SMART Training –Shifting the Paradigm on Corporate Training

GearsCorporate training continues to be a difficult topic to describe, mainly because everyone seems to “know” what training is, but cannot understand what it is not, even when receiving inferior corporate training. As an adult educator, schooled and experienced in corporate training, let’s discuss corporate training, the principles, the need, and the student.

One aspect of organizational development needs to be considered at the outset, the difference between active and reflective listening. In active listening, the person not currently speaking pays attention to content and intent, engages in emotional meaning, focuses on removing barriers, and remains non-judgmental and empathetic. In reflective listening, the speaker and the listener take active listening and employ two-directional messaging to ensure mutual understanding. The central aim in reflective listening will always be the desire to achieve mutual understanding in communication.

The importance of understanding listening in training remains the utmost concern as the process of engaged, reflective listening producing the environment for the most potential positive training results. The needed 360-degree or two-directional communication to safely and more efficiently operate is critical in training and necessary in communication. Trainers must be able to gather anecdotal evidence and hard data to check for validity and veracity in training operations. Without a quality control mechanism that includes open and honest feedback, the trainer is operating in a vacuum and wasting corporate resources.

The majority of adult educators in the US today, and possibly much of the world, have become convinced of several untruths because the colleges teaching adult education seem fixated on teaching misleading concepts that ultimately do more harm than good. For example, ADDIE, as a methodology tool used to govern training, is useless without a quality control and a return and report function, both of which must be added to the basic ADDIE model; thus changing the design and interposing more personal opinion and bias into what became, with the addition of quality control and two-directional communication, an untested model. Colleges continue to press the ADDIE methodology as the only proper method for instructing adults, without changing or testing the basic ADDIE model. Other untruths include Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” which has been researched and found not entirely accurate, nor does it explain the natural needs and the current model of the world; thus, remaining just Maslow’s opinion.

By teaching untruths to the soon-to-be-adult educators, the adult educators go forth professionally to train other adults, using the same untruths. Thus fulfilling the axiom of GIGO, programmer’s aphorism meaning, “Garbage In results in Garbage Out.” Hence, the untruths are disseminated into future classrooms, and the company and the adult students lack proper training, resources are wasted, and the potential in training is lost.

Putting the value of training in dollars and cents is difficult, but the following will give an idea of the problem. Two kinds of money govern business, blue and green. Blue money is all about the potentblue-moneyial for good or ill to the bottom line of an action, process, tool, employee, etc. Green money is cold, hard, cash, and the food of bottom line health. What is the potential of cross-training employees? If done properly, incalculable positive results and consequences are forthcoming. If done incorrectly, immeasurable adverse effects and consequences will abound. Leading to a stunning observation; if enough blue money is burned, green money evaporates, and the business leaders have no idea how or why the bottom line is vanishing, and market share is shrinking. Since training is all about increasing an employee’s potential and runs the risk of the employee leaving the company, the potential costs and benefits remain difficult to quantify in dollars and cents.

As a newly hired operations manager, I made three expensive presumptions: 1. All the production employees were cross-trained. 2. The machine maintenance had been done properly, and the production machines were in top order. 3. The production employees knew the jobs they were being paid to accomplish. The presumptions cost a lot of blue and green money until rectified, which cost the plant valuable production time, temporary staff increased costs, and the need to perform the production floor manager’s position as well as the operations manager’s role until these three presumptions were corrected. Total cost from my hire date until resolved, 3-months of 50-hour weeks, and more than triple my annual salary in green money. With the total savings from higher potential after addressing the deficiencies, the annual salary of every employee in the plant multiplied by five.

Leading to how to increase potential, decrease blue money evaporation, and develop SMART Training, I have found the following ideas helpful to consider in creating hybrid solutions:

