How to make training work for your transformation

By Emily Webber, organisational consultant and Public Digital Network member.

At Public Digital, our definition of digital isn’t just about tech. It means applying the culture, processes, business models and technologies of the internet era.

Much of our work is based around the first of those things - culture - because this is one of the hardest to change. Culture is deeply embedded and defines an organisation. Changing culture to make it suitable for the internet-era means adopting entirely new ways of doing things: being user-centred, being cross-disciplinary, and being iterative.

At its heart, it means behaviour change: changing the way people work, and the way leaders lead.

Training to support new ways of working

A large publicly funded institution recently engaged Public Digital to help them on their journey towards becoming a digital organisation. Our engagement largely focused on culture: accelerating their adoption of ways of working which are user-centred (focused around directly meeting the needs of those using services) and iterative (directed towards continuous improvement of services).

We were asked to design a training course that can help build the confidence and capability of staff in practising user-centred, iterative ways of working. The training is designed to reduce the barriers to collaboration across the organisation and establish new ways of working as part of a wider initiative to become a more digital organisation.

As a tool for guiding behaviour change, training is one of many drivers which makes culture change - and therefore digital transformation - possible. Designing tailored training for organisations is an incredibly rewarding part of our work, and we think carefully about how our clients can make best use of it, or even design their own.

Inspired by this recent engagement, here are our four key insights:

1. Think of training as just the beginning

Someone in the process of learning something new will progress gradually through stages from awareness, to novice, competent, proficient and expert, similar to those described by the Dreyfus model of skills acquisition.

Training should be positioned near the beginning of that journey: as an awareness step. The rest of the journey will be constituted by lived experience in real-world situations where the knowledge gained from training is applied and practised, and is supplemented by ongoing support.

So don’t expect training to instantly achieve culture change: the most exciting results will come from the experience which follows.

Use it to align, inspire and enable

Training can help to align people around common language and concepts to help bridge communication gaps.

At its best, training can inspire people to want to get more involved in the organisation’s digital journey. It can show them what is possible and equip them with tools to enable them to start making a difference.

2. Tell the most relevant messages for your organisation

Every organisation is different; it has its own goals, cultural norms, practices and motivations. A vital part of preparing training is ensuring it is fully tailored to your organisation.

That means prioritising concepts and streamlining the messaging within your training to focus on the most impactful concepts for the organisation’s culture.

Bring it back to what people know

Training should challenge people without alienating them. Overwhelming staff with unfamiliar concepts could mean losing some of them along the way, and once that’s happened it is difficult to bring them back.

People are more likely to respond well to messaging that is relevant and relates to concepts they already understand. One way to ensure your training is challenging rather than alienating is to test out language and ideas with small groups before delivering more widely.

Test, learn and iterate

Treat training as a service of its own. Understand who your different users are, which outcomes you are trying to achieve, and what change you would like to see happen as a result of people’s participation.

Test early and make changes to the training both as new user needs emerge and as you scale the training across the organisation.

3. Provide space for people to connect to the material and each other

Use different formats for different types of engagement

People learn best when they have the time and space to engage properly with the material. Use different formats at different times to give a more rounded training experience.

Broadcast masterclasses are great for introducing concepts at a high-level, while interactive workshops are great for giving people the opportunity to try things out and engaging them with the topics. Finally, individual and group coaching is ideal for allowing people to explore concepts within their own domain and challenges.

Allow people to learn from each other

A vital part of training is the conversation it inspires. Create opportunities for staff to share stories and learnings across the organisation. Encourage them to talk to each other during training and coaching sessions about their learnings, insights or ideas.

Consider the make-up of your training groups to encourage cross-organisational learning and sharing, and ensure there is diversity in skill sets, knowledge and experience.

4. Training takes time; take it. 

The process of culture change and digital transformation is a long journey. It can take time to work out how best to connect with and inspire people, to learn which methods work, and which messages land. It can take even longer to see tangible results of the behaviour change you are looking for.

But our experience designing and leading training in organisations has shown us how fruitful every stage of the process can be. When there is so much still to learn about how you will operate as a digital organisation, training is not about getting from A to B. It is about starting conversations, and inspiring people to think differently and creatively. It is about undergoing learning as an entire organisation, and harbouring a sense of curiosity about what you will find.

The best results happen when that journey isn’t rushed, or treated as a box-ticking exercise, but when it is given the time and the space that it needs.

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