Tag Archives: education and training

Running a Training Department on a Shoestring, Part 2

In my last post, I discussed how Eventbrite has provided an effective platform for organizing and delivering registrations for our professional development offerings. Instead of manually entering registration information conveyed in an e-mail, we direct people to a registration page via a calendar widget or URL. Agents enter their own information and get updates and reminders automatically. I’m free to focus on other aspects of the professional development program.

One thing that is a constant in my position is the need to produce updated materials. In addition to print materials, there are videos and images, job aids and user guides that require my attention. I’m always on the look out for cheap (read: free) ways to help me produce learning materials that look good and deliver the message well.

Over a year ago I encountered Canva. I’m not sure where I saw the reference, but it got me curious and I checked out the site. Canva is an online platform that lets you create designs for social media posts, documents, marketing materials, and more. I use the free version, but there is the option to upgrade to be able to load all of your brand-standard materials for use when designing pieces. You can also choose to use images or other design elements in Canva that carry a small fee.

I make almost all of my visuals for social media on Canva. I also create presentation designs and upload them to PowerPoint. My next project is to use the infographic template to create job aids and quick reference guides. Canva has numerous free designs you can clone and edit for your purpose. You can also create your piece using basic templates and adding background, text, images, and graphics. If there are no images in Canva’s library that suit you, or if you have a specific image you want to use, you can also upload these to your account and have them available for a piece.

There are other free platforms (Adobe Spark, Venngage) that let you create images and designs for use on social media and in documents, but I have found Canva to be very versatile and relatively easy to use. I was disappointed with Venngage because many of the templates they offer require the user to upgrade to a paid account. If you have a free account, your sharing and downloading are restricted. I know others who use Adobe Spark and like it. Adobe Spark has additional features that let you create animated videos and web stories. While Canva is set up for easy sharing online if you so desire, Adobe Spark is primarily geared toward social sharing and web applications.

Great content is the backbone of effective training materials. Good designs, images, and graphics reinforce the message. We have a marketing department at my company, and they do help with some design work (and use Canva as well!); however, I find that by creating the images I need for a presentation, video, or document myself, I can tailor the message with image and the words, written or spoken. It’s helpful to have a tool that gives me the “rails” within which I can confidently play with the visual message. That the tool is free is a definite plus.

Running a Training Department on a Shoestring, Part 1

There are many challenges to managing a training program for over a thousand real estate agents located across a state. Automating as many processes as possible becomes required when you have limited personnel and funds. One process that we had to find a cost-effective solution for quickly was class/course registration. We needed cheap, effective way to give agents access to a calendar of upcoming classes and the ability registration online.

Our registration process depended on agents or managers sending e-mails to one person who would then add the person registering to a calendar invitation for the class. All monitoring of attendance was done manually with a sign in sheet and a spreadsheet where names and dates were recorded. This was time-consuming and did not give us an easy way to monitor registrations prior to a class. We used a Google calendar as a class calendar. This displayed the upcoming offerings on our intranet site, but it was not interactive and did not allow agents to register.

After some research, I landed on Eventbrite. Although it is primarily for event organizers who want to sell tickets or charge a fee for registration, I found that Eventbrite suited us well for what we needed. Eventbrite is free to use (a big plus) and gives us a calendar widget we can post to our intranet site. The calendar is interactive: Click on a date and you can see all classes scheduled for that date; click on “Register Now” and you are directed to the online registration page.

Eventbrite charges a fee if you sell tickets through the site and have Eventbrite collect the charges. We have used this feature for our annual convention where we charge a small fee to attend. The process was straight-forward and the fee was not exorbitant. It saved us the hassle of collecting checks or cash prior to and at the event.

In addition to having the interactive calendar for class registration, Eventbrite offers several tools that make life easier for the department. We check in participants on our mobile devices through the Eventbrite Organizer app (this is how we take attendance now!). If necessary, we can even register/sell tickets through the app.

I often send e-mail messages to participants before or even after a class through the platform. This eliminates the need to copy addresses into my e-mail message to send from my e-mail. I also have a record of what was sent when in an easily accessed location.

At any time, I can download reports of registrations and attendance. This makes keeping track of required attendance easier and more efficient. I often download information to a spreadsheet and forward it on to managers so that they can also see who is registered for or attended a class.

Eventbrite will also create a Facebook event for a class and include all the relevant information as well the link to register. I typically do not use this option, but I do take the URL for a class (each one has its own, customizable URL) and post it on Facebook when promoting a class or program. In addition to the Facebook interface, you have the ability to connect an Eventbrite account with any number of platforms including Survey Monkey and Mail Chimp via extensions.

There are many more features available in Eventbrite. On occasion I’ve used access codes to limit who can register for a class or program, the name badge function to create badges for classes, the wait list when demand for a class has been high, and the copy function to create “events” based on past offerings.

