How to bridge your staff’s technology knowledge gaps

Tobin Conley | 11.23.15
Topics: Everything Else

If you grew up with parents who were bad drivers, chances are you’re a bad driver too. Your parents didn’t know how to use a technology—in this case, a car—as well as they thought they did. And they passed their faulty set of skills on to you.


It’s the same with association technology. People think they know how to use a system effectively, but sometimes they don’t. They never received sufficient training and had to learn on the job, or they were trained by co-workers who, like the tailgating parents, didn’t know how to use the system effectively themselves.

The impact of a technology knowledge gap like this can be frustrating. If you conduct an AMS query by the seat of your pants, you get one answer on Monday and a different answer on Tuesday. Which one is accurate?

Or, even worse, you give the board one set of numbers and then, the following month, you pull what you think is the same set. Only they end up being different. Imagine trying to explain that embarrassing discrepancy.

When staff doesn’t have the appropriate knowledge to use a system effectively, they get frustrated. In their minds, the system doesn’t work and they stop using it or try to get others to do the work for them. They blame the tool because they’re mishandling it.

Dedicate time up front to training and documentation.


When faced with technology knowledge gaps, I remember a guiding principle of life. You can never be too rich or too thin? No, not that one. You can never have too much training or too much documentation. Yes, those are words to live by.

Rare is the association that has dedicated enough resources to system training and documentation. If training is ignored, system users make it up as they go along. They try to bridge their knowledge gaps themselves or they ask for help from someone who’s equally in the dark.

Training doesn’t always help with tasks that are done infrequently—that’s when you rely on documentation. If you only use the AMS once a year for committee appointments, it’s unlikely you’ll remember exactly how to do it. Documentation sets you on the right path.

Training and documentation are put on the back burner after system implementation because everyone thinks they’ll get to it eventually… “when we have the time.” And when is that exactly?

An investment of time up front will save your bacon one day. Your effort will pay off by helping staff boost productivity, reduce frustration, and take full advantage of your technology investment.

Prevent the problem and you won’t have to fix the problem.

Technology knowledge gaps are not difficult problems to fix, but they do require focus and resources. The problem usually starts when users aren’t given the proper orientation and onboarding to a new system. When planning for a new system implementation, include the appropriate amount of hours of user training in the project budget. If people are left to their own resources, bad information is often disseminated.

Every year, the staff training budget should include funds for user training on new and existing systems. Many associations don’t take full advantage of their technology investment because users don’t know the extent of a system’s functionality or how to use that functionality effectively. But you can reap more from your technology investment with ongoing training and education.

The knowledge gap exists for several reasons:

  • Initial training only covered basic workflows and processes.
  • Training was comprehensive yet also overwhelming; therefore, a good deal of it has already been forgotten.
  • Additional functionality is available thanks to software upgrades and releases.
  • New users haven’t received the appropriate training.

A technology knowledge audit will help you discover where the gaps exist. The key to a successful audit is establishing a safe atmosphere where people feel comfortable admitting their need for training.

Identify super-users for each system. Make sure they get the training to serve as in-house trainers for other staff. However, don’t task someone with that responsibility without taking into consideration how it impacts their existing responsibilities.

Create incentives for training. Build required technical proficiencies into position descriptions. For example, the CEO must know how to transfer a phone call. Think beyond the obvious.

  • Who would benefit from the data in each system? Who needs viewing rights? Reporting rights?
  • Who should be cross-trained? For example, who needs CMS training so they can update the website when a co-worker is on vacation?

Hold people accountable for the technology knowledge you expect them to have. And, in turn, provide opportunities and resources for continual training—for example, technology user conferences, vendor training sessions, staff brown bags, and an online library of resources.

Providing the resources for training and documentation will help your association develop an internal culture of learning and ensure you receive the maximum return on your technology investment.


Flickr photos by JasonParis and Fred Rockwood

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