Put Some People in the Picture

March 29, 2011 by Wally Bock

Karen O’Leonard’s excellent post on the Bersin Blog is titled “Building Expertise through Continuous Training” Among other things, she noted how Autonation reaped significant productivity and sales gains from changes to its training program. The company changed from a single, five-day program to shorter sessions spaced out over weeks. Between sessions, new sales trainees work with an assigned mentor.

There’s lots of talk today about technology and how we can provide “on demand” learning. This is good, but it shouldn’t make us forget that there are things we can do to improve the quality of learning. We can reap benefits by putting more line people into the training process, if we do it the right way.

O’Leonard’s “mentors” sparked memories for me of one of the most effective training initiatives ever: The San Jose Model Field Training Officer Program. The basic model was developed in the San Jose, California police department between 1970 and 1973. Since then it has been modified and adopted in various forms by law enforcement agencies all over the world. Glenn Kaminsky, one of the original developers of the program, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers for his work on the system.

What’s all the fuss about? The program was developed to help new police officers bridge the gap between classroom training in the police academy and becoming a qualified patrol officer. It also helps agencies evaluate which trainees could do that job and which ones could not.

Today, almost forty years later, the basic concept is still working for police departments and may work for you. Here are the key components.

The program uses validated descriptions of the differences between acceptable and unacceptable performance on key variables. Daily, weekly and monthly summaries of performance are part of the process.

The Field Training Officers (FTOs) who work with the recruits receive training for their role and are supervised in their “trainer” capacity. These are regular patrol officers who have volunteered and been screened. In many agencies, effective Field Training Officers are more likely to be promoted than their peers.

The FTOs (similar to the mentors at Autonation) work closely with the trainee’s supervisor. They communicate regularly and both assess the trainee’s performance.

The system is modified to suit local conditions and changing situations. While the basic program is the same as it was in San Jose in 1973, every agency that uses it, including San Jose, has made changes to it.

Shoulder-to-shoulder learning is especially powerful for complex, knowledge-based jobs. Adding Field Trainers can add a structured form of that learning to your mix and leverage your classroom and technology investments.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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