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When I travel for business, I often encounter people that want to chat with me. Normally I don’t mind, but sometimes, I’m just not in the mood to make small talk with taxi drivers or other travelers. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like sharing my lives with them. At moments like that, when they ask me what I do, I often say I’m a “consultant.” It’s a good answer for moments like that because it shows you are willing to talk, yet it really says nothing. These days, it seems like everyone who isn’t an employee or “entrepreneur” is a “consultant.” What does it actually mean? Not much. It requires clarification because everyone interprets it differently.

Sadly, the same can be said for “training.” So many times, when an organization wants to fix a problem or get the word out, the powers-that-be cry out, “We need training.” Unfortunately, they use the broadest possible definition of that word. In reality, there’s a critical difference between “training” and “communications.” Without understanding that difference, organizations could be overspending and under-receiving results.

The fundamental difference between the two comes down to three points:

  • Goals: What you want the program to accomplish
  • Tools: The methods and media you use to convey the message
  • Direction: The level of involvement the audience has in shaping the idea

The following table highlights the differences:

  Training Communications
Goals Provide the skills and knowledge so people they can act differently Disseminate information so people are more aware or change their attitudes
Tools ·      Classes provide the background knowledge and skills to enable correct performance.

·      Activities during class give participants the chance to practice the new skills in a safe environment

·      Performance support tools, like job aids, reference guides, or mobile or web-based help sites fill in the gaps when people are in the middle of doing the new skill or behavior.

·      Newsletters, emails, or letters can provide details and target individuals who like to read.

·      Videos, television or web-based advertisements grab people’s attention and appeal to visual learners.

·      Podcasts and interviews appeal to those who like to listen.

Direction Usually two-way, with learners able to get answers to their questions in real-time. Usually one-way, from management to employees, or the organization to its customers.

Recognizing the difference between training and communication does not mean using one instead of the other. The best training strategies dovetail with the communications plans. The communications plan prepares the audience emotionally for what they are about to learn in training. If an audience first learns about a major change is during a training session, the audience is not emotionally ready to learn the details. They become too busy digesting the impact to focus on how to operate in the new world. Similarly, training programs can reiterate and underscore key messages that the organization wants the audience to remember.

If your organization is looking to make a change, ask yourself the following questions to determine which, or both, types of strategies you need:

  1. Is there likely to be opposition to the new information or change? (If so, start with a communications plan.)
  2. Does the change require people to say or act differently? (If so, add a training strategy.)
  3. Is the new information really designed to change people’s attitudes or knowledge? (If so, a communications plan might be sufficient.)
  4. Does the new information require learning a new skill or use of a new tool? (If so, training is the answer.)
  5. Do you want a significant amount of input or feedback from the intended audience? (If no, a communications plan is sufficient. If yes, a training plan is probably necessary.

In most cases, the most successful change programs have both a communications and training strategy. Coordinating these efforts is the key to success.

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