A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Muhammed Ali. It was after his glory days and his disease had begun to take its course but that did not diminish who he was nor did it diminish the awe I felt just being around him. Muhammed Ali was known throughout the world for his incredible talent as a boxer but he was also known for many notable statements. When asked about why he had such a brutal training regimen, he said: “I hated every minute of training, but I said: Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” He certainly achieved his goal and its obvious he understands the value of training.

I spent more than 15 years as a Firefighter. We trained relentlessly, drilling the same skills over and over and over because during an emergency basic actions need to come automatically and with speed, all the while assuring that safety is the highest priority. Preparedness, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, is ” a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking corrective action in an effort to ensure effective coordination during incident response.” This is a good model for us to follow when training our teams in the business world.

What should be included in a training program?

I recommend following the Preparedness Cycle. This cycle calls for continuous evaluation, organization and training as areas of improvement are identified.

This continuous evaluation of what is required and what progress is being made helps to make your organization ready for whatever might come your way. A good training program should have the following elements:

  • Repetition to help with short term memory. Doing things over and over will lock in the fundamentals and also keeps your team in learning mode.
  • Make connections with what is being learned and how to apply the knowledge or skill. There is nothing more frustrating than being taught something and having no idea how you will use or implement it. Making these connections early will make recalling it easier when it is actually needed at some future time and date.
  • Use what is taught in your training in the real world as soon as you possibly can. This has several benefits: the first is it will gain much wider acceptance by the team. When you can practically demonstrate how what is being taught can be applied, your team will appreciate the training and will actually use it. The second benefit is that immediate use helps to hard wire that skill or information into the brain and move it into long-term memory.
  • Take time to debrief once you have finished your training, or at a logical point within the training, allowing the team to think about what they have learned. Let them discuss possible uses and methods that they might use it for. Taking time to ponder what they’ve learned will help them make important connections for future or immediate use.
  • Ask for feedback. Feedback is a gift: there is no such thing as bad feedback. Allowing your team to be perfectly frank in their evaluation without fear of reprisal will help you fashion a training regiment that is a meaningful and productive use of your time and of your team’s time.
  • Whenever possible, use scenario based training (SBT). Sometimes called role-play, this allows an individual or team to practice what they have learned in an environment where they can make mistakes, immediately learn from those mistakes and get corrective feedback that can help improve the knowledge or skill set immeasurably. I am fond of video recording these sessions. You would be amazed at what you can learn when you watch yourself practice a new or even existing skill.

Training is an important part of learning any new skill. But if your training doesn’t resemble the actual setting you’ll need to use your skills in, it’ll be harder to remember. Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Mike Kenny says, “Train like you fight,” and research backs him up. Not only will you be better prepared, but you learn much better when the context you practice in matches the context you will eventually perform in.

How strong is this effect? Insanely strong.


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