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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The g'Earls on Tech Training

On the drive back from the YMCA tech conference from Raleigh, Doria and I popped the Uncle Earl CD into the player, and listened to our friend Rayna play her fiddle and sing the tender cold-blooded murder ballad Willy Taylor. When the band drops out and we learn "she took out a brace of pistols that she had at her command..." Doria said to me "that's the lesson right there. It's not enough to have the tools - you need to have them at your command. You need to master them."

It's a lesson to take to heart when thinking about the technology infrastructure at your non-profit. We see so many instances of organizations acquiring information tools at significant expense, and then skimping on the training that would really help them maximize the return on their investment.

An organization is almost certain to spring for training on its principal operations applications - the tools it is using for CRM, Membership Management, Meetings and Events, Fundraising -- at the time of new system roll-out. But these same organizations often fail to develop a plan for ongoing and new employee training. Instead, they rely on informal on-the-job instruction, where as one user of our software told us "I try to spend about a half hour with a new employee before turning him loose on the system."

This barely-trained staffer will later be expected to train the next wave of users, with the result that as time passes, more and more features of the application will be forgotten. And new features that arrive with service packs are never disseminated to the users. I can't tell you how often we get requests for customized reports that are already the menu, or to make some change to the system that users can do themselves using the configuration utilities. The user community once knew about these features. But the knowledge has faded away.

But dragging in a consultant to provide training every time you turn around costs a fortune. Fortunately, there are a variety of training interventions you can make that are far more cost effective. These involve exploiting the knowledge already in your organization, but in more formal ways, designed to capture that knowledge before it fades away. There are two such techniques we've found particularly useful.

1) Develop your own in-house training manual. This is something you can do better than anyone else; you know your job roles and your organizational procedures, and can weave them into the technical material to create a single manual - if there are holes in the technical information when you are done, then you can use a consultant to fill them in. And you can include ALL the applications you expect your staff to use, not just your big operations systems. Don't forget office apps - we are often asked how to do a merge document in Word, or how to make a pie chart in Excel, for example.

2) Hold regular technology clinics. The clinic is a session where users bring their questions and problems, and other users, including your tech gurus, help to resolve them. You will be surprised how much information is in your organization, just waiting to be shared. You can hire a consultant or vendor to be present at a clinic - but you can also derive a lot of benefit just sharing information within your staff.

All this training consumes effort, time, and some money. But it will pay off for your organization. And for you as your organization's IT evangelist it will pay off immediately. For as the g'Earls go on to tell us, things look up for our well-trained heroine after she dispatches the faithless Willy:
When the captain came to hear it, of the deed that she had done,
He made her ship's commander, over a vessel from the Isle of Man.

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Comments on "The g'Earls on Tech Training"


Blogger Adriano said ... (October 24, 2005 at 8:20 AM) : 

I am impressed! Very nice to hear from you, Michael!

More on the same subject on this other blog:

Who is the host of our next lunch?


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