Resisting the Temptation to “Teach it all”
If you have ever been on a backpacking trip, then you know that a backpacker has to deal with competing goals when packing.
First, they want to make sure that they have everything they are going to need while they are out in the wilderness.
Second, they have to deal with the limitations of what their backpack can actually hold and the weight they will have to carry.
Focusing on any one of these two items without considering the others can lead to disaster. If you leave out important items, you will suffer later. If you take too much, you will suffer later. The only way to successfully complete the trip is to balance the competing requirements of what you will need vs. what you can actually carry.
Teaching it All
Many times when we are preparing to on-board new employees we begin gathering information about everything they will need to know. This results in a very long “Requirements” document. The trainer then goes about preparing lengthy PowerPoint presentations that cover each item in the list of requirements.
The resulting training is rarely successful. Attendees either tune out or they are overwhelmed, furiously taking notes on everything that is being said.
A teacher that only focuses on the list of requirements, but doesn’t consider the limitations of what their employees can understand, absorb, remember and apply, is like a backpacker who is trying to overstuff their pack. A backpacker who takes this approach never gets out the door. A teacher who takes this approach can never make a meaningful impact not their employees.
Essentialism in Teaching
One of my favorite books is “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It is really about much bigger life and business issues than just teaching, but the principles it describes can and should be applied to employee training.
In terms of teaching and training employees, essentialism is really just accepting the fact that you are going to have to make trade-offs. You can’t teach it all. Your employees can’t remember it all.
The real work you have to do is not cramming everything into a PowerPoint deck. It is taking the time to make the hard decisions about what you will teach and what you will leave out for a later time.
I love this quote from the book:
“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, 'What do I have to give up?' they ask, 'What do I want to go big on?'”
― Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
In terms of teaching, don’t just ask, “What do I need to leave out?” The more important question is, “What principles can I go big on that will help my employees succeed?”
The trade-off is unavoidable. If you cover too much material, your employees won’t remember anything. If you don’t give them guiding principles, then they will be lost while doing their job.
But What About All the Stuff They Need to Know?
ScreenSteps makes it possible for you to focus on what matters and still give your employees everything they need to succeed.
How? By letting you offload less important material for reference later on - when your employees actually need it. By creating a knowledge base with how-to guides and checklists, your employees no longer need to “remember” everything. They just need to remember where the answers are. Your training can focus on key, high level principles and then rely on your knowledge base to fill in the answers for the questions that will come up later.
Try this exercise
Think of the last time you taught someone. Think about the material you presented. If you asked one of the attendees to tell you the three most important things from that presentation, would they be able to respond quickly and clearly? Would you?
If not, then think about your next training task. Ask yourself what is essential. If you could only teach three things, what would they be? What would you need to go big on? What would you need to eliminate?
As you do this, remember that the best thing you can do as a teacher is to focus on progress instead of perfection. Don’t make the mistake of trying to cram too much into the backpack. Embrace the trade-offs that exist and you will make a lot more progress in moving your organization to where you want it to be.