Last week, many publishers got their holiday bonuses early following a Google training accident.
A dummy advert was mistakenly published while a group of trainees were being shown Google's in-house ad system. Although the ad, which showed up as a giant yellow square on thousands of websites, ran for only about 45 minutes, the Financial Times estimated that it cost Google $10 million in payments to publishers and cleanup costs.
I've been in learning and development for the better part of two years, and I've had my fair share of blunders -- technology failed, supplies didn't show up, and I even went to the wrong location once. As a trainee throughout my career, I've made even more mistakes. Some were small, and some cost my employer time and money. Being on both sides of training breakdowns, I've come to appreciate well-designed structures and procedures.
Although it's hard to foresee the unknown, mistakes like this can often be prevented if we, as facilitators, put measures in place to safeguard the process. Although the knee-jerk reaction is to point fingers at the person who made the mistake, you can't. It wasn't their fault. The onus is on the system.
Here's a simple five-step process borrowed from project management expert Dave Wakeman to creating bulletproof training programs. I've added my personal thoughts to each step and tweaked it for learning and development situations.
1. Identify potential risks.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. During training, it's critical as a facilitator to cover all your bases. This includes planning and researching everything that could potentially go wrong.
It takes a lot of time, but by identifying the risks, you give yourself an opportunity to prevent them. The goal is to create a training program where it's safe for participants to experiment and fail.
2. Analyze the risk.
Once you've honed in on a list of potential hazards, you can analyze their potential impact on the trainee or the company. Play the "what if" game. For example, "What if someone forgot to tighten the 'bolts'?"
This is a necessary exercise for risk management, and it's useful information to share with trainees. If participants are made aware of the risks, they can play a role in preventing them.
3. Prioritize the risks.
Once you've analyzed the potential risks and their impact, prioritize and rank associated training according to probability of occurrence and how much harm the mistake could cause. For example, when I onboard new employees, I prioritize compliance training connected to organizational risk before I demo our intranet platform.
It's much safer, and it doesn't take much time. Low risk, high reward.
4. Mitigate the risks.
Once you've ranked and filed plausible risks, develop plans to prevent and address issues before they become a reality. You should think of any safeguard that could add layers of protection to pad the process.
The easiest way to begin is to take a mistake and work backward. Re-trace your steps and add preventative measures along the way.
After you've implemented preventive measures, track and monitor their effectiveness to ensure you didn't miss anything. There will always be blind spots that you didn't account for. Make sure you put systems in place to quickly identify them before they snowball and cause permanent damage.
It's impossible to create programs that are 100 percent water-tight. However, following this simple structure will help you reduce regrettable mistakes and limit their impact on the business.