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Learning Paths: Increase Profits by Reducing the Time It Takes for Employees to Get Up-to-Speed / Edition 1

Learning Paths: Increase Profits by Reducing the Time It Takes for Employees to Get Up-to-Speed / Edition 1

by Steve Rosenbaum


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781118673720
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 08/27/2004
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Jim Williams is a training and development leader with more than twenty years experience creating and implementing training solutions to support organizational change and growth initiatives first at IBM and then at General Electric.
They can be reached at

Steve Rosenbaum is a consultant who has worked with America's leading companies including Disney, Dupont, Ceridian, GE Capital CarlsonWagonlit Travel, and Allina Health Systems to help them design, develop, and implement creative training solutions.

Read an Excerpt

Learning Paths

Increase Profits by Reducing the Time It Takes Employees to Get Up-to-Speed
By Steve Rosenbaum Jim Williams

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-7444-7

Chapter One

From Graduation Day to Independence Day

How do you get a large number of employees up-to-speed quickly? The answer to that question has been the focus of our work over the past two decades and has led to the discovery and evolution of the concept of Learning Paths, a different way of looking at training.

Costly Delay

Imagine that you're now in charge of a five-hundred-person call center that largely focuses on customer service. Since this is a very typical call center, you probably have at least 50 percent attrition and you're likely to be expanding and even adding new locations. This means that you will need to be continually hiring and training two hundred to three hundred new employees each and every year.

From Day One until Proficiency, which means when each new employee is fully up-to-speed, there is a high cost of errors and lower productivity and a risk of alienating customers. It's fairly intuitive that it costs more if it takes an extra six months for a new employee to get up-to-speed. However, it's even more apparent when you actually quantify and measure that difference. In this book, we will be showing you how to do this type of measurement and also how to document bottom-line results from Learning Paths.

Today in our typical customer service call center a new class of thirty employees starts every month. They go through a two-day orientation, followed by three weeks of classroom training. Those who successfully make it through training and pass all the tests spend the next thirty days nested or buddying up with a lead or top performer. It's a period of probation with a lot of one-on-one coaching.

If you asked supervisors in the call center how long it takes a new employee to get up-to-speed, they would probably say sixty days. However, that's just the official training period. In our experience, if you actually looked at performance measures you'd find that it can take two to three times longer than the official training period for a new employee to reach the level of an average performer.

Why is there such a large gap between the end of training and reaching the level of an average performer? We've uncovered three major reasons. First, when you have a large block of up-front classroom training, you usually also have a large data dump that is easily forgotten. By the time Week Three rolls around, it's difficult to remember what happened on Day Three. Without direct application to the job in a real, live experience, most of what happened in the classroom will have to be repeated several more times.

Second, most of the time we underestimate the amount of practice it takes to learn a new skill. You can learn the basics of keyboarding in an afternoon, but it takes several weeks of practice to be able to type fifty words per minute. When you look at a more complex skill, such as making a sales presentation, this takes even more practice. In reality what often occurs is that most of this practice happens unsupervised and in front of customers. It's a very expensive way to learn by trail and error. And many bad habits are picked up and passed on this way. The sink-or-swim approach has many hidden costs, where 20 percent make it and 80 percent do not. Think of the efficiencies if we can turn that around so that 80 percent make it and only 20 percent do not.

Third, once the classroom training is over, there isn't a lot of consistency or structure for the on-the-job training or coaching. Depending on who you are paired up with in our call center, the type of training you receive will be all over the map. You're even likely to get a coach who says, "Forget about what you learned in class. I'll show you how this is really done."

We've also found that when you actually dig into the formal training and look at what's being taught, you almost always find that a portion of it is out-of-date, no longer applicable, or just plain wrong. Since most training isn't continuously updated and revised, it's often one step behind. This is an issue that we are going to address strongly in this book as we go along.

