The Pizza Paradigm

Nothing fills training room seats faster than appetite appeal

by Denise Wrestler

An outlook reminder pops up on your screen reminding you to attend current good manufacturing practice (cGMP) training in five minutes. You groan. You take a long, hard look at your to-do list for the day and the tasks that will not get done as you spend the next several hours fighting the urge to fall asleep.

If you’re in the quality department, you may have drawn the proverbial short stick and be assigned to actually lead the training. In that case, you spend the next five minutes panicking and rehearsing the phrases, "Yes, it’s required per organization policy, per our quality system and per the regulations that we are legally obligated to follow," and, "Please grab some coffee on your way into the training room." You can almost hear the feet dragging against the worn carpet as your colleagues herd into the conference room like cattle.

It doesn’t have to be that way. At some point in your quality career, you may be asked to train staff on a quality process or industry-specific regulation. Instead of painful experiences or workload burdens, think of leading internal training as an opportunity to boost your career. By teaching others, you master the knowledge and skills yourself, often through real-world experience. Because you’ll be in the spotlight, you can position yourself as an internal expert and an approachable advisor on a specific body of knowledge.

But I don’t need to tell you that commanding a room isn’t as simple as standing up and firing off your knowledge (tip: offering free pizza never hurts). In my experience, trainers of quality topics fall into one of the following categories. As you read the personas, think about who you would benefit from the most:

The quiet one. This guy is already pretty soft-spoken one-on-one. You can only imagine how much energy is spent trying to hear him over the other 60 people chewing pizza. You’re tempted to turn to the person next to you and whisper, "Hey, I’m trying to listen! Could you please quiet your breathing?" But you doubt that whatever the quiet one has to say would reach your ears anyway. You hope he emails the PowerPoint slides afterward. And you hope the coffee you guzzled before the meeting does its job in keeping you awake.

The drill instructor. He doesn’t care if you have to cancel your other meeting to attend training. Oh, your kid is sick? Tell him or her to suck it up. Once, he snatched Bob’s cellphone out of his hands and threw it against the wall because Bob wouldn’t stop checking his email. You better pay attention to what he has to say; he’s notorious for randomly approaching people and asking them to repeat the lesson. It’s your seventh grade English class all over again. You wish you could pay attention and absorb what he has to say, but you’re too busy concealing your cellphone, ducking for flying objects or worrying about your kids.

The unenthused one. She hates being in front of people. She hates training. She hates that people hate her because she’s the trainer. You wonder if she hates the pizza, too. She rushes through the slides faster than lightning. She uses too many unfamiliar acronyms in her slides. She finishes her presentation so fast you didn’t even finish your pizza.

The overly enthused one. She’s passionate about quality and is not afraid to tell the world. Her slides are colorful, and she is too perky for someone who appears sober. She’ll throw in a pop quiz at the end because she wants to know how effective her training is. She won’t stop smiling, and the excessive inflection in her voice is starting to become nauseating. You try to pay attention because she really is a nice person, but you can’t help but wonder why she’s so excited and happy. You start to wonder whether that’s really water your trainer is drinking up there.

The effective one. This guy has it all, and you look forward to hearing what he has to say and participating in the training activities he creates. The office still jokes about last year’s session when attendees were split into teams to play cGMP jeopardy, and Ed lost the game for his team because he didn’t know what a corrective and preventive action (CAPA) was. Seriously, Ed? Everyone knows CAPA.

The effective one brushes through the usual quality stuff, but tells stories to explain the material: "Today’s topic is about proper disposal of chemicals, kids. Remember when Carla almost blew up the lab? We don’t need that happening again. Here’s why … "

The effective one ensures everyone understands the topic before moving on. He engages attendees and randomly cracks jokes. He allows regular breaks and promises candy if the attendees return. He takes the group outside for a stroll and somehow incorporates the grass, the trees and the mailman into his training presentation. You don’t know what the effective one will do or say next, but you can’t wait to find out.

Focus on FEAR

Trainers should aim to resemble the almighty effective one. That means you must get creative and bounce ideas off of coworkers during water cooler discussions. Check the weather reports regularly so you’ll always have an icebreaker.

You need a helpful motivator to entice people to attend training, other than keeping their jobs, of course. You may need to strike FEAR to get people interested. I don’t mean that you must scare your fellow workers; FEAR is an acronym I created that represents:

Feed. Rule No. 1 of effective training is feed your audience. IKEA had it right when they put a restaurant inside their store so shoppers would be less likely to leave if they got hungry. I’m always thankful that I can continue my shopping after hitting up that $1.99 breakfast. IKEA also has amazing Swedish meatballs. Consequently, I’ve also made special trips to IKEA for the sole purpose of buying 20 lbs. of Swedish meatballs. The same is true for training. They’ll come for the free pizza, and they’ll stay because they’re full of pizza.

Engage. No one likes one-sided conversations, and no one likes to be told what to do. Just ask my kids. Ask your audience questions, look them in the eye, use familiar terms and stories, and maybe even throw in some kind of activity like a game or puzzle. I don’t tell my 7-year-old daughter, Violet, to clean her room; I play a game with her to see who can pick up the most toys and put them away correctly. I don’t tell my 11-year-old daughter, Rosie, to put on deodorant; I tell her about the time her cousin stopped using it and boys would pinch their noses as they walked past her. I don’t tell my 14-year-old, Catherine, to do her homework; I ask her questions about what she’s learning in school and what college she wants to go to. Don’t get me wrong; I still yell at my kids when it’s necessary. But I’ve learned that engaging my girls is much more effective than lecturing them. As with training, engaging your audience can turn your one-sided presentation into an interactive event.

Ambiance. Your training environment should be suitable for your audience. This includes proper lighting, a comfortable room temperature and a quiet area that’s away from high traffic. If the chairs are too comfortable, you risk people dozing off. If the chairs are uncomfortable, no one will sit still and listen. I’ve heard Google uses beanbags and exercise balls in meetings for employees to sit on. I’ve also heard that Google does this to incite creativity and new ideas. Unless your training involves brainstorming, I would minimize distractions as much as possible.

Repeat. No one absorbs information instantly unless it’s truly interesting or pertains to their daily duties. When one of my engineers rattles on about resistors and circuit board schematics, my mind drifts to thinking about the cute guy who lifts weights at my gym (resistors must have made me think about resistance training). When one of my engineers spouts off about a resistor change and how it affects the form, fit or function of the product, I immediately pay attention because I know it’ll involve me and changes or updates from a quality standpoint. Afterward, if the engineer emails me about it and sends me drawings illustrating his point, it really sinks in. Repetition is a great tool in getting your points across.

cGMPizza, anyone?

Although training may be required, it doesn’t have to be an awful experience. When it comes to training, I’m a firm believer that the only thing more important than what you say is how you say it.

Training is part of the foundation of a good quality management system (QMS), and a good QMS will always result in positive growth for the organization and stakeholders. FEAR will make any dreaded training session more tolerable and any trainer more likeable. Oh, and get the nearest pizza joint on speed dial, ASAP. You can thank me later.

Denise Wrestler is senior manager of quality assurance and regulatory for Austco in Irving, TX. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomedical engineering from the University of California-Irvine. An ASQ member, Wrestler is an ASQ-certified quality auditor and engineer.

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