How (and How Much) to Train Rapid Responders?

“How do I keep my response team trained and keep their skills fresh (without having to go through a union election)?” It’s one of the most common questions I get from clients.

Do you struggle with this? Join the club. This week I had the pleasure of presenting at a CUE regional meeting in Dallas, Texas. One of the key topics I covered was how to develop and train response teams.

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to attend one of these CUE regional meetings in your area, you should. They are a great mini-CUE experience in between the two big conferences each year. And if you haven’t already signed up for the next CUE conference coming up in Minneapolis this September what are you waiting for? You better not say for the speaker lineup to improve! I’m looking forward to presenting on Leader Approachability and Retention. You can sign up here.

The attendees in Dallas had some great questions about training responders and I thought I’d quickly go through my top three recommended practices here for all our readers:

  1. Do I need a response team? How many responders should I train? This is a tough question and is very situational. This may not be the best “pocketbook” decision, but I talk more clients out of doing response training than I encourage to do it. That’s because if you don’t have a lot of union organizing activity or elections you will waste your training investment developing a response team. Many of the skills you develop during response team training are “use or lose” and specific to union activity. If you don’t have a lot of campaigns, your team’s training will atrophy and you’ll have wasted a lot of money. This also impacts the number of people to train. Even organizations with many locations might only need a handful of responders. Again, this is based completely on actual activity you experience (versus “worst case” estimates of what you might experience). Less is more when it comes to responders. Invest a lot in developing a strong core team. If you need more later you can always train more (and your best responders will be able to help as they gain on-the-ground experience).
  2. How long should training last and what topics should they learn? Again, this depends a lot on the type of activity you experience. But a common mistake I see is simulations that have responders do things that they will rarely (if ever) be asked to do in a live-fire campaign setting. At the same time these sessions ignore the things responders can do that provide the most value in a campaign. Instead of focusing on how to deliver campaign meetings or answer questions about the law, it is much better to invest time in conversation training drills. Responders obviously need to be able to talk about unions. However, the vast majority of training time should be focused on making genuine connections, being relatable and approachable, and in (legally) uncovering the underlying frustrations that are leading people to consider a union in the first place. People rarely spend enough time on the most important topic: how to effectively enter into a worksite that is in trouble. More responders crash and burn in this moment than any other. Since you never get a second chance to make a first impression, responders who are bad at this skill can put you in a deep hole. Our typical training lasts three full days (which sometimes extends to five days). Responders leave with deep skills but still have much more to learn (see number 3, below).
  3. What kind of follow-up training should I do? Unless you have union campaigns every month (God forbid) response team training can never be a “one and done” experience. You have to regularly (monthly or every other month at the very least) “refresh” the key skills. Ideally, you do this in another live, in-person meeting. But very few companies are able to invest in that much live training. The best answer we’ve come up with is remote conversation training. This innovative training provides “just-in-time” experiences to responders without traveling or even disrupting their normal day. Every responder can benefit from these realistic, customized training situations.

If you are considering training (or re-training) your own response team I encourage you to give us a shout. Just be forewarned – I’ll probably try to talk you out of it.