  1. Quantify and Qualify blue money loss. This sounds technical but is quite easy to implement.   I suggest the following principles for review and application:
    1. Respect those around you as potential superstars. Respecting includes employees or customers, vendors or shareholders, deemed less useful. Respect first, last, and always. People will always rise to the level of respect shown.
    2. Change your perception. How valuable or costly is a hammer when directly proportionate to the amount of training in the hands of the operator? If you, as the business leader, are not willing to change how you see the hammer, then it will be impossible to see the worker differently.
    3. Focus on people. Processes are how work is accomplished. Products and services support the company, but the people remain the variable requiring attention. Get out of the office, get onto the production floor, interact, ask questions, and know people.
    4. Freedom to act is a blue money saving principle. If the actions taken by individuals are rigidly controlled, the customer is not served, the problems multiply, and the result is wasted potential. Remember, for every dollar in potential money spent, five dollars in cash evaporates.
  2. Believe in cross training. It is said that Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines love to train. They might grumble, moan, and complain, but the training helps lift the morale, empowers the individual, and enhances the individual self-image and self-worth. The same is true in business and every other human endeavor; embrace a love for training.
  3. In accordance with item two above, make sure that the training is valuable and SMART. Relevant training is a knowledge object that can be used immediately, often, and is easily recognized by other employees as something to aspire to obtain.
    1. SMART training is specific; if the employee is to be a cashier, do not include forklift training with cashier training.
    2. Measurable, can the employee feel they learned a job-ready skill. Attainable training is training that can be achieved. For example, not everyone needs to be a nuclear physicist to perform well in customer interactions. Scale the training to meet the tasks at hand. Yes, training should be tough, but attainable.
    3. Realistic training is directly applicable to daily tasks, not trying to cover 20-years of hypothetical nuance, but realistic to daily production goals.
    4. Timely training means to train the employee to the job standard, as it is designed currently, not 5-10 months down the road.
  4. Training has a shelf life; thus training must adapt and change as the business changes. Allow training to live and die as needed to meet the business needs. This also requires cognizant and purposeful planning for strategic and tactical goal realization. Nothing is worse than receiving training in a classroom, then needing to receive different training on the floor because the trainers do not know current operations.
  5. Organizational design. This topic seems peculiar to mention in an article regarding training, but please note, many times, the disconnect between training and operations is not the training or operations, but how the organization is designed. An example, during a project recently concluded, I saw this principle first hand; a common theme on the production floor was a feeling of disconnect between higher levels, e.g. director level and up leadership and senior manager level direction and down. Because of the perceived disconnect, e.g. front-line employees thinking and feeling the higher level leaders are not interested and engaged, and the real disconnect, e.g. the leaders changing methods of work without understanding the processes, procedures, and technology in the work performed, many problems on the floor were never discussed and resolved, simply Band-Aid solutions applied with the hope the core problem goes away, while complaining that the leaders did not have a clue. Use the following to improve organizational design concerns:
    1. Problems in organizational design are easy to spot and discern during process reviews; this is a valuable time; use it well. Thus, never let a process age beyond 18-months and always ensure each process has a single individual responsible for the shelf life of the process.
    2. Use the quarterly, semi-annual, and annual employee events to listen to employees, talk with staff, and take these thoughts back to strategic and tactical planning meetings to direct resources to qualify and quantify the comments from employees, then act promptly, and keep the employees in the communication loop.
    3. Stop the Band-Aid solutions. If the problem needs a Band-Aid, the problem is bad enough to invest actual time and resources in fixing properly. Communicate using reflective listening to achieve two-directional communication with mutual
  6. The student in corporate training can be the customer, a shareholder, a vendor, another employee, etc. Training should be an ongoing topic looked forward to as an enabling event. Want to quickly see if the training is SMART? Listen to the comments made by employees when annual compliance training is announced. If there remains a monumental lack of enthusiasm, training is not SMART, not valuable, and blue money fire pits are raging, burning potential directly and green money by remote. Hence, the following tips should help in understanding the student more completely:
    1. Regardless of mode, make sure the student is known before training occurs. Knowing the student ensures the proper language is employed in offering training, and the trainer and the student can relate to each other and the topic under discussion.
    2. Know what the student expects to receive from the training and then adapt the training to meet the expectation. Even if the student does not know what they desire in post training, allow the student to vocalize and establish expectations.
    3. Confidence in training comes from trainers knowing who they are and what they offer. If teachers are not confident, students will never be confident and will have been taught how not to be confident in acting upon the training principles.
    4. “Enthusiasm,” per Henry Chester, “is the greatest asset in the world. Enthusiasm “beats money, power, and influence.” Enthusiasm is sourced in confidence and trust. Faith in the topic is acquired by being trained and trusting in the application and organizational design to support the issue being taught. Enthusiasm is easily taught; teach by example and others will follow!

Employ voice-of-the-customer (VoC) surveys more completely. Make a team of highly professional, and soon to be promoted to team leader, employees and have them administer the VoC program. Employ the VoC as a tool to improve the business processes, procedures, and organizational design. Possessing inputs for training topics, directing customer interaction resources for marketing, and understanding the role of potential (blue money) inherent in the business products and services, as well as the employees delivering on the company promise for customer interaction, improves the business processes, procedures, and organizational design. By employing seasoned employees, the VoC becomes an organizational tool worthy of the customer and the cost of collecting the customer’s input.

There remains a great need in business for SMART training, which includes realizing the potential in people and processes to influence for good or ill. Tooblue-money-burning-2 often the problem in lost bottom-line or dropping market share is not found in green money costs but in blue money waste. When costs need cutting, always look first for lost potential and save the potential first. If the potential waste is not stopped first, the blue money will continue to burn and will morph into different budget areas because the potential lost is a raging forest fire untended and burning green money.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
Copyright for images used is retained by the original creator and used under fair use.

Leadership is Teaching: The Corporate Training Paradox

Training in Corporate America is at a crossroads; due to the pressures of training adults who have been failed by public education (Badke, 2009), the costs of training are skyrocketing, even as technology investments are paying huge dividends. Informational illiteracy is hampering training initiatives, slowing productivity, and decreasing returns on human capital development. Not knowing how to find data, use data, and evaluate data, is frustrating the learning processes and is hidden from view in our current corporate societies. This paper is going to briefly discuss the parameters of the problem and outline a simple solution.

