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Two Views of Training

by AIMM MAITD

You sent everybody on the Time Management 101 course and found that it made no difference. Everybody is working just as inefficiently as they did before the course. How did this happen? It may be because of a foggy understanding of how training actually works in improving employee performance and organizational results. I see many managers hold to what I call the "naïve" view of training. On this view, all that is required for results to improve is to get employees into a training room or, in the case of e-learning, to get them in front of a computer.

On this view, how training causes good results can be depicted like this:

Trainee Attendance ⇒ Organization Results

The arrows indicate this simple flow of causation from attendance at the training event to the improved organizational performance. This hoped for improved performance could be, for example, reduced defect rates, higher product sales or more satisfied business clients.

This view is held by people who see training as mostly about "telling". During the training program design phase, they are mostly concerned with the "content" of the program; the information to which the trainees will be subjected. Here, the trainee is seen as a piece of automata, like a piece of hardware. Training is seen as serving the function of "programming" the employee machine. The "instructions" are what are important here. Employee in ⇒ programming ⇒ employee out is the paradigm.

And if the employee does not act according to the instructions back on the job, the assumption is that the employee machine is either defective or the programming did not work first time around. With this paradigm, in those cases where the training did not "work", the trainee is often sent back to the same program for a second attempt at installing the "instructions". And if this proves unsuccessful, the trainee is deemed defective (unprogrammable) and discarded, or in some cases, ignored and left to their own devices.

This "production line" thinking takes reasonable beliefs about programming machines and applies them to people with damaging consequences. Here are some examples of this faulty extrapolation from machines to employees.

Reasonable production line thinking Faulty application to training

"Any kind of hardware can be programmed at any time."

"Let's send the whole department on this course. Those who already know it need a refresher anyway."

"Memory can easily be reprogrammed."

"Employees won't remember the time wasted on the last training program."

"We can afford to have a certain number of rejects that we will discard."

"We can't afford to spend time on people who fail."

"The same programming procedure programs all units successfully."

"Don't worry about role-plays or on-the-job coaching. The 60 PowerPoint slides will suit everyone."

Do you recognize any of these statements in your workplace?

Contrast this simple linear and one-dimensional view of training with a more sophisticated model. This more sophisticated view of training highlights that the delivery of the training program is simply one of a number of causal factors leading to individual employee and organizational performance outcomes. The core of this view can be summarized as follows.

Trainee Attendance ⇒ Trainee Learning ⇒ Workplace Behavior ⇒ Organizational Results

On this more sophisticated view, the steps in the causal chain are more numerous, giving more possibilities for the training to go off the rails and not achieve its objectives. The additional steps include the causing of the trainee to learn the new knowledge and skills. This step requires good instructional design with clearly stated learning objectives, plenty of practice, trainee feedback, and so on. The learning is not a given. There are other mediating factors that I won't go into here. Most importantly, these include each trainee's innate ability and motivation level.

The second extra step is causing the trainee to apply the skills back on the job; that is, to change their workplace behavior. This step requires appropriate incentives, performance feedback, and so on, and should not be just assumed. Once again, there are other mediating factors that complicate the outcome. These include the opportunity or lack thereof for the trainee to apply the skills back on the job. The actual level of application will vary according to a host of workplace environment factors that I deal with elsewhere.

There is a final step in the causal chain leading toward positive organizational results. This step is also not a given. Even if the trainees do change their behavior back in the workplace as required by the program, there is still no guarantee that the organization will reap the benefits. There are mediating factors that can get in the way of the desired results. For example, the amount of increase in product sales resulting from training sales staff will depend on what the opposition is doing in promoting their products in the marketplace. Context is also important. If there is a sudden downturn in the market because of a general economic recession, sales will go down instead of up.

The more sophisticated model of training takes account of all of these variables. Why does this matter? It matters because if we don't actively plan for and manage these factors when we design and roll out our training programs, then we have no assurance that the forces we need for success are moving in the right direction. And if experience is any guide, if we don't organize our programs around these factors, the universe is not so kind as to randomly manipulate them to our favor.

Some managers and trainers accept this more sophisticated view of how training works, yet continue to act is if they believe the "naïve" model. These people make all the right noises, yet subtly sabotage the training process. Why? Acting in accordance with the sophisticated view does require more time and resources. It also requires everyone working closely together; executives, line managers, instructional designers and trainers. For some, acting in sympathy with the naïve view is the easier way out. Do not blame them for this. They may be under resourced or have more urgent priorities on their agenda. If this is the case, find out how you can help these people overcome their hurdles, or delay the training until a more fortuitous time.

Others may not know how to apply the sophisticated model to their training program design and rollout. They may not have the skills to translate the model into the steps needed for success. For these people, get them on side and demonstrate through your own practice what needs to be done to get the most benefit from your training programs.

The above is a condensed adaptation from Leslie Allan's book, From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance.

Copyright © Leslie Allan

About the Author
Leslie Allan

Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager, consultant and trainer for organizations large and small.

He is also the author of five books on training and change management and is the creator of various training tools and templates. Leslie is a member of the Australian Institute of Management and the Quality Society of Australasia. He is also a member of the Divisional Council of the Victorian Division of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). Leslie may be contacted by email at office@businessperform.com

Leslie Recommends
From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance

Find out more about the two views of training and how to use the more sophisticated view to improve the effectiveness of your training programs. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Visit the From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.

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