It’s rare to find a versitle tool that provides options such as these at a low cost. I’m happy to have stumbled upon Eventbrite for our class registration and reporting needs.

Social Selling is Not Just For Marketers

Not long ago, trainers could depend on students showing up to class because they got a flier or a printed newsletter with a list of upcoming offerings. Their manager or boss told them about the class and they dutifully filled out the registration blank and sent it in to the training department.

Today, that printed promotional piece may never be seen, ending up instead in a recycling bin or trashcan when it is discovered after the class took place. Today’s trainer needs to be an effective marketer utilizing various channels to “get the word out” and attract participants to the seminar, class, or webinar. Social media gives trainers another channel to reach the people who need training. It’s also a way to build trust in your programs and the credibility of your message.

I started using a Facebook business page several years ago as a way to learn how to use Facebook for business so I could teach others. What started out as an experiment has turned into an effective way to promote our training programs. HER University is both an example of what real estate agents can do with their own Facebook business pages but also a tool for the training department to get more agents to our programs. Here’s a sample of how I use the page to market training at HER Realtors:

  • Events This is probably a no-brainer, but the ability to create Facebook events and invite people to them is one way to draw attention to special training programs or classes. The event has a link to register through Eventbrite (more on Eventbrite in a future post), information about the speaker/trainer, and all the basic details. As we near the date of the program, posts about what participants need to know or other helpful information is added. If available, I post videos and pictures to the Facebook event also. I encourage people to share the event to help broaden the reach, but ideally it should be promoted.
  • Sharing and tagging When we hold a special event or program, I and others share to the page about it with one or multiple photos and tag participants. This doesn’t necessarily get people to the event or program, but it heightens awareness of what we’re doing. Participants will often share these posts or comment. (I or one of my colleagues always respond when someone comments on a post).
  • Class Posts Any time we want to try to get more registrations for a class or webinar, it goes on the Facebook page with a link to register for the class/webinar. It’s not enough to just post information about a class or webinar, people need to have a way to contact someone or register for the class. And don’t forget pictures or video!
  • Video We create videos with quick tips or other information that our agents might find useful. Posting these videos helps demonstrate that the page is a resource for information. I used to post the YouTube link to the videos, but now I post directly to the page. This gets more attention and organic reach.
  • Interesting Information In addition to the information about upcoming classes and programs, we regularly post information about the company and real estate industry for agents to share. This is intended to help get the word out about topics we think they need to know or would like to know, but it also serves to give agents something to share on their pages. Creating content can be difficult for some of them despite our efforts to teach and reinforce best practices.
  • Private groups Sometimes it makes sense to create a private group for agents participating in a multi-session program. The private group becomes the place they and the instructor(s) can communicate and share their progress. The private group becomes a place for social learning also.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what a Facebook page can be used for to promote a training program. To be truly effective, I believe you need to put some of your budget towards boosting posts and advertising the page. Training is a recruiting opportunity in real estate, and the more agents at other brokerages know about a company’s programs, the more attractive it might be to affiliate with the company. This is likely true for other industries as well. Engaging managers on the page is helpful. They can help get the word out and have a presence on the page, too.

Facebook is not the only social networking site that’s useful for promoting a training program, but it’s relatively cheap (or free) and easy to use.

Good Intentions

I logged into the dashboard and looked at the date of the last post. It’s been six months since I posted on this blog. There were comments on that blog post from November 2016 waiting for my approval, but I have been too preoccupied to even mark them as spam (as they were). At least, until today. The good intentions I had when starting this blog have eaten at me too long. Nothing happens unless you do something. So now it’s time to do something.

Training can be an all-consuming occupation. Besides the time spent delivering training, there’s the research, meetings, phone calls, e-mails, general preparation, and post-event evaluation that take the majority of my time. Actually delivering the training is the tip of the iceberg. When you add coordinating other activities ancillary to my main role, my days (and sometimes evenings and weekends) are full. This sounds like an excuse, but it’s meant as an explanation and a warning.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day activities that comprise our occupations. I have been complaining to family members for some time that I feel like my department is losing sight of the “big picture.” We schedule training classes and engage outside trainers willy-nilly as if being busy equals success. We lack the planning and direction that could help us run a focused, intentional program. We are not evaluating the efficacy of our programs. I miss this. I am a “big picture” kind of person. I like having a plan and executing it well.

I also happen to think that just providing training, regardless of the outcome, is more for show than the business outcomes the training is supposed to drive. (Look at all the programs we have! We’re being helpful!) Too often, we confuse offering training opportunities with participants being able to perform as we want or need. Just because they show up doesn’t mean they apply what’s learned.