Leadership Means Teaching

Every organization has a problem similar to this scenario. Employee A has been through corporate training for their job. They complete their job with very little supervision and are known as resident subject matter experts. Employee B has also completed corporate training and has tasks similar to Employee A, but Employee B uses Employee A for answers to all questions and concerns while performing their daily tasks. Employee B and A have both received the same training, have access to the same sources for information, but what is the difference and why the disparity. The disparity is found in information literacy and can be answered with a simple question: “Is Employee B informationally literate and comfortable using the resources provided?” Why the disparity if the answer is yes? If the answer is no, what training program is capable or available for teaching information literacy? If Employee A and B have been employed for the same amount of time, the productivity lost by both employees has burned through tremendous amounts of potential money or ‘blue money’ and the organization is not seeing a return on investment (ROI) for either employee.

Information Literacy, as defined by Plattsburgh State University of New York (P-SUNY), Plattsburgh State Information and Computer Literacy Task Force, (2001), is “… the ability to recognize the extent and nature of an information need, then to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the needed information (Heller-Ross, 2012, Para 1).” As the supervisor, team leader, organizational leadership, evaluating sources and training others are inseparably connected to ROI and human capital development. The problem is many people are missing these skills, and corporate training is not covering how to adapt to the knowledge dearth.

Russell (2009) proclaims that even at the secondary school level it is to late to teach this skill set, except corporate training has never even addressed the problem and the same age as entrance into college is the same age as new hires in corporate entry-level positions. While Russell claims this skill set must be taught in lower grade educational settings, this does not address the current educational lack. If P-SUNY is correct that this skill set is “needed information,” and Ms. Russell is also correct that by the time the individual reaches college age it is too late to teach this skill set, where and how does corporate training meet the needs of the organization to train employees on information literacy?

The current corporate culture is defined by Myron Tribus (2008) as a “Knowing Society.” This means it is not acceptable to not know something or the person caught not being fully informed is perceived as less than useful and will be terminated. Tribus talks about changing into a “Learning Society” where it is acceptable and encouraged to not know everything and ask questions. This ‘learning society’ would foster training as a leadership function, and the solution for information illiteracy would be to train with supervisors instead of resident knowledge experts. Burpitt (2009) talks about this occurrence as exploiting the effectiveness of transformational leadership, or as Tribus puts it, “… [Leaders] must practice what they preach. ‘Don’t say “follow me, I ‘m behind you all the way.” It makes everyone go in circles’ (Tribus, 2008, pg 3).”

Corporate Training Requires Knowing

            Badke (2009) mentions three steps to begin visualizing the problem and through visualizing the problem, individual solutions reach achievability. These steps are “1. Rethink everything, 2. Stop making informational literacy remedial, and 3. Conquer the blindness (Badke, 2009, pg 49).” Instead of re-inventing the wheel, Turusheva (2009) has provided a framework to utilize. The framework rests inside the already developed and tested ‘Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education’ published by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). These standards can form a basic test for corporate trainers to deliver. If an employee meets the proficient level, they do not need more formal information literacy training, although they can take a course if the space is available and the needs of the company dictate. If the employee does not meet the proficient level, organize these employees into a class and offer official training in informational literacy. The ACRL standards include efficiency and effectiveness in finding data and then using that data, thus making these standards applicable for corporate organizations to incorporate into their training regimes. Since data use contains legal, ethical, and social dimensions, the ACRL includes this as a standard, thus adding a level of protection to the corporation when many employees have Internet access for company business. Corporate training requires knowing how to address problems, seeing deficiencies, and meeting those deficiencies with sound training and inspiring learners to learn the needed skills to be successful.


            The ideas outlined above should not be considered remedial, in “rethinking everything” and “conquering the blindness (Badke, 2009, pg 49).” The number one factor must be stressed; this is a needed skill set for the position. Stress the need for the corporate society to always be one where being willing to learn is honored and not knowing means a learning opportunity. Informational illiteracy is almost as bad as illiteracy or not knowing how to read. If a person cannot evaluate data in our current technological society, that person is handicapped and the restrictions have been placed upon that person by their education. An employee who knows how to think, find answers, and solve problems is an employee like Employee A from the scenario and one that needs to be incentivized to remain employed. Knowing how to find data, evaluate that data, and then apply that data is a skill set which can be taught, learned, and fostered in an organization which values their employees.


Badke, W. (2009, Jul/Aug). How we failed the NET generation. Online, 47-49.

Burpitt, W. (2009). Exploration versus exploitation: Leadership and the paradox of administration. Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management, 227 – 245.

Heller-Ross, H. (2012). Information literacy: a critical skill and a strategic commitment. Retrieved from

Russell, P. (2009). Why universities need information literacy now more than ever. Feliciter, 55(3), 92-94.

Tribus, M. (2008). Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools. Retrieved March 16, 2009 from: Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools Web site:

Turusheva, L. (2009). Students’ information competence and its importance for life-long education. Problems of Education in the 21st Century, 12, 126-132.

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved