The success of training depends on more than what happens in the training room.
Newsrooms facing rapid change need training more than ever. But editors — or managers and executives in any kind of organizations — can sabotage training, often without realizing what they’re doing wrong. If you’re a manager in a newsroom preparing for or going through training, watch out for these mistakes:
Impatience: Training takes time. It takes time to develop and test a new course; it takes time to teach it. A skilled trainer will produce reasonable estimates of how long all that will take. And then it will take longer. With an inexperienced trainer, the estimates will be even further off; there’s a natural tendency to underestimate how long a class will take. Bosses can compound the problem by pressuring the trainer to cut even the initial estimates. You can’t cram 90 minutes of training and questions into a 30-minute class. Rushing class preparation or insisting on brief classes will sharply cut the effectiveness of the training, and that only eats up more time in the long run.
Unreasonable expectations: The boss says “We don’t need training. I just noodled around with [name of new software here] on my own and figured it out.” But people learn at different speeds in different ways. And often the boss didn’t actually learn — she may know how to do some simple tasks, but not more complicated things required for reporters to do their jobs; or she may have become familiar with the program’s operation, but without an understanding of what how it applies to the job. Alternatively, the boss may say, “We already trained on this. If they say they don’t know how to do it, they’re just lazy and lying.” But, again, people do learn at different speeds. It is normal for some people to be initially resistant to change simply out of fear. And training is rarely a one-shot solution. Set specific goals for what training should accomplish and let your trainer keep going until they’re accomplished.
No reinforcement: Training doesn’t work if it’s divorced from what’s happening in the newsroom day to day. If bosses fail to follow up (making sure the new tools are being used, singling out the quickest adopters for praise), the lessons will be forgotten. Training doesn’t end when the class is over; that’s just when the managers have to step up.
Negative reinforcement: This often happens when training has been ordered from on high, but bosses in the middle don’t want the change. For example, the staff’s trained to create aggregation posts, but their supervisors tell them aggregation is taking time away from “their real jobs.” I don’t believe that managers have to pretend to love every initiative, but actively working against orders from on high can only make things worse.
Inappropriate goals: You can train someone to acquire new skills or polish old ones. You can’t train anyone to be lucky. But some bosses reserve their praise for work that makes the boss look good, or for things that are easy to count. For example, a business editor may only praise a reporter’s story if it’s chosen for the front page. Or a city editor may use quotas to determine who to praise — so many quotes per story, so many stories per week. While the boss doesn’t say flat out that the skills taught in training are wrong, the staff is at best confused; more likely, disheartened. Giving or withholding praise is a powerful way to send messages — more powerful than many managers realize.
Sudden conversions: Skilled trainers know the importance of balance. For example, if they want to train reporters to use alternative story forms, they’ll be careful to explain not just how to use the new forms but also in what circumstances. Bosses who get an order for alternative story forms from on high, though, can be overeager to please. The inverted pyramid is banned; alternative forms are required. The trainer’s preaching about the right tool for the job is overruled. That weakens the trainer’s authority and makes the staff increasingly cynical about new training. Ask yourself: Does this new thing really upend all previous priorities?
Shiny things: Closely related to the problem of converted bosses is the tendency for some bosses to be easily distracted by the Latest Thing. They run across, say, a new app for creating videos, and decide a) everyone must learn it, b) everyone must use it, and c) both a and b must happen immediately. Skilled trainers know that training needs to have priorities, and that people progress through training at different speeds. Flavor-of-the-month training means some staffers will never catch up. Keep your eye on the broad newsroom goals, and work with your trainer to ensure that those don’t get lost in a flurry of brief enthusiasms.
Non-participation: When someone’s boss, or someone’s boss’s boss, chooses not to attend staff training, the message to the troops is clear: It’s a waste of time. The boss is busy? News flash: So is everyone else in the newsroom. Make time.
Lack of synch: Some bosses skip newsroom training but figure that’s OK because they had the trainer give them the short version, or they got training directly from the corporate level. The information they think they have can be outdated, incomplete or not consistent with adaptations made for their own newsroom. End result: confusion and miscommunication. Even if you are sure you know how to do something, attend the training so you know what your staff’s being told.