Facility Managers: Avoid These Nine Common Mistakes to Get the Most Value Out of Your Training Investments

by | Nov 13, 2018 | Administration, Empowerment, Leadership | 0 comments

I specialize in developing and implementing training programs for facilities management teams. Like anything else, some programs progress smoother than others, but every team I have worked with has taught me new lessons to pay forward. This article is dedicated to those lessons learned, sometimes the hard way.

Facility managers choose to train their technical and leadership staff for numerous reasons. Some decide they can’t afford not to – training is a necessity to ensure equipment is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. Others utilize training to support specific initiatives like energy savings goals or equipment performance requirements. Occasionally, facility managers must deploy a reactive training program in response to a catastrophic event or a compliance issue. Some managers must train their staff because their local market cannot support experienced and skilled technicians within their facility’s compensation ranges, so they develop their teams from the ground up. A few rare leaders will continuously engage various education and training avenues for their staff because this type of thought leadership is ingrained in their culture.

Whatever the reason, let’s say you’ve decided to make the investment and train your facilities management team. Avoid these common mistakes to yield the most return from your investment.

1.      Going in Blind

Never start the technical training process without testing the applicants or participants first. This test could be a self-assessment, a checklist of competencies and tasks, or a multiple-choice exam. Regardless of the format, take the time to understand what the baseline knowledge is among your staff before placing them in an instructional environment.

The assessment process is critical for several reasons:

  • It demonstrates individual commitment. Most technicians will accept an invitation for additional job training. To ensure these participants aren’t seeking an avenue to passively spend time, qualify their participation in the program. Assessments are a humbling experience; they’re also a means for those interested in training to put some skin in the game. Individual ego and ability are exposed to management, which demonstrates a level of commitment to succeed in the training program.
  • It offers a metric to measure improvement in technical proficiency. If a proficiency baseline is established before the training process begins, then it can be measured against during and after training is complete. During training delivery, periodic assessments allow the trainer to gauge retention from his/her audience. Post-training assessments measure overall gains in competency and knowledge, which will be necessary when evaluating the effectiveness of the program itself. Additionally, these objective comparisons allow supervisors to measure technical competency between staff. Managers tend to qualitatively know how skilled their team is compared to their job requirements. The assessment offers a quantitative, data-driven metric which can be critical when making hiring or promotion decisions.
  • It clarifies the curriculum and overall training goals. How can you formulate a plan if you don’t know what the end goal is? How can you determine the end without a beginning? The assessment process reveals gaps, some of which might be less obvious to the participant or his supervisor. The assessment might also reveal strengths that were otherwise unknown because an opportunity to utilize these skills hasn’t yet been presented. If an individual’s strengths and weaknesses are known and understood, then a training curriculum can be developed to fill his/her gaps and not waste time reviewing what he/she has already mastered.
  • It weeds out less qualified program candidates. The hard truth is that not everyone will succeed from training efforts. Avoid investing time, money, and other resources by screening training candidates. Sometimes those interested in the program simply aren’t a good fit for the curriculum. It’s not that any one individual can’t benefit from training, but that particular program isn’t set to the right degree of difficulty, pace, or subject matter for him/her.

2.      Engaging Too Many Staff

Most of the time, when management decides to host a workshop or some other training forum internally, they want to pack the house with anyone and everyone they can find. Don’t fall into this trap.

Professional development is an individual process, and no two personal training plans will be identical to one another. Individuals learn concepts differently, have varying knowledge gaps, and master concepts at different paces. For these reasons, instruction should be focused and limited to a smaller target audience. In technical applications, especially if the curriculum is equipment-centric, then a classroom size of 5 to 10 is ideal.

Classroom sizes less than 5 individuals can still be effective, but obviously a smaller group will limit the potential for diverse thought leadership and engaging, yet constructive, dialogue. A cross-section of participants with varying levels of experience and background should be encouraged so they can bring that expertise with them to the learning environment.

I have personally worked with classrooms up to 30 people, and I won’t make that mistake again. Participants should feel comfortable asking questions and slowing down the content to dig into it as much as they want to during the training session. Time simply won’t allow for these breaks when the classroom size is too large. Just as importantly, the instruction won’t resonate with everyone in the room – it’ll be too advanced for some and too basic for others.

When the classroom size is too large, the instructor oftentimes dilutes the training content to reach a wider audience base, which results in a mediocre, canned lesson.

