Sustaining the Training: The Key Role of the Field Trainer
Feature Story – By Jon Curtis and Matt McGrath
You are in the ideal position to drive the sustainment of knowledge and skills that result in high-performing field teams.
Effective learning curricula are designed not only to convey knowledge but also to affect positive changes in behavior. It’s ultimately not about information; it’s about informed action. It’s not good enough for learning to be theoretically applicable; it actually has to be applied with customers. The right combination of programs and methods can transfer knowledge and establish skills that together affect the way learners act “in the real world.” Great training focuses on what we want the learner to say and do with customers in the field to facilitate adoption of our products.
A well-designed curriculum that will produce this desired behavioral change could be thought of as an ongoing campaign that includes three important phases, each designed to achieve specific objectives. The initial foundational phase aims to transfer important disease state and product knowledge. The second phase typically includes classroom workshops to establish or strengthen skills for engaging customers and influencing their behaviors. Equally important is a third phase that is continuous and includes reinforcement, coaching, learner self-evaluation and course correction.
It is this third phase that sustains the knowledge and skills introduced in the first two phases. It effectively brings about behavioral change that results in a knowledgeable and skilled field professional with the capacity to support product adoption, cultivate customer relationships and, ultimately, produce results.
As field trainers, you play a key role in all three phases, and it is important for you to establish contact with learners from the start to provide support and foster working relationships. That said, your role is critical in the third phase. You are in the ideal position to drive the sustainment of knowledge and skills that result in high-performing field teams.
What Comes Next?
While it is generally agreed upon in principle that the third phase of sustained learning and behavioral change is important, too often learning campaigns end after the classroom workshops are conducted — after people leave the launch meeting and return to the field. Learning design and development teams can become so consumed with building the programs for the launch meeting, sales meeting or new-hire classroom training, they fail to plan for what comes next. It’s fine to acknowledge a job well done at the end of a successful meeting, but it’s not the time to take a victory lap. The meeting is the pre-game preparation. The game is in the field. It’s the “what comes next” that matters most.
If you as field trainers are going to be the prime movers behind sustained behavioral change, then you need to be equipped to do so. Too often you don’t have what you need to reinforce learning and provide valuable coaching and feedback. This missed opportunity can be addressed with good planning and the development of tools that enable you to properly ply your trade.
If the creation of a learning sustainment toolkit for field trainers were to be part of the process of designing and developing the learning for the first two phases, it would be easy to identify the resources and tools needed to reinforce knowledge in the field.
So, What’s in the Toolkit?
This depends on goals, budget and other factors. But it is possible to create an effective toolkit for field trainers to achieve goals under any budgetary conditions. Anyone who has worked with tools, maybe around the house, knows that often the simplest tools are most effective. Sometimes you just need a hammer. Other circumstances require heavier equipment. There’s no one set of tools that works best in all situations.
The toolkit should include elements that support both knowledge and skill reinforcement. On the simple-but-effective end of the spectrum, the toolkit might include flashcards to support recall of important scientific concepts and clinical data, or at-a-glance summaries of products, key studies or treatment guidelines for reference during coaching conversations. These tools are easily digestible for learners and can be very effective for ongoing knowledge reinforcement and clinical fluency.
More substantive tools might include discussion guides with thought-provoking questions that get the learner to synthesize and process new information and explain it in terms that are meaningful to a customer. These tools can be analog and, if preferred, print-based.
Then there are digital tools such as interactive workbooks that challenge the learner to label and discuss the progression of a disease or assemble and explain a product mechanism of action. Digital interactive tools to reinforce knowledge are highly engaging and effective at making complex science easier to understand, and they are readily accessible today through mobile tablets and smartphones.
Similarly, the toolkit should include resources to support skill development. It may include selling scenarios that challenge the learner to develop an effective call strategy, identify and practice insightful questions or appropriate sales messages, and develop effective ways to gain a commitment from the customer to take an important action. As with knowledge reinforcement, these skill-based tools can be designed as analog resources or in a digital format, which may include audio or video, and has the advantage of being able to record practice sessions for self-evaluation or feedback.
Convey and Reinforce
The tools described above are just examples. We can all think of other tools to add to the toolkit. The essential point here is twofold. First, the sustainment tools you, as field trainers, need for the third phase of the curriculum should be designed and created along with the programs for the first two phases. As the modules and other programs for phase one are being created, the companion knowledge reinforcement tools should also be in development.
At this conceptual stage, learning should be thought of in terms of both conveying and reinforcing knowledge. Likewise, as the classroom workshops for phase two are in development, the tools for skill reinforcement and coaching should also be created. Done this way, when it’s time to implement the curriculum, all phases are developed, approved, and importantly, are ready to go. When the learner leaves the launch meeting, you should have in place the tools you need to perform your important role in the learning campaign.
This brings us to our second point: your critical role and value as a field trainer. The third phase we’ve been discussing requires you to be set up to succeed. It is your important job to ensure that knowledge and skills are not left behind at the launch. You are the coaches that enable field teams to apply their learning with customers. You are a primary go-to for guidance and support when the scenarios addressed during the earlier learning phases materialize.
In short, you keep the learning and practice going, as it must for field teams to consistently stay on top of their game. It is therefore essential for you to have a purposefully designed and developed toolkit at your disposal to achieve your goal, which is to reinforce knowledge and skills that will produce effective and sustained changes in behavior and, ultimately, drive product adoption.
Finally, learning for field teams, in general, must not be thought of as something that happens predominantly “off the field.” Great training should quite literally accompany field team members from the learning program onto the field in the form of companion pieces designed to refresh, reinforce and reinvigorate. Professionals who perform at a high level are always training, always learning, always adapting and always improving. It’s an ongoing thing.
So, what comes next? More effective collaboration between you and your field teams, more tools, more training and more success.
Jon Curtis is owner and managing director of Curtis Learning. Email Jon at
email@example.com. Matt McGrath is director of communications for Curtis
Learning. Email Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.