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Sprint Pilots PM Basics Train-the-Trainer

Sprint, a global communications company, is a leader in integrating long distance, local, and wireless communications, a specialist in data communications services, and the world's largest carrier of Internet traffic. The Sprint corporate name may conjure up the visual image of a pin dropping - the image used in some of the company's televised advertisements to demonstrate the transmission clarity of Sprint's transcontinental, all-digital, fiberoptic telecommunications network. Because of Sprint's high-tech, wave-of-the-future reputation, many people may not realize that the company's roots reach all the way back to 1899 when Jacob and C.L. Brown opened the Brown Telephone Company in Abilene, Kansas. The Browns wouldn't recognize that organization today. Sprint now earns $12.8 billion in annual revenues and serves more than 15 million business and residential customers. Sprint resides in 30 corporate buildings throughout the Kansas City area, with company headquarters in Westwood, Kansas. Technology services, an organization of more than 4500 employees within Sprint's long distance division, is responsible for the design, testing, deployment, and management of the computer and network systems necessary to offer Sprint's long distance products and services to customers worldwide. Network systems and services is a department within technology services. That department provides the network translations information for both the domestic and international switch network. According to Ron Proctor, director of network systems and services, translation involves putting the information in the switches or databases so that the computers know how to handle or route incoming calls.

This technology enables the Sprint network to operate efficiently and effectively without congestion. The environment established by George Fuciu, president of technology services, encourages employees to take the initiative when they discover a way to benefit the company. Fuciu promotes a philosophy of "Act As If You Own the Company." Last year Proctor became interested in the Performance Management (PM) process during a seminar offered at the Kennedy School of Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts, and featuring Dr. Aubrey C. Daniels of Aubrey Daniels International. As a former teacher and seasoned professional in the telecommunications industry, Proctor immediately recognized the affinity between Sprint's visions and values and the behavioral process of PM. "One of the things we emphasize here is the recognition of our employees. I saw PM as an excellent way to exemplify to employees that they are valuable assets by giving them the opportunity to measure and manage themselves," Proctor said. Proctor talked with two of his reports, Pam Turner, manager systems planning and training, and Greg Jones, manager network systems development, about trying a PM pilot program with the four management groups that make up the network systems and services division.

Turner, also a former teacher, agreed to take on the training process. She had used behavior management techniques in the classroom in the early 1970s before beginning a career as a software programmer - a career which eventually led her to the Sprint organization. Out of the meeting grew a pilot program in which the Sprint representatives, after PM certification training, agreed to try PM Basics, a newly developed training system offered by Aubrey Daniels International, for organizations that want to introduce PM to their managers and supervisors through their own training resources. Using a 13 module instructional system, Turner and Proctor kicked off the in-house "train-the-trainer" sessions and agreed to later share their experience and advice. "Our plan was to give the supervisors and managers in our department a basic understanding of PM so that they could begin using it with our work groups," Turner explained. The following discussion may serve to help others implement a similar "train-the-trainer" approach for teaching. 

The Kick Off Session

Proctor taught the kick off/introductory PM training session which included the basic elements of the PM process. He also explained why he thought the process would be advantageous to the department, what was expected of the participants, and how the training would be structured. Then, he sat through the rest of the sessions conducted by Turner and Jones and participated as a class member.

PROCTOR: I didn't want people to view this as just another grandiose idea that we handed out to them with the instruction to go make it work. I wanted them to see that this was something I personally subscribed to, was involved in, and felt would have a tremendous benefit to the organization overall. I wanted to send that message, but at the same time, the only way for me to be a leader in this process is if I really understand the principles, the content, and the details.  

The Training Package

One of the reasons for the development of these particular training materials is that, in the past, PM, which is the business application of applied behavioral analysis, was sometimes difficult to teach.

TURNER: In my opinion, the course facilitated learning in several ways. First, the course gave us an opportunity to discuss PM concepts with one another in a small group. This interaction built a support base for the participants, so now they don't have to try PM by themselves. We had exercises on each of the different PM concepts. Doing those exercises helped us make sure that we understood the basic concepts and techniques.  

Target Groups and Associate Involvement

The department managers and supervisors were the target group for the "train-the-trainer" sessions, but other key personnel, recognized as group leaders, were also included.

TURNER: The main reason they had the training was so they could build performance improvement plans and use them with their groups. It's exciting because the groups already want to know how this works, how we are going to use it, and they want to participate. Even though the trainers may put their own twist on teaching this to their staff members, they will have to educate them so that they can participate alongside them.

PROCTOR: Now, when it comes time for us to stand in front of the employees and explain what this is, why we're doing it, and how it works, we will be speaking from the experience of having gone to the class ourselves as opposed to talking off the top of our heads and not having specifics.  

Participant Feedback

A frequent reaction of busy managers and supervisors to any type of new process is that it's a waste of their time and is hindering them from getting the job done. This Sprint department had similar reactions, but they soon had a different outlook.

TURNER: This is not a shy group, and when they fist started, they were skeptical. As we proceeded through the materials, though, they started to realize that the process is very logical and makes sense. Now that they have their performance improvement plans, they're eager to evaluate how well the process will work.  

Other Obstacles

After the initial skepticism which quickly gave way to interest and participation, the trainees learned that talking about PM methods and implementing them were two entirely different propositions.

TURNER: The most difficult concept to communicate was to think from the perspective of the performer. It seemed to be a natural tendency to view consequences from one's own perspective. We learned it takes constant vigilance to keep the performer's view in mind.  

Reinforcers

Some organizations make the decision to use only social reinforcers and celebrations, sometimes coupled with a contingent reward or compensation plan. Others use tangible, trophy-value reinforcers and some use a mixed-bag approach.