3.      Allowing Too Much Time in Between Training Sessions

Retention is a key element to the training process. Even monthly training can be too sparse depending upon the technical density of the training curriculum. Individuals can forget half of the concepts covered within one training session within a matter of weeks, and even days. Tactics to keep memory intact involve using the learned material as soon as possible. If the concepts are immediately applied through action or recalled in a follow-up lesson, then the probability that they’ll be retained increases significantly. 

The learning method known as “spaced repetition” draws a mathematical relationship between a person’s ability to remember a new concept and the frequency to which the concept is repeated or practiced after periods of memory breaks. Repeating and reviewing information increases the strength of the memory. Obviously, if training is too stretched out, then memory reinforcement is weakened.

For example, I often teach a module to HVAC technicians on air distribution systems. During the initial session, we might review the fundamentals of psychrometrics and run through various scenarios involving reading the chart and getting comfortable with relationships between humidity, temperature, and other properties of air. Within a couple of weeks, we’ll conduct a second session on air distribution components – terminal units, dampers, ductwork, etc. But first, we’ll review the concepts from the initial lesson. Additionally, we’ll tie in psychrometrics into the air distribution lesson when possible. Within a couple weeks of the second lesson, we’ll conduct a third lesson on air handling units. You guessed it, we’ll start by reviewing concepts from the second lesson before digging into the new material. We’ll build on these concepts and get into fan laws, variable air volume systems, and energy saving strategies. We would never be able to get to the more advanced concepts if we didn’t review and master the fundamental ones.

The more we repeat the technical information and apply it, the stronger we reinforce individual memories so the technicians can recall the lesson in the field when it matters most.

4.     Cramming in Too Much Content at One Time

Training operation and maintenance staff is a huge investment. Beyond the time and resources required to train these individuals, managers must also consider the time spent away from their actual jobs. Consequently, many facility managers make the mistake of cramming too much information in at one time.

If a 2-hour session is set aside for 15 staff to participate in training, then 4 hours of content might be crammed into that same session. Obviously, this is not a wise approach and usually results in less learning than if 2 hours of content were covered in a 2-hour session. Technical overload leaves participants feeling tired, confused, overwhelmed, and unmotivated. Many of them will disengage from the training altogether because it simply becomes too challenging to keep up with the content at a rapid-fire pace.

Personally, I aim for 2-hour training sessions when working with technicians and operators. Adult learning should be purpose-driven; frivolous theory that doesn’t directly apply to their jobs is usually a waste of their time. Adults learn best through mistakes, which is why instruction should include diagnostics, troubleshooting, real world scenarios, and lessons learned. With this mindset, limiting a session to 2 hours is much easier than if attempting to also add in working theories and irrelevant case study data.

If logistics demand longer training sessions because of shift schedules or travel, then work in breaks every 90 minutes or so. This 90-minute training time allows the participants to re-frame their mindset to the curriculum, focus intently for approximately an hour, and then ask clarifying questions. Each 90-minute block should have a clear focus in content rather than covering many concepts in a short period of time.

For example, if the lesson is on air handling units – go to the air handling unit rather than covering the many different types and configuration in a classroom. Ask the participants to identify the different components of that unit and discuss the purpose and function of each one. Walk through the maintenance steps in detail – don’t brush through them because you assume everyone knows them. Run through some common troubleshooting scenarios and create a dialogue among the group. Keep those 90 minutes focused on the one air handling unit to maximize retention and impact.

In short, slow the learning down to yield the best results.

5.     Forgetting the Soft Skills

“Stupid Things Not to Say”

This was a class that a facility manager once proposed to me during our discussion on what skills he wanted his technical team to learn. He was half joking but was genuinely concerned what his technicians were saying to patients and hospital staff when responding to their work order requests.

Soft skills are just as important as the technical ones, especially if career advancement is something your personnel seeks to attain.

If your staff works within a team environment, or if they often interact with others as part of their day-to-day routine, ensure they’re equipped with the soft skills they need to be successful. These could vary from how to write an effective and clear email, how to interact with customers during a work order, how to check in after a work order is closed for customer satisfaction, or how to participate in a meeting. The list is endless.

The point is that many skilled craftsmen didn’t attend college or work as an intern, and these opportunities serve as a training ground for most professionals on how to be, well, a professional. So, we should not be shocked if operators and technicians don’t carry themselves with a certain couth that is typically learned through experience and exposure.

