Stop training and start developing

I admire people who are good with words.  A wordsmith such as Neil Hannon, one of my favourite song writers, deploys words to great effect whether he is making a biting commentary on the financial game-players who were instrumental in causing the 2008 Great Recession, telling a story of a lonely woman of advancing years or sharing his optimism about life with his baby daughter.  In their younger years, highly articulate and eloquent people such as Hannon learnt exactly the same letters of the alphabet that I learnt, and over their lifetimes have learnt how to do something quite special with them.  There are only 26 letters in the alphabet.  Once you’ve learnt those 26 letters, you can’t learn any more.  People who are good at expressing themselves through language have developed their capabilities to use it in highly creative, skillful ways.  In order to become one of these folks, you don’t need to learn more letters of the alphabet; you learn other things to do this.  You don’t see aspiring writers attending courses in order to learn more letters; you see them attending creative writing courses that put them in touch with their human creativity, associating with other writers and applying their innate creativity to the use of a finite set of grammatical and syntactical rules and conventions (while also sometimes challenging or bending these rules in spontaneous ways).

Developing people in the workplace is a little similar.  Entry level managers, for example, will need to learn the basic tools of management in order to provide competent supervision of their teams and tasks, however good leadership comes about when this manager applies themselves to growing their personal capabilities so that they can apply management knowledge in inspiring and motivating ways with greater vision, impact and influence.

For many of you in a leadership position, you probably don’t need more top tips or knowledge about your job.  You probably don’t need much more information about ‘stuff’; you would probably enjoy developing something else, something deeper that frees you up to apply the knowledge and information you have already acquired with greater ease and finesse.  It’s one thing to know about emotional intelligence, for example.  It’s quite another thing for you to apply this elegantly in a living, breathing workplace with real life people in real life situations.

I say all this by way of stating one of my wishes for 2012: that more organisations wake up to the idea that, rather than sending people on more training courses that treat them like receptacles for yet more tools, tricks and tips, they should be investing in developing the users of these tools.  Rather than trying to fill people up with more information and knowledge, they could look for opportunities for them to learn how to apply what they already know in spades, with greater fluency, creativity and responsiveness to the real needs of their organisations and its stakeholders.  I wish that rather than send someone to another seminar about emotional intelligence, that they invest in some kind of learning that allows them to become more aware of themselves, to reflect and to actually rehearse better emotional and people skills.  I wish that rather than sending a salesperson on another sales training that tells them yet again how important it is to listen to clients and customers, that they invest in something where these salespeople can develop the “role” of Effective Listener by practicing and reflecting on their abilities to listen well to people.  I wish that rather than send customer service staff away to learn lists of things to do when dealing with customers, that they are provided with flexible learning processes that allow them to grow the whole range of human attitudes and behaviours required in order to provide the ultimate customer experience.  I wish that rather than send that shy or reticent manager on another course to learn about “difficult conversations” with their staff, that they seek out the opportunities for this manager to develop the “role” of Robust Guide and actually get to the bottom of why he doesn’t do it (even though he knows what he is supposed to be doing) and to break through those inhibitors by rehearsing and refining some new behaviours and attitudes.

All of this is possible, it is not pie in the sky.  I see such things happen before my eyes.  This is my call for greater emphasis on “role development” and less emphasis on “training” in workplace learning and development.  The word “role” is already known to you.  However, in my work, I apply a very particular meaning of it with reference to capability development.  In the work I do, a role is defined as the living expression of a person in any moment they are alive.  A role is a holistic concept and consists of three components: thinking, feeling and behaving.  Far too much in the way of workplace training with behaviour change as its end result does not address the whole person.  We are whole people and to leave out any of these three components will not necessarily make for genuine and long-lasting shifts in behaviour.

We all amass a vast repertoire of roles in our lifetimes and they arise in response to another person or situation.  Many of the roles we enact in our daily lives are ones which we have become quite habituated to enacting.  In many cases, these habituated role responses are pretty adequate, but in a number of cases, particularly when the environment is more unpredictable and changeable, we go into a role which does not quite fit the bill.  In many of these cases, more information or knowledge will not make a difference to our abilities to respond more adequately; developing our role repertoire, however, will.

To illustrate, complete this sentence: think of  X (a person in your workplace, or maybe even yourself) who sometimes struggles with Y (a task or duty at work).  X has all the information and knowledge they require in order to Y, but something still gets in the way.  When thinking of what X needs to learn, it is helpful to not reduce this simply to “They need to learn how to Y better.”  That assessment is too mechanistic and stops well short of the real learning need.  Such a simplistic assessment can lead to the wrong prescription.

