It’s really no secret that technically-oriented people are generally built from a different set of plans from those who have developed a non-tech business acumen. Perhaps this is due to a higher emphasis analytics in their formal education; perhaps it is in the genetic makeup that drives someone into either field with the same degree of passion. The fact is, we are different and this can be often observed in our diverse approaches to training.
As an engineer, as well as a technical and business skills trainer, I’d like to offer a few insights which come from my technical background and apply as best practices for non-tech trainings.
Use of Metrics
Let’s start with the nature of the outcomes. Changes in the production environment in manufacturing are reflected in parameters that are easily measured. (e.g. average service call duration). In the business world, the results of training are often less attributable to the training, less acute and require longer to analyze, and this analysis results in a larger standard deviation. In other words, technical training outcomes are much more cause and effect than their business counterparts. This also suggests that ROI is viewed somewhat differently in both camps. Improve the planning process for business skills training by assessing for clear cause and effect relationships tied to something measurable.
Problem and Solution Identification
While some non-technical companies have made it clear that they are providing training “because they have to,” I rarely experience that sentiment from a technical client. Technical clients tend to apply training as a band-aid to solve a specific previously identified problem; non-tech clients tend to seek training in order to solve a larger, more gelatinous issue, which often still needs to be identified.
Solving a problem such as, “Our technicians take too long to repair a machine” is very different from “Our repeat business is down 30%.” The 2nd one will take more effort and analysis to get to the root cause before applying training.
One thing that technical people learn, regardless of their scientific discipline, is the concept of feedback. We use it in electrical circuits all the time. Feedback is where we look at the output and use it to change the input. Like when your eyes see a ledge and tell your brain to stop walking. This concept of feedback carries on in our training efforts as well. We act, analyze, refine and repeat. It’s a cycle, not a straight line.
Technical managers will carry these same tendencies when sponsoring training. They will be happier with a training program that allows for feedback. The trainer does this by building some sort of follow up into the training plan. Scheduling a meeting with the client six months down the road to review effectiveness not only satisfies that need, but opens the door to more training. Meeting with the trainees down the road in the same fashion allows weak spots to be addressed or general coaching. Give them the cycle, not the straight line.
There is no reason not to apply this purposeful feedback process to all types of trainings regardless.
Conciseness and Sense of Purpose
Another salient difference between business and technical managers lies in how they like their information. While a business customer looking for team-building training will appreciate learning about the other areas in which you train, a technical customer is out to solve an issue, plain and simple. Everything turns on that for them.
Some business proposals I’ve seen start out with a cover letter, company introduction, list of services, testimonials, needs assessment, scope of training, followed by the numbers. The general idea is “sell the company,” then “sell the training.” But is that really the correct order of priorities?
A technical proposal starts with a cover letter (which includes the statement of the problem or desired outcomes), then a line by line quote, and then a detailed description of each line item, selling its potential to solve the client’s stated problem. Then, you get a one-pager listing the other types of training offered. “Sell the training,” then, “sell the company” by solving their problem.
It’s important not to set up hard and fast distinctions where none need to exist. Non-tech businesses need specific solutions to measurable problems, not fluff. Tech companies also need to know their vendor has credibility as a solutions provider before they will trust them with their problems.
While business and technical managers may differ in the way they go about it, they share the same motivations. When planning training, you can enjoy success in either arena by simply applying the best practices of both.