PROCTOR: I think, at this point, we'll probably use a little of all of the above. We're attempting to come up with some things we will be able to use uniformly across the entire organization so that we have a unified approach as far as reward is concerned. We don't want to spend all of the time on the reward, but we recognize that the reward is a very significant part of the process. We want people to realize that the essence of the process is to make certain that all the stepping stones are in place, so when they get to the reward, they will have some results to be proud of and to point to that will make that reward even more significant.

TURNER: At the same time, in our performance improvement plans, we focus on what the individual performer wants for his or her reinforcer; we try to customize the reinforcers. The managers and supervisors are sitting down with their employees and asking them what types of things would be reinforcing to them and are taking that into account as much as possible.  

The Training Method

The PM training modules are designed with adaptability in mind. In other words, each organization can decide the pace for teaching the course. Sprint's network systems and services department completed the 13-module course over a period of several weeks.

TURNER: Rather than teaching the 13 modules in a day or two, we divided the course into a kick off session followed by five classroom sessions scheduled two weeks apart. Between sessions, the participants completed an assignment that might include reading, fluency exercises, or practice on one of the [PM] concepts. For example, one of the early assignments was to observe and list 10 workplace behaviors and the antecedents and consequences associated with those behaviors. The reasoning behind conducting the course in segments was to give early opportunities to apply the concepts which also increased retention of the material and enabled us to review and reinforce material that was difficult. I would strongly recommend that others consider this technique. If someone is struggling with one concept, for example, during our discussion of the assignment, we can take the time to review, explain, and reinforce before we proceed to the next step. I think our participants now have a higher comfort level that they can go and do this - a comfort level I don't think they would have had if they had just gone to a class for a couple of days and then had us say, "You had the class. Now go do PM."

PROCTOR: We also gave people time to work on the exercises because we wanted them to not just pay cursory attention to this. We wanted them to recognize that this was an application that we would be using with people, and the only way we could convince people that we understood what we were doing was to have experienced it ourselves. After the assignments, each person talked about how they applied the assignment, what they had observed, and by what measure they decided the success or failure of what they were attempting to do. They shared their personal examples and experiences. We wanted people to be very participative in the process as opposed to just sitting there and letting somebody lecture to them all day. That methodology worked is very well for us.  

Learning Data

To determine whether the participants were learning and retaining the PM concepts, Turner collected data on the learning rate throughout the training sessions - data which helped the division determine the success of the training and provided valuable information for refining the materials for future use.

TURNER: We collected data on the percent of correct responses that participants made on exercises. Based on exercise-result data, overall comprehension of the PM concepts was excellent. We also completed an item analysis on each exercise or the percent correct responses on individual exercise items. In that way, we identified a few items that were often misinterpreted by participants.  

Hands-On-Capability

One goal of the "train-the-trainer" pilot was for each participant to leave the training with a workable performance improvement plan. That goal was realized, but more importantly, Turner and Proctor feel confident that each participant can and will use PM successfully with his or her associates.

TURNER: The exercises were an early indicator that participants could use the techniques. Also, at the conclusion of the class, each participant had developed a performance improvement plan that included a critical pinpoint, objectives, reinforcers, rewards, and antecedents. I think the learning has been outstanding and I'm anxious to see what kind of results they'll have.  

Monitoring the Process

Of course, future success will be determined by the next step of the pilot program - implementation of performance improvement plans that make a measurable difference in the operations and productivity of the department. Monthly meetings have already started as a means of monitoring the PM implementations and offering continued support to the class participants.

TURNER: At our PM review meetings, participants talk about the progress they have made on their performance improvement plan and share any success stories about using PM techniques. They're working toward becoming "Certified Performance Managers" which requires them to satisfy a set of requirements:

  1. Discuss your completed performance improvement plan with a PM consultant;
  2. Achieve fluency on at least five fluency exercises;
  3. Reach the first subobjective on your performance improvement plan.

For now, each person has one performance improvement plan, but in the future, we will have improvement plans for all of our key objectives.

PROCTOR:The only way management can assess the success of the program is if we monitor the results of the implemented improvement plans. We need that information before we can go any further. Right now this is the only department in the organization using PM. Before I make the suggestion that this is of value to the entire organizational structure of technology services or the corporation, we need actual involvement and proof from the people who are doing it. An intent behind the monthly meetings is that we are getting people to build a history file, so they can see where they started and where they are in regard to the success and/or problems or failures they've had up to that point. As a result, we're collecting a lot of personal testimonials about experiences and lessons learned. People are very excited about this, and we don't have to force anybody to stand up and talk about it. All of us think we are good managers, but as a result of going through this type of session and sitting down with our peers, we are learning that a lot of things we thought were "common sense" were, in fact, the wrong thing to do. When you uncover that for yourself in a setting like this meeting, its a lot easier to talk about than if someone stood over us and pointed out that we were making mistakes. It's a growth experience.  

Advice

Since the class participants have only recently started to implement their performance improvement plans, a substantial amount of data is not yet available, but Proctor and Turner have positive expectations and will share the results in the near future. They also offer advice grounded in experience.

TURNER: While training is important, there must be some type of support structure in place for Performance Management. That's why we have monthly PM review meetings. That's also why we wanted to do the training ourselves. We wanted someone here in our department over the next several months to answer questions, encourage the participants, and champion the ideas. My advice is to plan that support structure before doing any training.

PROCTOR: I would encourage anybody who plans on rolling this out to give it the credibility that it deserves. This is something that is going to affect and be put in place with your employees. If you believe your employees are valuable assets, then the way you demonstrate that is through personal involvement. If you want the people to accept this process and not look on it as just another idea from management that six months from now goes away, the only way you're going to get them involved is by being involved yourself.