July 29, 2015
That Time I Totally Screwed Up My Employee Training

A few years ago, I was consulting for a big software company in a key role for the R&D team. We started to use a new software application and the software vendor offered an additional opportunity to invest in employee training.

I decided it was a waste of time. I knew my team well and trusted their intelligence and healthy coders’ curiosity to quickly learn anything I threw their way. I mean, “quick learner” was in the job description.

We implemented the software without further ado and I gleefully allocated that project’s employee training budget elsewhere.
To make a long story short—the implementation was a marvelous blunder. At the end of it, my team handled the software well enough to embed it into our project management routine. But they did not master it, as they might have, and I still have trouble controlling my blood pressure when I think of the extra hours we put into that autodidactic misadventure.

The Unforgivable Waste of Time

Recently I received a proposal from another professional training service for a similar implementation project. It turns out we put in about double the number of hours we would have if we had a formal employee training program. Those are valuable designing, coding and debugging hours.
I could very well end my tale of woe at this point of the article. Developing hours are expensive and any time developers spend away from the keyboard, not coding, is poor expense management.

My team was smart and fast, but teaching yourself something always takes more time and effort than having an expert teach it to you.

Embarrassing Usage and Under-Performance

One of the reasons self-learning takes longer is because we rarely do it methodically, like an instructor would. It takes us a while to orient ourselves in a new environment, understand the logic behind the flows, figure out the graphic language and decipher the navigation patterns.
The trouble with the learn-through-discovery system is that it is hard to tell how many things remain undiscovered. No matter how deeply you delve, you are always accompanied by an uneasy feeling that there is more. That you don’t know the neatest hacks, that you overlooked some nifty feature and that quite possibly; you’ve got the flows all wrong.

For a long time afterwards, I felt a primal urge to find that software designer and apologize for having misused their thoroughly planned and thought-through SaaS.

Uneven Level of Usage among Users

One day, long after the implementation was completed, I walked in on two of my team members in the midst of a heated argument about one of the software’s features. One of them vehemently stated the system could integrate with one of our databases, while the other was willing to lay down his life on the claim that he had tried and it couldn’t. In the end, it turned out it could and the naysayer was annoyed out of his wits at months of manual integrating that could have been spared.

Yet again, we were undone by the lack of method in our learning process. Someone with a broad view of the system’s capabilities and our needs would have known to introduce us all to that feature, but as it were, everyone was learning more or less on their own. Which meant not everyone knew the same things, which led to misuse and formulation of all sorts of crooked paths that hopefully led to the same finish line. Hopefully.

A Teachable Moment

The most valuable lesson I took away from that escapade is this: Effective employee training is hardly ever about intelligence or learning abilities. Sure—having those helps to speed the process, but essentially, the employee onboarding process comes down to experience with the software, guidance skill and, most importantly, methodical instruction.

There is no good alternative to someone who is intimately familiar with the software at hand. There is no replacement for firsthand experience with the application’s workflows , secret pathways and hidden doorways.

Eyal Lewinsohn

Eyal Lewinsohn is the CEO of Iridize. Eyal has been developing software for almost 20 year now, having led R&D teams when dinosaurs were still walking the earth. Eyal is a true believer in making the digital world accessible to all, and in the power of good onboarding to do that. Eyal holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University, is happily married and father to 3 kids and a dog.