There will be “roles”, or personal capabilities, that unlock their ability to Y.  I have spoken to too many salespeople who keep getting sent on the same old, same old sales courses year after year in order to help them boost their sales figures, and year after year, there is no significant shift in their performance.  In many cases, what gets in the way of optimum performance is not the lack of sales knowledge; it is under-developed listening abilities or an under-developed ability to put themselves in the shoes of their clients or under-developed confidence or under-developed something-else.  I have spoken with too many managers who get sent on courses to learn about having “difficult” conversations with their staff, but, again, in most of these cases, these courses do not create a shift in behaviour because they already know what they should be doing; what they could do more of is confidence or the ability to set boundaries or even the ability to be calm and centred.  Telling someone to be calm and centred will not necessarily make it happen.

A lot of this waste in the L&D budget comes about because what is seen is the failure to perform the task at hand effectively.  This, however, is merely the symptom of something deeper that needs addressed.  We can only really see behaviours and we really only measure performance that is measurable.  What do you do when the thing that needs developing is not so easy to see or measure?  The important thing is to make a really thorough assessment of the learning need.  It is also important to engage with a process that will allow people to learn holistically, so that the shifts in visible behaviour are real, deep and long-lasting and are related to shifts in the person as a person.

Making better decisions about the L&D budget has other ripple effects.  Even in the midst of economic turmoil, I still read about skills shortages in some industries and organisations.  Despite high unemployment, some businesses still say they can’t get the right people.  If we look at who is already in the business and make better assessments of what they really need to learn in order to boost their performance, we can go some way to improving staff engagement as well as the bottom line.  Taking a “role development” perspective on L&D can assist businesses to attract and retain the people they need.  Investing in developing people as people, not as resources that do things, shifts the culture and unlocks opportunity, creativity and innovation.

What’s your wish for 2012?

16 thoughts on “Stop training and start developing

  1. John mine aligns with yours: That people will acknowledge their humanness that deeply connects them with everyone else, that they will develop their personhood (as you say develop as people) and no longer sleep walk through life enabling all to experience their greatness.

  2. John,

    This is the first blog I have read of yours and frankly, I could not agree more with your core theme and sentiment. Working for large corporations I have seen some ‘leaders’ send the same employee onto the same training program once, twice and attempts at a third time, as if continuing to re-train will make the difference. There is a large gap in thinking and application around the follow-up and follow-through post-training…and can I say, often a poor set-up prior to the training also, with some attendees not knowing why they have been scheduled to attend and/or how the training links with their own development needs.

    Training in itself is a ‘knowledge-giver’, it has a core place in development. I enjoy facilitating as one part of the learning process. However, expecting that training, in itself, is going to make the core difference to the attendee and their ability to change as a result is a fallacy. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog and have re-blogged it onto my WP blog-site and a hyperlink on my website. Thanks for taking the time to share!

    Steve Riddle: http://www.coachstation.com.au

    1. Steve, thanks for your thoughtful comment and for reblogging. I think you hit two nails on the head in your comment. One is that, in too many cases, there is poor follow-up post training. Real learning needs consolidation and reinforcement if it’s to be long-lasting, I believe. The other is regarding the set-up. I have also worked with people who weren’t entirely sure why they were ‘sent’ to learn something and they have felt it irrelevant to their personal and professional needs, but this was often related to their own managers not having sufficient ongoing performance conversations. This meant there was no perceived need on the part of the learners.

      I look forward to more connection and reading what you write.

      All the best,
      John

      1. Hi John,

        I’m doing a dissertation on “Why ongoing training is needed in call centers?” After reading your article, it definitely gives me a lot more to think about. I still feel that I’m headed in the right direction because there are assessments and evaluations that measure performance of associates after training. With any learning, if you don’t apply it, you lose it. Companies need to stop thinking that everyone gets it. You have people who have been on their jobs for years, but have not stepped foot in a classroom since high school. Get back to the basic. . . check for clarification.

      2. Paulette, good on you for doing a dissertation on that topic. I reckon that if folks in call centres need ongoing training, there is probably nobody who doesn’t, although I’d probably broaden it and call it learning. Training is limited in my view and there are many more ways to learn. A suite of learning interventions that help people integrate what they are learning is surely the way to go. Many thanks, John

  3. My wish is akin to your wish: that in the huge mindset shifts which are taking place everywhere around us, that there be more “change agents” such as you and me, to inspire and guide people both in and outside the business arena to EXPERIENCE the shifts in mindsets, to open their hearts to the so-called “emotional intelligence” and BECOME the emotional intelligence; AND…to add to the IQ and the EQ equations, the dimension of “Spiritual Intelligence” which Danah Zohar has brought into our business awareness so that there is a transformational shift in THREE levels of “intelligence” which includes the SQ…that quantum mindset which is inherently the source of our greatest human possibilities. Please visit me at: http://www.AgelessPearlsOfWisdom.com

    1. Thanks for your comment Sheila. Indeed, we need to see people as whole beings with an intellectual life, an emotional life and a spiritual life. Go well in your work!
      John

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