I have put off returning to this blog for months now thinking that I didn’t have it in me to add anything interesting or consequential. In November I was grateful for the responses I received on my post about gratitude. The post had little to do with training, but the timing felt right (it also helped to have read a similar post on one of my favorite blogs, Spin Sucks). Then the holidays happened, then it was a new year with new programs to launch, and the list goes on. You don’t make art out of good intentions, as Flaubert reminds me.

So, enough with excuses and good intentions. It’s time to get back to a plan and execute, evaluate, and adjust it accordingly. I want to make good art.

Who’s in Charge?

It seems like everyone else knows better about what the training department should do and how its resources should be used.

The employee or agent thinks more continuing education is the department’s best use of its members’ time and complains about the lack of courses when the agent needs it. The manager decides that his/her office or region needs a particular approach to training, bypasses the training department and goes straight to the company president for approval.

Who needs a training/education department when those whom the department serves know better?

It’s frustrating to try to deal with these situations. As a training leader, you don’t want to appear like you’re engaging in turf warfare, but there comes a time when you must stand your ground and assert your right to promote your vision for training at your company.

This doesn’t mean you discount the ideas and suggestions. Instead, you refer to the plan and determine whether they make sense in light of the objectives and goals you set forth. Maybe there’s room for change if the change supports the goals of the organization and training’s role in achieving those goals.

How you handle this situation will determine whether such intervention in the training program will continue to occur. I have seen it happen time and again, and typically it’s done by those who think they understand the training function. They are often well-meaning individuals who are looking to gain some advantage. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of an effective training program for all.

Ultimately, you (as the training professional) must make the case for training as you envision it. You must gain buy-in for the plan from all who are charged with promoting the program to their direct reports. An effective guide for me has been James and Wendy Kirkpatrick’s Training on Trial. The book makes the case for the value of training and how it can enhance an organization’s bottom line. One of the lessons I learned from this study was how to get managers (in particular) and company leaders to understand this.

I don’t want to spend all my time defending my department, fending off well-meaning, but ultimately clueless attempts to undercut the value of the training plan we’ve implemented and continue to refine. We have considered the options. We have consulted with managers and other leaders. We do need to bring a consultative approach to the process. But at some point, managers need to trust that training is doing what needs to be done.

The Online Education Conundrum

A few years ago, I started advocating for an online education portal where our agents could go to access training classes if they couldn’t attend training in person. Unfortunately, the stigma of a previous incarnation of an online education portal for our company caused senior leadership to reject the idea. I should say that this was an early instance of online learning that was quite rudimentary. It left much to be desired.

Fast forward a couple years, and the attitudes changed in light of a growing company with the need to offer training to people in several locations. Instructor-lead training is the norm, and the ability to offer classes in multiple locations at times people were willing to attend has become problematic. Now, online education seems to be the solution to the problem.

Instead of evaluating various platforms available in the marketplace, we took a different approach. One of our partners is a local college of business that provides online pre-licensing and continuing education courses across the country. Without much knowledge of the platform they were moving their online education offerings to, we agreed to partner with them in a new venture. The college would offer our agents the ability to register for pre-licensing courses or take continuing education courses online through a custom-designed portal. We would have the ability to place our education offerings online using this platform and our agents would have access to them via the same portal.

This seems like a win-win situation. The college gets more business for their pre-licensing courses and online continuing education, and we get a place to put our content online. The agents get access to what they need, when they need it.

Here’s where the questions pop up: What kind of platform is this, and how easy is it to build courses for online use? The platform the college chose was designed for use by K-12 institutions. It does the job, but it’s not an easy platform to work with for our purposes. I find myself creating content, then having to manipulate it in such a way as to get it into the course I design. One example: videos can be uploaded directly to the platform; however, for viewing ease, I upload the video to YouTube, copy the embed code, paste it into a text document, save the document with a particular title and .html, move that document to a zip file with the same title, then upload it to the platform. This is not what I would call user-friendly.

The end result is not bad. I can categorize the courses, and they work as designed. Unfortunately, we have yet to launch this platform for our agents despite having access to it from the back end for almost a year. We are waiting for the college to migrate all of their content to the platform, and then we’ll be able to make it live. I often think it would have been much easier for us to contract with a platform provider directly. We would have had it up and running by now.

The benefit to having this online education portal with the college may be intangible at present, but the relationship offers us other benefits we can’t deny. Our recruits get an automatic scholarship when they register through our portal. We have a revenue sharing agreement that gives us a portion of the proceeds from online continuing education that our agents complete. And, we have created a relationship with this college that offers us access to resources we can’t maintain on our own.

I’ll keep plugging away at placing our content on the platform. Once we go live and agents have a chance to experience the training, I’ll be in a better position to evaluate if this is the answer to our prayers.