Imagine now that you're in charge of an outside sales force or a manufacturing plant or even an accounting department. You have exactly the same issues of getting new employees up-to-speed and also existing employees who aren't there yet. You have the same expense of errors and lost business that comes with new employees. The only difference is that in some of the more complex jobs the actual start-up time may be as long as nine months to two years.

Independently Productive

Before we define Learning Paths, it's important to clarify what it means to be up-to-speed. One of the key terms we use is "independently productive." This is the point in time when you are left totally on your own and that you can do your job without asking questions or making mistakes. It's also the time when you feel confident and competent in your job.

In a lot of jobs that operate in a team environment, the concept of "independently productive" is particularly important because the support of the team often masks what individuals are actually contributing.

Think about the jobs and positions you've had in the past. It always took a while to learn the job, but at some point in time, you felt that you had the job mastered. As we set out specific measures for being independently productive, we are going to do so in terms of proficiency. Proficiency is when a new employee achieves a predetermined level of performance on a consistent basis. Proficiency can be defined in numbers of transactions, dollars sold, defect rates, customer satisfaction scores, or anything else that is measurable and related to results. If we look at it from the customer's perspective, we might ask how long it will take to completely replace the person who has left.

So with that foundation, when we talk about getting up-to-speed or startup time, we are going to be doing so in terms of Time to Proficiency. We know that Time to Proficiency has a dollar and cents cost to the business that grows with every extra day, week, or month. We also believe that reducing Time to Proficiency is the most significant contribution the training function can deliver to the organization.

The concept of a Learning Path is based on our belief and experience about how people actually learn. Before we describe the methodology of Learning Paths, take a look at this example and description of how people learn.

How People Really Learn

Underlying every concept and principle in this book is our firmly held belief about how people really learn. While much of this is very intuitive, because it's how we've all learned what we know and can do, in most organizations it seldom shows up in how training is delivered. We'll be referring to this as the difference between a curriculum approach and a Learning Path.

The easiest way to look at what we are talking about is through a couple of brief examples. Learning how to play golf is a great example because it requires a wide range of skills and knowledge, from analytical thinking to psychomotor skills. As we go along, we are going to contrast learning to play golf with learning how to sell.

Using the traditional method of training, let's break golf down into its component parts and structure classroom training for each. For our new golfers our three-week training program looks like Exhibit 1.1.

This is very intensive training. With hard work, you might even be able to break 100 by the end of the third week. But getting to a top performer level, which means shooting in the 70s, is likely to take months or years to learn, not three weeks. The same holds true for selling. New salespeople come out of their three-week to six-week training with the basics but are usually six to nine months away from being even average performers.

So what's missing? The major difference between someone who shoots as low as the 90s and an A-level player shooting in the 70s is about 85,000 practice balls. When you consider that a large bucket of balls at a driving range has 85 balls, this will add up to about 1,000 large buckets or around one large bucket a day, every day for about three years. An elite player, either a top amateur or a tour-level player, will hit four to five million practice balls in his or her lifetime.

A few other things are missing also. There's a big difference between playing five to ten rounds of golf a year and playing seventy-five to one hundred rounds of golf annually. This also doesn't include playing in tournaments and matches. There's a lot of difference between playing with friends and playing in front of thousands of people for money.

So let's go back and look at our three-week golf curriculum. Where is all the practice and experience? It's not there. Now let's switch over to a typical sales curriculum. Consider how many sales calls it takes before you really know how to sell. Depending on the complexity of the sale, it's probably in the hundreds. And it also involves a wide range of sales situations and challenges to achieve some level of mastery. However, you'll seldom if ever see that detail assessed and documented.

One work environment that starts to address this issue can be found in call centers. Typically, call center training starts with one to six weeks of classroom training, followed by some type of on-the-job coaching. This is usually a highly unstructured period of time-up to ninety days-where you'd work with a supervisor or top performer. While this is a step in the right direction, it's still a slow and ineffective way to learn and also falls months short of the usual six months to get up-to-speed.

