A New Model for Upskilling Frontline Leaders to Effectively Train Their Workers – Workshop Tip #249

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The sudden COVID-19 outbreak brought many problems to the forefront, particularly in business and workforce sectors. This is where we’ve seen a drastic reduction in the frontline workforce. In facing today’s reality, many Chief Learning Officers, managers, and leaders are asking these questions:

How do we upskill our frontline leaders to be effective training facilitators?”

“What is the best way to transfer the knowledge and expertise of frontline leaders to others?” 

These are vitally important questions. With prolonged work-from-home setups and a skeletal workforce, there is a greater reliance on workers to seek guidance and advice from their frontline leaders. How can we empower supervisors, leaders, or anyone who may have a specialization in an area, to be subject matter experts and deliver effective training?

Testing the Prevailing Model

Traditionally, our approach is to begin developing a “train-the-trainer” program. This means that L&D experts lead the training sessions for frontline leaders. This is the prevailing model we’ve used for many decades. Many training professionals are still doing it today because the overarching thought is to convert frontline leaders into L&D-style trainers.

The downside of this methodology is that it is immediately perceived as a burden by frontline leaders; just more “added work” for them. In addition, it takes time for anyone to develop the skills sets to be an effective trainer. Time is a resource that is in short supply for these leaders. Asking them to dedicate ample time for skill development in an area that is normally outside their job description sets unusually high and frankly, unrealistic expectations.

A New Model

So, how do we minimize the perceived burden of expectations on the frontline leaders and at the same time, upskill them to effectively train their workforce? What is emerging is a new model. This is already being tested and implemented in organizations.

Upskilling Concept #1: Recognize the Practical Expertise of Frontline Leaders

When you recognize frontline leaders as having valid practical experiences, you identify them as “practical persons” with “practical expertise.” The value and validity they bring is rooted in experience, even though they may or may not have a formal, structured understanding of a subject.

The challenge with practical subject matter experts is they may not have the skills to articulate what they know in a way that is aligned with best practices of an L&D trainer.

For example, in a classroom setting a professional L&D trainer talks about procedures in a sequential, orderly manner. However, the “practical person” may not present his/her experience in that same way. They tend to teach informally and are not bound to a structured approach. For them, they are simply passing on their knowledge and experience to others.

Let your frontline leaders know that you recognize and value their individual expertise.

Upskilling Concept #2: Maximize Knowledge Sharing through Conversations

Rather than attempting to upskill frontline leaders to conduct formal training by using slide decks, presentations, and L&D-style exercises, focus them on conversations.

Healthy and engaging conversations create a wonderful conduit for knowledge transfer. Encourage frontline leaders to see how these conversations can drive even more value for the organization by maximizing knowledge sharing.

How does these conversations work? For example, when an inexperienced worker needs an answer, he/she seeks out the frontline leader. This how the conversation might unfold.

Worker: “I’ve run into a problem. What did you do to avoid this problem?”

Frontline Leader: “You know, you just have to do this. Step one, check to see if the item is available. Then, see if it works or not. Really, that’s all that you need to do.”

In this conversation, there is a transfer of knowledge and experiences in a casual, conversational way. There’s no formal structure to it. Right then and there, just in time, it transfers knowledge immediately. This method is simple and fast.

Remind your frontline leaders that informal conversations lead to instant knowledge sharing, essentially a great example of workflow learning.

Upskilling Concept #3: Promote the Use of Layman’s Terms

When transferring expertise and knowledge to an inexperienced worker, the formal approach is to present them with technical words. The inexperienced worker who’s asking for help may not find these terms relevant because the terms are not familiar nor related to their real-life situation.

Instead of focusing on a structured format using unfamiliar technical terms, frontline leaders often offer practical steps in layman’s terms. For example, they might say, “You know, most of the time, the problems you need to pay attention to are in number one, two, three.”

This approach encourages the inexperienced worker to think, follow, and apply the practical steps.  In real life situations, there are a lot of deviations and interpretations of procedures. By simplifying the language, it becomes more useful for the worker.

Assure your frontline leaders that layman’s terms are most often the true language within an organization.

In Summary

Attempting to turn frontline leaders into L&D-style trainers comes with a high opportunity cost. The task of upskilling in this manner is burdensome for these leaders and often sets unrealistic expectations upon them. However, there is a better approach.

Remember, frontline leaders are already training their people all the time. Work with the experience and expertise they bring by first recognizing and valuing it, then encouraging them to maximize the use of conversations in the workflow. And finally, remove the burden of non-useful technical terms and promote layman’s terms as the language of the workforce.

These are simple, yet practical ways to upskill your frontline leaders to be effective trainers in the flow of work. 


Tip #183: Why Effective Virtual Conversations Accelerate Learning and Knowledge Application

Tip #214: Why Keeping Your Language Casual Works in Webinars

Tip #231: The Computer Scientist Who Can’t Stop Telling Stories – Technical Information Flows with Stories

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”