There are two kinds of IT managers. The first set of managers appreciate their end users; the second see donkey ears poking out above the cubicles when they walk through the company’s offices.
The first kind of IT managers deploy networks and roll out software and hardware designed to make the staff’s jobs easier and faster to complete. They listen to users. They tap them as a resource for training and understanding how they want to work. The second kind of manager tells people, “You don’t understand our capabilities, so you can’t possibly contribute. You aren’t using the proper language to describe concepts, so your ideas are foolish. Employees don’t know what they are talking about,” and so on.
The first type of IT manager reduces the number and duration of support calls every year, sees training budgets stretch further than they ever imagined, and are invited upstairs when there is cake. The second manager regards working with their fellow coworkers as a fight and are oblivious to the teeth bared in their direction. And no cake.
The difference between these two IT managers will never be more apparent when a company upgrades to Windows 7 this year. It doesn’t matter whether an IT manager works at a company of 500 employees, with money enough to send folks to a four-day seminar, or whether the manager works at a company of 20 and, by necessity, is a committed do-it-yourselfer. Their attitudes about training themselves and the company’s employees directly impact their consumption of Training Budget Pennies in an unexpected way.
In Training, the Focus is the Audience
This first step is easy for any IT manager. You already know your audience. You know your people. Keeping your users in your sight means a training strategy and routine can develop organically.
“In any kind of training, the audience should be the focus,” says Douglas Hynes, a computer systems engineer for Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When it comes to technology training, the audience may range from day-to-day users needing to know just enough to get their job done, to the higher echelons of the IT administrative staff members who support the backbone of industry, he says. “As a manager or director, one needs to take these types of different levels of tech savvy into account when deciding a training rubric,” says Hynes.
Clear patterns arise from a user focus, says Val Blatt, director of Training for OfficePro in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It depends on the company and its size, says Blatt, but common choices are:
- Power users are trained first; then they support their coworkers.
- A company throws a big kickoff event in a conference room with a professional demo.
- Everyday classes are held, with open enrollment. Some classes are scheduled, some are rolling, where people just drop in.
Smaller companies, of course, put together do-it-yourself teaching options according to their time, resources, and staffing needs, Blatt adds.
There is also the offsite approach, usually geared toward power users and IT departments. These sessions provide an intense download of technology in seminar format. For example, Binary Research International offers three- to five-day long seminars with hands on lab work, a 1,000-page Windows 7 “Bible,” three months technical support, and other services to its customers, says Annette Dow, Binary Research’s CEO and director manager of the Binary Training Division.
Resolve any issues that you can before training starts, Dow suggests. “Know your network, know what [legacy] hardware and software will work, know your license limitations, know your hardware requirements, and know your budget requirements,” she says.
Use a Pyramidal Structure to Schedule Training
For the intense service provided by Binary Research, Dow recommends first sending people who will deploy Windows 7, followed by the first people to support it: the help desk staff. “Next, send the desktop specialists, those who invariably help their fellow coworkers,” Dow says.
Wayne Jaworski, networked computer specialist for Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools, agrees. “We have a ‘train the trainer’ system, which affords a more feasible cost structure. Depending on the size of audience and scheduling, we try to have one or two ‘experts,’ possibly professionally certified, [to] provide technical training to [the] teams who will teach the masses.”
On the support side, Hynes says, this trainer has an even greater responsibility. The IT group has the fewest number of people but usually the largest impact.
Once the person returns from training, the knowledge gained should be disseminated in one way or another. “Hands-on training for technology coordinators has a massive ROI,” he says. “In my experience, no technology professional can say they know how to use a system without ever touching it. … Reading technology books or watching technology training video only gets the idea across; but one must have hands-on interaction before the training is sufficient,” says Hynes.
Doing It Yourself, and For Free
For companies with no budget, Microsoft and the Internet are your good friends, says Microsoft ISV Evangelist Ashish Jaiman. “Microsoft’s support organization is ready,” he says. “We of course want to support our Microsoft Learning Partners…but some people work in a small office [and offsite training is not practicable],” he says.
Company IT staff and trainers left to their own devices can look to the evangelism road shows that Microsoft offers, he suggests. “Workshops are a good way to start. Look for Microsoft events that interest you early on; many of these are free. Microsoft also works closely with websites like Channel9 to offer online content, including webcasts, etc.” says Jaiman.
Channel9.msdn.com started around 2003 or 2004 when Microsoft began to take evangelism more seriously. The reason for the name is lost to history, but the company wanted a place where IT managers could go anytime to learn from the community and to publish content if so inclined.
“We also just rolled out a learning kit which you can download at MSDN. It contains video, PowerPoint presentations, hands-on labs, demos…a well-ranged offering,” says Jaiman.
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