Published on 2012/02/17

What’s Holding Back Training And Development?

If I could show you a way to improve job satisfaction, productivity and the overall effectiveness of every  person in your organization, would you listen? More importantly would you take action and do something about it?

You see, I believe that most people get it. Intellectually and rationally they know the benefits and value of training and of creating a learning culture. The hard part is doing it. Why? Because it is just like any behavior change, acquiring and mastering a new habit or skill demands time, effort, energy and a real commitment. Coaching guru, author and speaker Marshall Goldsmith quips that he should insert the word ‘diet’ on the cover of his best-selling books. Why? He’d sell exponentially more books because of all the well intentioned people out there who want to lose weight. People want the outcome, the result, the end goal but the road to achieving that outcome, more often than not, is littered with procrastination and excuses. Is it any wonder that the athletic apparel company Nike chose the tag line “Just Do It!”

Why?  What’s The Purpose?

So why should you “Just do It,” what are the outcomes you are shooting for. In a business setting, outcomes are usually stated as revenue goals, market share, margin increase, earnings per share etc. If the line of sight between the learning and these big outcomes is not clear, then it is always going to be a challenge. People need to know why training is important and connect it to the bigger goals. In my area of expertise, leadership development, I think the most powerful question to get really clear on goals and outcomes is “Why leadership and why now?” If the response to this question is still fuzzy and muddled, then another way to get clarity is to ask “if your CEO / boss were here right now, and we asked what their key leadership priorities are, what would they say?” This becomes your guiding light for linking the learning to the expected outcome.

Leave the Safe Harbor

As someone who interfaces with a lot of training buyers, I hear a lot of excuses for not implementing training & development. Some of the usual reasons include: “we tried that before and it didn’t work; we haven’t got the time; we haven’t got the money; or we are doing that already.” Training buyers are notoriously risk averse. Generally, they want to buy very safe and predictable training programs. This works well for compliance training, audit training, health and safety training and the like. For any form of personal or leadership development though, you need to push, stretch and take people to the edge of their comfort zone. It inherently involves more risk, and with risk decision makers sit on decisions and never get to implementation. Breakthrough happens when you bring real points of pain, real issues, real challenges into the workshop and wrestle and grapple with the solution. Buyers of training need to have courage to take on these big challenges. Once they do, the value they deliver to the organization will multiply enormously.

The Industry and Flavor of the Month

The learning and development marketplace itself has its own issues that hold back training and development. It is inherently complex, confusing, fragmented. It can tie you up in jargon and acronyms and it suffers from its own self created ‘Flavor of The Month’ syndrome. You have seen or been on these programs where there is suddenly a buzz about a book or a workshop that enjoys a six month shelf life only to be replaced by the next new, new thing. The antidote to this is to build out a solid training and development curriculum that is coherent, structured and scales logically. The converse can also happen, where training and development gets stuck in a time warp with an old program that is well past its sell by date. Organizations stick with old programs due to a certain complacency and comfort level and perhaps because the program established a good reputation twenty years ago. You are training for the future,  don’t let the shackles of the past hold you back either.

Why Should I Buy Your Service?

To stay on the bleeding edge, every internal training and development department needs to ask itself this question “If our department were cast off into the open market tomorrow, would people still buy our services?” Thinking and acting like a fully fledged professional services firm ensures relevance and creates internal customers who clamor for your services. Sometimes this requires a revolutionary mind shift. Business author and former colleague, Tom Peters, once screamed at an HR / Trainer conference in Chicago “Aren’t you tired of being a ‘support function?’ A cost center?  A bureaucratic drag? In his not so unsubtle way he provoked them to think about their whole reason for being as a professional in the training industry. “You are rock stars of talent development who do work worth paying for” was his siren call to action.

The Learning Experience Itself

The best way to sell a service is to give great service. If you are dishing up sub-par training experiences you will not create raving fans. Educational theorist, Marshall McLuhan once said “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” The training experience itself needs to reach out and grab people and it helps to be fun. Here’s a check list of ingredients for serving up exceptional training – actively engage participants; meet them where they are at and unlock what they already know; provide meaningful feedback and coaching along the way; chunk and structure the learning into digestable bite sizes; bake in real and pressing current issues and work on real solutions.

From a workshop design perspective, great design extends beyond the discrete training event itself. Advance prework , internal communications, support by managers and executives (or not) and follow up online or through coaching are all part of designing a complete experience. If we are to improve the overall results from training & development instructional designers, trainers, managers and executives need to focus their attention on what happens before and after the workshop event.

So, what is holding back training & development? There are a lot of logical things we can do to advance and raise the bar for training and development. Lots of little incremental changes will certainly make a difference but it is not likely to result in a transformative revolution. How we see ourselves is key – are we simply in the business of building organizational competence with nice smile sheet evaluations along the way? Or, are we creating scintillating personal development experiences that unleash the passion in every participant to make a real difference in the world. Benjamin Zander, conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra says “I am a dispenser of enthusiasm” as he leads and ‘orchestrates’ great music evoking emotion and enjoyment amongst his audiences.

Energy, passion and enthusiasm are great catalysts to punch through the problems of organizational drag. Combine this with a strategic roadmap for training & development – the right offerings, to the right people, at the right time with the right outcomes and you have a formula for success.

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