept a meeting. I always opt to not send the reply back. If I decline, I respond with a reason in addition to the declined email. However, if I’m going to attend your meeting, I’m not having the system send an email. I feel about this the same way I feel about the Thanks email. It’s unnecessary.

This is a learned behavior from running a series of large meetings and training events where I find myself buried in emails. It’s no fun to return to an inbox overflowing with over 100 meeting acceptance emails. It serves no purpose other than to generate another email.

Less Email

The goal of my last two rules is to make less email. When I reply to an email, I try to be brief and consider the recipient’s time. In the same way, I don’t generate more email for them to sort through. Though many people’s inboxes have unread counts in the thousands partly because of emails like this.

I do my part to send less email and generate less email overall. I don’t see the point in adding to the growing pile of unread messages. Especially if they say “Thanks” or “I’ve accepted your meeting request.”

All Email Is Public

I don’t mean public in that hackers are going to release it, or it’s going to fall into the wrong hands. I mean people will forward email to anyone for any reason without a second thought.

If I write a reply to a question someone asks me, I assume it’s going to be forwarded in its entirety to the third-party who asked the question.

A bonus tech worker tip: Never put any note in a ticket or email you would not want the customer to read.

Nothing about email is private. I’ve had entire ticket histories emailed to customers. I’ve had co-workers and managers send along an entire conversation just the two of us were having to a larger group. The truth is you never know just how far and wide your email may go. Treat it as if it will be read by the person you least wish would read it. That way, when they do, you won’t have anything to apologize for.