Here's what really happens. We're going to assume that the training is well-built and instructionally sound. When you go through weeks of classroom or formal training, you are bombarded with all sorts of information, techniques, processes, and expert presentations. By the time you get to Week Three, you no longer remember much of what you did in Week One.

The situation gets even worse by Week Six. As you step out into the job for the first time, you're still a long way from being an average performer. What's missing is all those practice balls, or a few hundred sales calls. You have a big investment in all these new employees now, but your break-even point is still a long way away.

The major shift in the way training needs to be structured involves integrating formal training, practice, and experience along a Learning Path, and not in a topic-by-topic curriculum. In our golf analogy, learning how to putt might have the Learning Path shown in Exhibit 1.2.

As you can see, there is a lot of time spent in structured practice, which in our sales examples is all the joint calls, ride-alongs, and practice presentations. While this often happens informally, it's not as valuable or powerful as when it is integrated back into the first few weeks on the job with a great deal of structure, rigor, measurements, and feedback.

If golf or sales isn't your game, here are a couple of other examples to illustrate the point about how people really learn. Have you ever mastered playing a video game or wondered how someone got so good at playing PAC Man? It's simple. If you spend about twenty or thirty hours playing the game, it starts to get easy. You quickly stop thinking about how the game works and start to actually play the game. Soon you will begin to see patterns and methods for how to beat the game. You plow through the frustrations and failures in the first few hours to quickly master the game. The PAC Man class might have shortened your learning time, but it can never substitute for the hours of practice.

Part of this came strongly into focus for us a few years back while working with an apprenticeship program with the State of Minnesota. They had nicely set out what was very similar to a Learning Path in order to achieve an apprenticeship certificate. They were working mostly with manufacturing jobs. What you would see was a formal training program followed by the number of hours working on a specific machine. You'd see a one-week classroom program of working on a small printing press, followed by 2,000 hours of on-the-job experience. There might be four or five pieces of equipment followed by job experience ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 hours. It's not just practice, but people you have met, things you have done, places you have visited, tests, people you have coached and taught, other jobs you have done. All of these can go on a Learning Path.

So the question arises, if it takes 2,000 hours to learn how to run a small printing press, how many hours does it take to make a high-level, complex sales call? You'd probably have a tough time finding that number in any sales training you've ever seen.

In connecting training to how people really learn, you need to focus not just on what they need to learn but also on the practice and experience they will need to achieve a high level of performance. It's moving away from topic-by-topic curriculums to Learning Paths.

Learning Path Methodology

We are going to define a Learning Path as the chronological series of activities, events, and experiences that goes from Day One to Proficiency. Our goal is to accelerate the Learning Path to reduce Time to Proficiency.

At a very high level, there are six steps in the Learning Path Methodology, as shown in Figure 1.1.

Step 1: Select a Function

The starting point is always to select a function, task, or process to work with. The first function is usually a revenue-generating function with direct customer contact. It's also a function that has an executive level sponsor or champion who will give full support.

Step 2: Determine Time to Proficiency

Time to Proficiency is the baseline measure for this initiative. All results will be measured against this amount of time. This step requires defining proficiency and then establishing a true measure of Time to Proficiency.

Step 3: Map Out the Current Path

This is a process of documenting everything that currently happens from Day One to Proficiency. It's not the outline of the current training program. It needs to include all of the other practice and experience that new employees currently go through. However, it's likely that you will have to build a consensus about a current path because you will find a lot of gaps and differences in how current employees actually learned their jobs.

Step 4: Accelerate the Learning Path

There are a lot of ways to accelerate a Learning Path, including using technology. In most cases, accelerating a Learning Path involves going to a more effective learning model and then rearranging or reengineering the path to fit that model.


