Like most of you, I have attended business and organization Christmas parties that included a white elephant gift exchange. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, a white elephant gift exchange is where everyone brings a gift for someone else – often it isn’t even for a specific person. Frequently gifts distributed by a lottery. Often there is a dollar limit put on the gifts and it isn’t unusual for a white elephant to be a regifting of something the gifter received but didn’t really want. What’s not fun about this – right?
I have trouble with these types of exchanges on several levels. First, if I am buying a gift for someone, I should take into account who they are and what they like or the gift may not just be unwanted but could end up being an insult. Second, is it something they will really use? I spent several years working in the construction industry so a standard gift for me was flannel shirts. That was great because I usually wore them out and needed new ones next year. But 10 years after I no longer worked that job I was still receiving flannel shirts as presents even though the new job required button-down shirts and ties. The thought was great but I had more shirts than I could ever wear at that stage of my life. Finally, if we are going to go to the trouble to purchase a gift shouldn’t we purchase something that’s real and not a joke. Is that the message we want to send to our friends, family – or staff? Remembering those observations about white elephant gift exchanges, let’s apply them to the training you deliver to your organization. Is your training a true gift or is it white elephant? Below are for suggestions of how to make sure that your training isn’t unwanted junk.
Is it what your staff needs/wants?
I have provided training in organizations where participants really didn’t want to be there. In some cases, they knew as much about the topic as I did. In other cases, it had no bearing on how they do their job. One of the ways to make sure that your training is not an unwanted joke is to make sure it is what participants need or want. Again, that answer comes from a needs analysis and talking to supervisors.
Is it timely?
Is the training you’re providing being delivered in a timely manner. By that I mean not just is it something that is your participant will need, but is it being given to them at a time they could apply it? Another way to look at it is when they will really be able to use the new skills and/or knowledge? If you’ve ever been on a cruise, one of the things that you had to do was a lifeboat drill. Nobody likes standing there in their station, waiting to be told how to put on their life jacket and how to board their life boat. We would all rather be in the pool or asleep on a lounge chair. But lifeboat drills are example of timely training. You don’t want to deliver life boat training 6 to 9 months before you go on a cruise-because you’ll forget everything by the time you actually sail. Providing lifeboat training after the ship sinks makes even less sense than getting it too early. Lifeboat training is delivered just ahead of the potential need – timely training.
Training that you deliver to your staff needs to be given in a timely manner so that they will leave the training, go back to the work station, and immediately use the new skills. One of the things I say to participants in my Excel class as they are walking out the door at the end of the trainings is to find some reason to use what we covered that day. It may be a task on their job, it may be developing a home budget, or it may be for some organization they belong to, but if they don’t use the new skills and knowledge that they just acquired they will lose those skills. The same should apply to training in your organization.
Does it fit the strategic plan?
The training that you are providing may be timely. It may be what people want/need, but may not fit into your organization’s strategic plan. If it doesn’t fit into the plan, it probably won’t be funded for long and so ends up being a waste of time. An example of this may be a workshop on three strategies for being more successful playing solitaire. Perhaps this is something you as a participant may be truly interested and you may have some downtime of the next couple of weeks because the holidays are slow. But are three strategies for winning at solitaire really part of the strategic plan for your organization? When looking at your training, try to determine if it will help move your organization/business/institution forward. The best place to find that information is your organization’s documents such as the mission/vision statements and strategic plan. If you can’t find answers there, trying asking senior management.
Will it help the personal growth of participants?
One of the best ways to retain quality people in an organization is to promote your employee’s personal growth. Your organization may have some restrictions on what is allowed and what isn’t allowed in this area, but people who were stuck in dead-end jobs with no potential for growth are more likely to move on to another company that does provide opportunities. To keep valuable people, look at your training. Is there opportunity for staff to branch out from their little niche into new areas of your organization? Not that I am suggesting this from a totally altruistic point of view. POeople who know more about how their job fits into a bigger picture are more likely to contribute back valuable suggestions to an organization than those who are pigeon holed in their little world with no chance of growth.
Holidays tend to be downtime for training so now may be a good time for you to look at your training programs. Remember, just because you have a curriculum sitting on the shelf, doesn’t mean it fits the four things we just talked about. You would be wise to get some impartial input from colleagues, from bosses, or maybe an outside organization that can help you determine whether your training is a true gift or white elephant that nobody wants.