Structured Conversations

You’ve been there, haven’t you? It’s a busy workday, the Supervisor approaches with a new employee in tow and, because you consistently exceed all job performance measures, asks that you let this new person shadow you for some time to learn how to do your job. Knowing that this will no doubt free you up later for bigger and better opportunities in the organization, you put the old trainer cap on and decide to get results.

Sound far fetched? Not so much. You can successfully bypass traditional training methods and provide more flexibility through on-the-job training (OJT) if you include structure in your informal training strategy to transfer knowledge. Structured conversations ensure that the content you want to cover is include, follow a “build on” strategy for presenting the information, provide opportunities for employee interaction, and confirm workforce development.

Before you begin, have a basic task in mind. Think about it. What you want to do is begin with the “vanilla” or simplest way of performing the task, while ignoring options or exceptions based on situations that might arise on the job. You can add the flavoring on later after confirming that the employee has learned the basic task. The build on approach lets the trainee concentrate on the basic steps, prevents confusion, and helps prevent mental overload that can occur when too much information is vying for space in short-term memory.

1.  Put context around what you’re about to do. This helps the trainee prepare mentally and improves his or her ability to receive the information. So, before you begin each task, frame it up with comments that provide the where, what, how, why and result.

  • “This is what is happening…” (indicate where the task is in the larger process or job activities)
  • “What I’m going to do is…” (explain what the task is)
  • “I’ll do it, or do it this way, because…” (explain the major steps of how the task should be done and why)
  • “When I’m finished, this will happen …” (tell them what you expect as a result)

2.  Explain as you demonstrate the task.  The challenge is in maintaining the continuity of the task, while addressing questions the trainee might have.  Here some guidelines.

  • Begin with a “vanilla” demonstration—the most basic way of performing the task.
  • Explain each step as you complete it to take advantage of different learning senses (auditory, visual).
  • If appropriate, focus a critical element of the step.
  • If you correctly explained the what, where, how, why and result ahead of time, the trainee should be able to comprehend what you’re demonstrating from beginning to end with only a few questions.
  • If there are questions in the demonstration, answer them and move on; that is, avoid providing more than is needed to answer the question.

3.  Having the trainee explain the task as it is being practiced helps solidify the trainee’s understanding of the task and provides opportunities for you to obtain clues into the trainee’s thought process and confirm understanding.

4.  Provide specific feedback to reinforce knowledge and close gaps.

5.  Build on the initial conversation by including scenarios to add complexity to the basic task, each time following the structure of this conversation.

Sound far fetched? Not so much. You can succsessfully bypass traditional training methods and provide on-the-job training (OJT) if you include structured conversations in your informal training strategy to transfer knowledge.