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How To… 3 requirements for systems training

Information systems have arguably had a revolutionary impact on business in the last 20 years.  Can you imagine doing any job these days without a computer?  Having competent employees on information systems is a standard requirement for any business and therefore training employees on how to use the various systems is a necessary evil.  In the last couple of years companies have been less and less willing to spend time and money training on IT – it’s almost as if the expectation is that employees upskill themselves.

Here’s a story to support this view:  12 years ago the company I worked for had a separate department with 3 resources allocated exclusively to Microsoft training.  They offered courses on how to use Outlook, Word and Excel in workshops that would last up to 3 days.  Five years later, this function was discontinued because of increasing cost of training, and the company bought online courses, which was a lot cheaper and could reach more employees at the same time.  When the online licence expired 3 years later, the company discontinued this training and communicated to employees that they either had to read the manual, find help online or get a colleague to teach them.

But, we still need competent employees!  So, what is the best way to tackle this issue?  Use these 3 tips on how to train systems in your company:

Tip 1:  Start with what the user needs to be able to do.  A lot of systems training focuses on the system – the features, what it can do and where to click.  This is the wrong approach.  The system is not more important than the user.  Rather approach it from the user’s perspective.  Ask yourself:  what does the user need to achieve through the system?  Is it how to use Excel, or is it how to present information in an insightful graph to support better business decisions?  In training HR Business Partners, I focused on teaching them how to analyse business data like absenteeism and employee tenure, and included Excel in the context of how to present this information best to the business.  That was more impactful than just training graphs in Excel would have been.

Tip 2:  Integrate into the business process.  Training systems in isolation of the business process don’t allow the learner to make sense of how the system supports the business.  In a beverage company, I trained warehouse operators how to conduct a stock take.  Instead of just focusing on the handheld counting system, I included the full business process from when the stock was received, how to manage breakages and how to isolate old stock.  Only then did we cover how to use the stock count system.  This allowed the users to see the bigger picture, make better decisions and the company had less counting errors as a result.

Tip 3:  Use the learners’ own information.  The temptation is high to use generic information when designing IT training.  It’s easy just to create a universal example that will be applicable to all learners.  This will, however, decrease the effectiveness of the training.  Rather spend the effort to use the learners’ own information.  When training users on a load planning system, the training called for extensive set-up beforehand to load every learner’s data set before the training.  This included the customers, the geographic locations and the fleet of vehicles available to that load planner.  The impact on the learning effectiveness was tremendous – each learner could learn within the context of their own information, which made it easier for them to identify problems, ask questions and learn decisions that will benefit the business.

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