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Training Your Government Employees to Adapt to Change

As a change agent driving a major decision – pushing for a major software investment, or an organizational restructuring – getting the paper signed feels like the finish line. You’ve been living and breathing this initiative for months or maybe even years, and you can hardly wait to see your hard work in action. 
 
Don’t pop the champagne bottle yet. While you have been making plans and evaluating vendors, the rest of the organization has been going about work as usual and may not be up to speed on any new initiatives.  
 
The key to any successful organizational initiative is user onboarding and adoption. This training should not be an afterthought, because there is only one opportunity for change agents to make an essential and lasting first impression.  
 
Below we share three examples of how public sector agencies have successfully driven change by prioritizing employee training. Here’s how they did it:  
 

Personalized Training to the Needs of the Team 

When you find yourself asking, “should I host this training online or in-person?” or, “should we have a short, intensive training period or stagger milestones across multiple quarters?” the next question should immediately be, “Which would help my team learn most effectively?” Remember that training is about your team, not you.  
 
We recently interviewed Michael Derr, long-time Purchasing Officer for Monterey County in California. During his tenure, Michael onboarded a new fleet software that incorporated technology into many of the fleet team’s processes for the first time.  While planning for the training period, Michael considered the different needs across his team. There was a wide variety of departments, tenures, and comfort levels with technology. For some colleagues it’d be second nature to input data on an iPad. Others would require more extensive training and practice.    
 
What was Michael’s solution? He asked the software vendor to create a training room on-site in Monterey County. With this hands-on approach, colleagues could interact with the software and vehicles real-time with training, tasks, and exercises to ensure they are comfortable with the new technology. There was a baseline training requirement that more tech-savvy team members flew through, while others in the group were allowed to use the training room as much as they needed to become comfortable with the new process.  
 
Michael’s solution may not have been the best choice for another department; it was more expensive, and the digital training options would have worked just as well for the tech-savvy members of the team. But for the majority of Michael’s team, the hands-on training made all the difference, increasing adoption that offset the extra training costs. 
  
 

Factor Training into Your Bid Solicitation 

It’s understandable to want to put off training until the bid is awarded and you’re ready to onboard. But as we saw in the example above, finding the right training method is critical to user adoption and ultimately the success of the new software.  
 
If you know in advance the type of training style that works best for your team, include this specification in the bid solicitation. Returning to the Monterey County example above, Michael had decided in advance of the bid that in-person, hands-on training would be most effective to his team. Rather than having to negotiate training later, he baked the training style into the bid solicitation. This ensured that the bid would be awarded to a vendor who could meet his training needs. 
 
 

Appoint a Dedicated Training Staff 

Now that you’ve established the correct training style for your team, it’s time to think about the trainers themselves. Who will be responsible for onboarding the team successfully?  
 
Effective training is personalized, structured, and thorough – three things that take time. To expect a colleague with a full workload to “take on training” is unrealistic. Something has got to give: either the training or their day-to-day work will suffer as a result. 
 
The first step to avoiding this problem and identifying the best trainer(s) is to determine the workload. If training is for a new software – something that requires a heavy lift for a set period of time – consider bringing in a contractor or repurposing internal resources. It’s okay to assign this role to an existing colleague internally as long as stakeholders agree to adjust workload expectations until training is completed.  
 
But what if the ‘training’ is a long-term role? Consider the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), who prior to 2019 had completely decentralized purchasing. To stand up a TDOT purchasing division, Director of Purchasing Chris Yarbrough knew he’d need to train the rest of TDOT on how to interact with the new purchasing process. And Chris had the foresight to see this as a long-term relationship, rather than a temporary lift.   
 
What was Chris’s solution? He created a training team within the TDOT purchasing division. This team maintains a robust intranet populated with helpful documents, how-to videos, and other helpful tips for working with purchasing. By recognizing the need for a dedicated training staff, Chris has created a relatively painless transition from a decentralized to centralized purchasing structure.  
 

Final Thoughts 

At the end of the day, most change that is worth pushing for will not be easy, but implementing the recommendations above go a long way towards improving the employee training process. Proper training speeds up adoption, increases satisfaction, and saves money, so it is well worth the time and energy to plan a process for your employees that will set them up for success. 

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  Bernadette Launi

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