CXO

Mail Merge can wait: Teach inexperienced users what they need to know

How do you train an employee to use a system that has hundreds of screens and thousands of commands? Columnist Matthew Mercurio says you find out what they really need to know, and start from there.


In my experience, most companies have two or three pieces of software they use the most. But within this software, there are literally thousands of commands to achieve the end result. To a beginner, this might seem a bit overwhelming.

When setting up your training courses, it’s important to keep this “fear factor” in mind. At Clear Channel Communications, where I’m a virtual one-man IT department, I try to single out three or four elements of the software and focus on those. My goal is to make sure the user learns what he or she most needs to know at the lowest possible cost to the company.

Sure, following this kind of philosophy might take longer, but as my father used to say, “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, then you definitely don’t have the time to do it the second time.”

Baby steps
I’ve had the best luck in training by focusing on specific tasks, instead of the overall feature sets of software. I go through my support call log and find what task was particularly difficult for users to perform. For example, for some strange reason, last month I had a barrage of calls wanting to know how to set the default font in Microsoft Word to 12 points. As basic as this task may sound, to a beginner trying to put together a sales presentation for a client, not knowing this could seem like the end of the world.

Naturally, I incorporated setting the default font in the next training session. We spent a whole hour learning how to change the font, size, and color of text. I realize that this may seem like waiting for a slow-moving train at a crossroad, but taking these baby steps helps our users to learn more thoroughly.

Keeping it simple isn’t stupid
In the past we’ve received support call questions ranging from how to use spell check to how to open an e-mail. Simple tasks, certainly, but ones that are critical to everyday business practices. We have arranged special training sessions in the past and used some of the following topics. Maybe you can find some ideas for your next specialized training class.
  • Creating a shortcut to a regularly opened document
  • Sorting lists alphabetically
  • Creating password-protected spreadsheets
  • Inserting and formatting pictures inside your Word documents
  • Adding animation to a PowerPoint presentation
  • Opening e-mail attachments
  • Inserting e-mail attachments
  • Double-spacing text
  • Setting up a good filing structure

These tasks may seem miniscule, but in the grand design of things, they’re what keeps the corporate machine running. Be conscious of the small things, and your users will respond.
Do you have a baby-step story you’d like to share? Post a comment at the bottom of this article or write to Matthew .

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