Back to Tampa Part I: You Need to Train People

I’d like to start this post with something I’ve never heard anyone say before: I want to go back to Tampa. HEYO! Sorry, Tampa. That was uncalled for. For real, I’d like to once again revisit the 2022 MEP Innovation conference that took place a few weeks ago in Tampa. Conferences like this are great for networking and seeing all of the different tech people are using in construction. I’ve been going to conferences like it for at least ten years and I always come back with a OneNote tab filled with ideas large and small.

I wasn’t necessarily looking for new tech ideas on this trip. In fact, there was one breakout session that I was anticipating with more enthusiasm than the others. The title was “Software Adoption is More About People Than Products.” It was the final breakout of the conference. For my entire career I’ve struggled with buy-in. You can find an ideal solution, prepare, train thoroughly, show them how it will make their lives easier, then follow-up and still have people who decide they don’t want any part of it. One of my favorite speakers I’ve had the privilege to see over the years is Brent Darnell, a speaker whose presentations have nothing to do with technology. Mr. Darnell has made a career of bringing awareness of emotional intelligence to construction. I’ve read his books The People-Profit Connection and The Tough Guy Survival Kit and tried to apply his teachings to what I do. I looked forward to a Brent Darnell-style presentation during that final breakout that might shed some light on my buy-in conundrum.

I enjoyed the presenters’ 30 minute presentation. They gave us some personal background and talked about how they’ve worked to bring people together at their companies. They did a fine job, but at the end of the presentation I found that my itch hadn’t quite been scratched. Sorry, that’s a disgusting metaphor but I’m going with it anyway. Since they finished early they opened it up to the floor for questions. On a whim I raised my hand not quite sure how to express what I was feeling, but before I knew it they were passing me a microphone. What I’m about to type certainly isn’t an exact transcript of what I asked – I put myself on the spot and I’m not used to talking into a microphone to a room full of total strangers so I probably sounded like a stammering idiot – but I hope it sounded something like the following:

“I’m currently trying to implement a project scheduling solution and it’s not the software I’m worried about. I’m afraid that when the training is done and we’ve proven that the new process is going to save time and automate a lot of communication that many people will still just say, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ I realize there’s no silver bullet answer to this, but what are the people in this room doing to bring naysayers over to their side?”

Again, I’m sure it wasn’t that eloquent, but hopefully you get the point. What followed was somewhat disappointing, but also pretty much what I expected. Most of the responses could be put into one of three categories. I’m going to break these categories into separate posts because – in case you haven’t already figured it out – I like to tell stories. Category #1:

You need to train people. I shouldn’t assume anything, but I hoped that it was implied by the way I worded the question that the naysayers I was talking about had already been trained. While other attendees generously answered my impossible question I nodded my head politely, but in my head I was thinking, “Of course we train our people.” I’m not going to sit here and say that in all my years working in ConTech that all of the training our employees have received has been perfect and every person who took part walked away with a complete working understanding of whatever we were trying to teach. Far from it. Training is a constant work in progress. I’ve seen what happens when corners get cut and training is reduced or eliminated completely. You might as well take the money you spent on the product you just purchased or the new process you created and flush it down the toilet.

I do have a lot of questions about which is the best way to train, though. I’ve tried everything to get people on board. In-person, hands on training in the office or at the jobsite. Open office hours for Q&A. Online Q&A. Long sessions. Short sessions. Long and short videos that people can watch online when they have time. Paper cheat sheets. How-to videos. Lunch and learns. A quick thought on lunch and learns: I’ve never had more people come to in-person training sessions than when I’ve had lunch and learns. However, once you begin feeding the people who come to your training, you can never not feed the people who come to your training again. Once you go lunch and learn you can never go back. No food = no people. You better at least show up with a six pack of dunkers from Kwik Trip (a reference for my fellow Wisconsinites) or attendance will be sparse at best.

Here’s a quick story I like to tell to illustrate my issue: A few years back we had an important software implementation. A few other co-workers and I had been trained directly by the software manufacturer as part of a “train the trainer” program. I had confidence in my knowledge of the software and its ability to make that process far more efficient. Executives were joining me for each training session to make sure that the people involved were understanding and getting on board. It was nice incredibly helpful to have that much support from our executives. During one session with a co-worker who had developed a bit of a reputation for resisting change like this, an executive told me he wasn’t going to leave the room until he was sure this employee got everything that he needed and would cooperate. For the entire 60-minute training session everything went smoothly. When it was over the room started to clear out and soon it was just the exec, the co-worker, and me. The exec made a point to say, “Charlie, you make sure he gets what he needs. Stay here and answer questions for the rest of the day if that’s what it takes.” We both nodded and agreed and for a minute I thought, “This is going to work.” The executive left the room. The moment the door closed behind him the co-worker slammed his laptop shut, angrily threw it into his bag and said, “There’s no fucking way I’m doing this,” and stormed out.

I realize that I’m talking about a minority of my co-workers here, but that vocal minority can derail a good initiative quickly. That takes me back to my question, what do you do about it? One intriguing that I’ve never attempted before is gamification. For those of you unfamiliar, gamification is the process of brining elements of a game into other areas. Like taking one of my project schedules and hiding a link to a prize somewhere randomly in the schedule. The first one to find the link gets the prize. I like the idea of that but the skeptic in me says that it’ll be the same early adopters who win the prizes and it will do nothing to move the meter for the naysayers. I guess I won’t know if I don’t try, right?

I’m curious to know if you have other solutions for this issue. If you do, please drop a comment below, e-mail me here, or connect with me on LinkedIn and we can discuss. If not, Part II of this post will be coming soon with more thoughts on the next category.


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