Last Friday, my team asked me to run a remote training session with a new support agent.
Instead of the typical PowerPoint lecture or demonstrations of random features in our systems, I used the scenario-based training approach, which means that I basically asked a bunch of questions like this:
And then I was quiet while our new-hire searched for the answers in our knowledge base.
Now, this isn't the typical approach trainers use for new-hire training, so you might be hesitant to give it a shot. But I want to convince you that this approach to training (i.e. scenario-based) is the best way to train employees, so this blog post is going to explain exactly what I did so that you can get a sense for what it would be like if you ran scenario-based training and feel comfortable giving it a try.
Not What You're Used To
If you could have watched the GoToMeeting we were on, you might have initially thought to yourself, "This is training? But Jonathan's not really doing anything. And it looks really uncomfortable for the new-hire."
That's a normal reaction. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's what our new-hire was thinking, too (at least during the first five minutes).
And that's why many trainers avoid applying scenario-based training to their training curriculums. At first, scenario-based training is a little uncomfortable for the following reasons:
- trainees are asked questions they don't know the answers to,
- you don't jump in and save them every time, and
- you sit around and wait while employees discover answers and perform tasks for the first time (even if it takes 10-20 minutes).
That's a complete 180 from typical training where the Trainer is the expert and the time is spent listening to the expert share his/her knowledge.
But here's the thing––scenario-based training is AWESOME if you trust the process. You do less lecturing, your new employees experience more learning, and you all feel less stress after training is over because your new employees know exactly what to do when they sit down at their desk.
Introductory Call and Courses
So, what was the experience like?
Well, before jumping into a live training call, we had a 45 minute introductory call via GoToMeeting. During this call we introduced ourselves, confirmed our new-hire had access to the systems, and then gave an overview of the company and the systems we use.
Then, I assigned a few ScreenSteps courses to him so he could learn some of the basics on his own. We then ended the call.
After our new support agent completed the courses, we jumped back on a GoToMeeting to do some scenario-based exercises.
Here's how I explained it:
"I'm going to ask some questions by typing them into the GoToMeeting chat. What I'd like is for you to answer the questions like you would if they were from a customer asking the question via our ticketing system or chat."
I then pasted in this question: How do I add a video to ScreenSteps? and I stopped talking.
At this point, our new-hire wasn't quite sure what to do. I assured him that I didn't expect him to know the answer to that question from memory and that it was OK for him to be unsure. There was a long pause and I watched his screen as he clicked around, thinking about what to do.
Eventually, he thought of the knowledge base but couldn't quite remember how to get there. I sent him the link to our customer-facing knowledge base and he began browsing the manuals at help.screensteps.com. He wasn't quite sure which manual to browse, so I asked him if there were any other options for finding a help article on the topic. He noticed the search field > typed in "add video" > and hit "Return."
At the top of the search results page was "How to embed HTML (and add video)." He clicked on the article and read through the instructions for adding video to a help article. He also followed the instructions for adding a video to an article in a test environment.
Learning, Not Lecturing
Before going on, let's take a moment to talk about why the ScreenSteps team prefers this approach.
Information is like velcro that sticks to questions. If somebody doesn't have a question (i.e. a known knowledge gap), then information isn't very sticky. It goes in one ear and out the other.
In traditional training, trainers prepare lectures that throw a LOT of information at new employees. The problem is that new employees haven't really articulated their questions yet, so there's no place for the information to stick. When the training is over, they were told everything there is to know about a product/process/procedure, but they don't retain it.
In scenario-based training, the trainer throws questions out first, not information. When I asked our new support agent where he could go to get an answer, he was instantly on his toes thinking, "Ummm...wait, what? You want me to find the answer? Well how can I find the answer?" Now, when you send them a link to the knowledge base, that information has a place to stick––"When you need answers, go to the knowledge base."
The same thing applies for explaining how to add a video to a ScreenSteps article. I could have spoon-fed the information about adding video, but without a scenario (in this case, answering a customer question about adding video), there's nothing for it to stick to. So I instead asked a question and expected the new-hire to answer it. All of a sudden, the new-hire has a knowledge gap that needs to be filled and the new information becomes stickier.
While I observed our new support agent going through the tutorials, I could tell that he was learning. He was reading the documentation in the knowledge base because the scenario was that he needed to respond to the customer with an answer. When he wasn't clear on how to explain something to the customer, he asked more questions and tried performing tasks in the test environment so that it was clear in his mind how he could explain it to the customer.
During this time we discussed the answers together. The more he discovered, the more knowledge gaps appeared, and the stickier the new information became.
No Need to Memorize
The other perk of scenario-based training is that I'm not expecting our new-hire to memorize anything.
No matter how sticky information is, the fact remains our new support agent is a human being who has a limited memory. The beauty of this training approach is that he is also learning how to find (and follow) the job aids and tutorials in our knowledge base. If he forgets a few details about adding a video, no big deal––he knows where to find the answers and he knows how to read the documentation.
He can start answering customer questions sooner rather than later because he doesn't need to memorize the steps. He can simply reference the steps when he needs them.
Questions Drive the Training
I started our training with some easy questions. During our initial two-hour training, we were only able to get through the following seven questions:
- How do I add a video to ScreenSteps?
- I need to set up SSO. How do I do it?
- How do I get the desktop editor?
- How do I get the Chrome extension?
- How do I set up the Zendesk integration?
- How do I set up my PDF downloading?
- How do I change the title on our knowledge base?
But this wasn't just a game of, "Can you find the correct article?" Each time he found the article, he would read through it completely > perform the task in a test environment > ask additional questions > write a response as though he were answering a customer question.
Since our training time was cut short, I sent 20 additional questions with the assignment of writing out his response for each one. When we meet again, we will continue working on other, more challenging scenarios.
Trust the Brain Will Make Connections
During the first call, we gave our new-hire an overview of the systems and our company. That established the broad context of what he was going to learn about. Then we assigned a few courses that covered broader topics as well as a few details of how to use the system. This material reinforced the context.
But then the training jumped into scenarios, which may seem a little disjointed to some trainers. Usually, when we teach a topic we want to follow a linear progression going from one topic to the next. We assume that in order to learn, the material must be delivered in a sequence and that it must be thoroughly explained first. There is research, however, that shows jumping around topics can help with learning. Going from one topic to another might require a little discussion to make the connections, but that's what you're there for as the trainer! You can answer questions, add context, and share insights as they come up, trusting that your new-hire's mind will make the connections.
Resist the Urge to Rescue During Training
When I began the training, I just popped a question into the chat and asked our new-hire to answer it.
In that moment, he was feeling a little flustered and unsure of himself and I had to fight off my knee-jerk reaction to jump in and rescue him. After waiting and letting him work through different options, he was able to figure out a solution using the knowledge base with only a little direction from me.
Experiences like that build confidence in his ability to solve problems by using the resources we have available.
Your employees are smart! Give them opportunities to fight through the struggle and realize how capable they actually are.
Give it a try!
Now that you saw what the training actually looks like, give it a try during your next new-hire training class. You can also download our eBook for more information on preparing for Scenario-based Training.