However, these soft skills can be learned and refined over time – it could be as simple as starting with a lunch-and-learn on “stupid things not to say” (edit the title of the presentation at your discretion, of course).

6. Not Coordinating with Human Resources

Training is a professional development exercise. So, it would be a lost opportunity if facility managers didn’t take the time to coordinate their training efforts with Human Resources.

I call this exercise “organizational alignment” because facility managers align their strategic goals with the skills necessary to achieve those goals and with the personnel who possess these skills. More on this concept is a separate, future post.

Even if you bypass the organizational alignment exercise, every job should have a corresponding job description, core competencies, and a salary range. Is every job description for your team current, and do they still make sense for day-to-day operation? Are you specific with the credentials and certifications each job requires or even recommends? If not, then it’s time to break out the red pen and sit down with HR.

Training should support an individual’s career goals and the core competencies for his current position. If core competencies aren’t established, or if they’re outdated, then correct this deficiency before investing significant resources into training your staff.

For staff that require continuous education units (CEUs), then work with Human Resources to outline how each individual will attain these units. Avoid over-allocating resources to continuing education by first researching what free options are available. You might be surprised how much relevant, free, online content is published and available to facilities management staff.

7.      Treating Training Like an Event

Training shouldn’t be a one-time occurrence. A single training session, workshop, or program isn’t adequate to achieve sustained results. Learning is a process that doesn’t really stop.

Even if your staff graduates from a program, establish a means for them to continue their education, either internally or externally. Whether the continuous training is monthly or annual, it will support retention so that the initial training effort won’t be wasted.

8.      Becoming Complacent

In your efforts to empower staff with continuous training, investigate new topics or industry platforms for them to continue their training experience. Continue to explore what else is out there and don’t become complacent with your staff’s knowledge base.

Assess your team annually and continue to benchmark their progress against the baseline. It’s important that their memory of the instruction can be retained long-term and not only within a few weeks or months of exposure.

You’ll be surprised how much your team will learn given the right tools and resources. Continue to push them and their knowledge base beyond the expected.

9.      Not Creating a Cultural Shift

Bear with me while I get on my soapbox. This mistake is the one you will want to avoid at all costs.

If you take nothing else from this post, take away this: the most successful training programs and apprenticeships are those that engender a culture shift. Those fortunate enough to experience this profound transformation within their team and within their organization wouldn’t dare ever go back to pre-training operation.

Cultural shifts gain traction at the individual level. It starts when someone feels heard, appreciated, and valued. Nothing is more valuable to an organization than an employee that FEELS valued and stands behind the organization’s mission – not even the dollars that come through the front door. Revenue stream can ebb and flow; a loyal and valuable employee will create lasting change that leaves a legacy because he will take ownership in his work and will make every effort to prove to himself and to the organization that his work matters.

What’s amazing is that type of change, that legacy, can start with the smallest of moments and gestures. A seasoned technician sees promise in a novice one and takes the time to mentor him informally in a pickup truck on the way to a service call. He asks how things are going and answers his questions. He follows up with the novice technician periodically and tells him where he’s excelling but also the critical feedback that’s not easy to hear and sometimes less easy to give.

Never underestimate the influence and value of mentorship. Seek opportunities to encourage mentorship and team engagement, especially adjacent to or during training initiatives. Reinforce to your team that training extends beyond the moment, the session, or the classroom – training occurs every day because it’s so ingrained in the organization’s culture.

One last point on this subject:

As a leader, engage in the program, too. Communicate to your staff that training is a priority by participating in as much of the workshops, sessions, programs, etc. with them. It’s very rare that you’ll have the opportunity to explicitly demonstrate that you are one of them – don’t waste this one.

 

About me: My career has offered me a whirlwind of opportunity in the engineering and construction industry, but my passion is rooted in developing and implementing training programs for facilities management teams. Every facility manager I have ever had the privilege of meeting simply wants to do good work, and my mission in life is to empower them to do more of it.

I have been responsible for the development and management of over $370 million in specialized energy solutions and infrastructure projects. Since starting my career in healthcare engineering consulting, I have provided healthcare facility managers with the tools and resources they need to make data-driven, well-informed decisions that improve their energy efficiency, building performance, and facility operations. The most recent of these solutions is a healthcare facilities operation and maintenance training program, the first of its kind in the industry. 

Let’s connect: If you have a success story in facilities management, I’d love to hear about it and learn how you made it happen. 

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