Excerpted from Learning Paths by Steve Rosenbaum Jim Williams Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents of the CD-ROMxiii
Part IThe Learning Path Methodology7
Chapter 1From Graduation Day to Independence Day11
Costly Delay11
Independently Productive13
How People Really Learn14
Learning Path Methodology18
The 30/30 Plan20
Chapter 2Getting Started27
Readiness Assessment28
Selecting a Function28
Learning Path Teams31
Holding a Kickoff Meeting32
Case Study: Part 133
Chapter 3Measuring Time to Proficiency39
Finding Independence Day40
Ongoing Measurement45
Business Results49
Case Study: Part 251
Chapter 4Mapping Learning Paths57
Mapping Session62
Case Study: Part 369
Chapter 5Finding Quick Hits73
Out with the Old Stuff74
Tests and Milestones75
Add Coaching and Mentoring77
Job Aids78
Case Study: Part 479
Thirty-Day Report85
Chapter 6Accelerating Learning Paths89
Applying Learning Principles90
Principle #1Managers Need to Be Trainers91
Principle #2Reserve Classroom Time for Practice and Discussion92
Principle #3All Self-Study Needs to Be Directed Self-Study93
Principle #4Teach the Whole Job, Not Parts94
Principle #5Require Mastery, Not Participation96
Principle #6Connect to Business Needs96
Principle #7Embrace Technology98
Principle #8Quantity Versus Quality98
Principle #9Use Design Templates99
Principle #10Make Content King--Write It Down100
Principle #11Use Proficiencies Versus Competencies101
Principle #12Motivation102
Learning Path Evaluation Checklist105
Case Study: Part 5106
Chapter 7Transition and Maintenance111
Transition Planning112
Phased-In Approach114
Motivation and Communication Issues115
Maintenance Planning116
Learning Management Systems117
Reporting Results118
Chapter 8Managing Learning Path Projects123
Common Pitfalls123
Building Support125
Development Process127
Planning and Tracking131
Pilot Tests139
Editing and Proofing139
Training for Learning Path Teams140
Virtual Teams141
Part IIDoing the "Right Training"145
Chapter 9Building Proficiency Models147
Competency Models149
Proficiency Models150
Learning Objectives and Activities153
Research Resources154
Chapter 10Developing Top Performers157
Top Performers158
Below Average Performers160
Experienced New Hires161
Ready for the Next Level161
Functions with Few Employees161
Manager/Leadership Paths162
Chapter 11Connecting to Business Needs169
Business Planning169
Role of the Learning Function Leader171
Planning Process172
Proficiency Planning Process172
Learning Path Planning Process176
Learning Paths and ROI180
Organizational Initiatives181
Chapter 12Capturing Content187
Electronic Capture189
Process Mapping192
Part IIIDoing the "Training Right"197
Chapter 13Selecting Training Methods199
Factor 1Effectiveness201
Factor 2Cost204
Factor 3Speed and Flexibility205
Chapter 14Establishing Managers as Coaches209
Job Aids212
Training Meetings213
Evaluation and Feedback215
Coaching the Coaches217
Coaching Guide219
Chapter 15Building Directed Self-Study221
Development Process222
Instructional Design Template225
Compliance and Motivation228
Chapter 16Creating the New Classroom Experience231
Team Building234
Practice Activities235
Real Situations237
A Final Note241
Frequently Asked Questions245
Tool Kit251
About the Authors285
How to Use the CD-ROM287
Pfeiffer Publications Guide289

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This is the first real critical look at training that I have seen in 20 years. Every HR leader needs to read this book."
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"If you want to make your strategy work, this is the formula for success. The process, systems and tools are practical and effective."
Edward Robbins, director of performance learning, Ceridian-Lifeworks Services

"As an educator for the last 30 years, I was really impressed. Very innovative! I can’t wait to share it with the CEOs on our foundation board."
Nick Maras, vice president of institutional advancement, Century College

"I've already started using many of the strategies in this book with my clients. It's a great methodology for any OD consultant."
James Lynn, organizational psychologist, Lynn & Associates

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