I just got back from one of the most amazing training experiences of my life and I felt I had to share it with you. Specifically, I want to share WHY the training was successful and how EVERYONE – management, participants, and the facilitator – must do his or her part for effective training.
Before we get into the specifics, I want to give you a bit of background. The client is a financial institution headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. After finalizing an acquisition of a northeastern bank in August, they now rank in the top 15 largest financial institutions in the United States.
Last year the Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) attended the Banks and Other Financial Institutions – U.S. GAAP and Industry Update course sponsored by KPMG Executive Education. The course was designed and developed by GAAP Dynamics and facilitated by Bob Laffler. Needless to say, the CAO was impressed with the course and contacted us to help them revamp their training for new hires, specifically the portion of the training program related to accounting and reporting. The result? A 10-day U.S. GAAP Training Program for Analysts facilitated by Ben Davenport and me the last two weeks of August 2016.
Now, let’s get down to business! Why was this financial training so effective and what can you do, regardless of your role, to make your training a success?
Management: Set the “Tone at the Top” That Training is Important
The banking training we developed was a 10-day program focused on the accounting and reporting issues faced by financial institutions. However, it was only part of a 10-week training program that the newly hired analysts receive upon joining the bank. Wow! That’s quite the investment in their people, an investment that, unfortunately, not all companies make.
Management also invested their time during the training. Each day several executives volunteered to take part in “Corporate Chats” during the U.S. GAAP Training Program for Analysts. These talks, approximating 45-60 minutes, were designed as part of the course as a way to bring the material being learned to “real life.” These “Corporate Chats” were well received by the participants who appreciated learning how U.S. GAAP accounting and reporting issues impact the bank. Participants also had the opportunity to hear from management during the “Executive Speaker Series.” These talks were spread throughout the 10-week program and gave participants insight into the bank. Do you know how you spell “love?” T-I-M-E!
Finally, management set expectations for the training up front. Participants were instructed that training was part of their jobs and, as such, they were to show up on time and pay attention. They were expected to ask questions and participate in class discussions - no multitasking or surfing the Internet. What happened? They were model participants, making it one of the most engaged classes I have ever taught! Did I mention that we spent ten days learning about U.S. GAAP?
Participants: Demonstrate a Willingness and Eagerness to Learn
The participants had a lot to do with the ultimate success of the training. Being fresh out of college and starting their careers with one of the largest financial institutions in the U.S., they were eager to learn and impress. That’s not all that unexpected since they haven’t yet been beaten down by the “real world.” However, it was more than that. They genuinely tried to learn everything that was being taught, which was a bit surprising given the composition of the class.
Only about one-third of the class graduated with accounting degrees! Say what?! That was my sentiment upon learning that fact on the first day! Participants held degrees in finance, math, and statistics and might have only had a few accounting courses in college. Heck, we even had psychology majors with no previous accounting experience! However, they didn’t use it as an excuse. Even though the topic wasn’t in their “wheel house” they still did their best to learn and understand the material. They contributed to class discussions, participated in the group activities, gave suggested answers to the mini cases, and asked questions when they needed more information.
Why did the participants take such an interest learning U.S. GAAP, even though it was foreign to many of them and may not be immediately applicable to their jobs? I believe it is because they took the “long view”, realizing that the information was relevant to their employer and may be important to their new jobs. I can tell you this is not the norm when teaching younger adults who, unfortunately, a lot of times don’t want to learn if it is not immediately relevant, not realizing that sometimes things you learn today will be useful in the future.
I would like to give a big “THANK YOU” to this awesome class!
Facilitator: Engage Participants Throughout the Process
It started with the training materials. The training program was designed by GAAP Dynamics in consultation with accounting and finance personnel at the bank. Based on these discussions and review of their annual report, the materials were tailored to the accounting and reporting issues faced by financial institutions – fair value measurements, the allowance for loan and lease losses, asset and liability management, and securitization transactions. Relevance leads to engagement!
Probably the coolest thing we did was to provide copies of the bank’s most recent annual report for participants to use throughout the 10-day training program. We reviewed actual disclosures. They made notes in the margins. We even had a scavenger hunt game where participants, in their groups, had to find answers to questions about the bank. This was a tremendous learning experience and I would like to think that the participants would keep their marked-up copies of the annual report for a long time, referring back to it if they have questions.
Variety truly is the spice of life. I love Tony Robbins and Joel Osteen. They’re fantastic presenters. However, even they would have trouble keeping the audience’s attention for eight hours a day, for ten days. Did I mention that we spent ten days learning about U.S. GAAP?! Point is, with this long of a program, you need to break it up. We did this by utilizing the dual-instructor model, Ben and me, as well as designing the course to include the aforementioned “Corporate Chats” each day.
It's also important to keep it fun and light-hearted. In between modules, we played quick games such as Family Feud, Pictionary, or The Price is Right. This helped break up the day, which was heavy on technical content. Ben and I also treated the participants to a Cleveland Indians game. Go Tribe! I believe the games in the classroom and the after class activity of a baseball game helped participants bond as a team.
Finally, let's talk about food! Something about food and training just go together – like peas and carrots! Our “Donuts and Derivatives” and “Bagels and Business Combinations” days were an instant success and very much appreciated by the participants!
Was this training an anomaly? I look forward to going back to this bank next year and finding out with the latest new hires. However, now I know the secret recipe for effective training! The next time you are organizing, participating in, or facilitating in training, remember to do your part to make it a success!