Thursday, March 13, 2014

Schools of Thought About "Training"

Do you ’ Training, or do you do everything possible to avoid it?

Recently, I was searching for a simple example to delineate the differences between what I think of as two schools of thought about training: (1) the conventional view of training (in my company, we talk in terms of “order-taking”) and (2) the (presumably more enlightened) view that adds emphasis to front-end analysis and a focus on outcomes. The former I will refer to as the “I ‘’ Training” school, and the latter, the “I do everything I can to avoid instruction" school.

The “I ‘’ Training” School

At its annual convention, the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), the largest association for our profession, often distributes keepsakes (buttons, keychains and the like) that proclaim “I ‘♥’ Training.” This swag represents the most common view of training, among education professionals and the clients they serve. This school of thought reinforces mantras like, ”training is fun!” and “all curious and inquisitive people ‘♥’ training!”“I ‘♥’ Training” is an understandable, and even healthy, point of view for classroom facilitators and, to some degree, instructional designers. It is also common among executives (training and otherwise) who measure the success of training by volume of content produced, course evaluation feedback, and participation. In terms of the Kirkpatrick model, I refer to these metrics as 'Level 0' evaluation, that is, usage.

Even a cursory look at the accomplishments of Chief Learning Officers profiled in CLO magazine shows that many of the most successful practitioners in our field quantify their accomplishments in terms of spending and usage (Level 0 metrics), such as number of people trained, amount of money spent building training infrastructure, or number of courses put in place as part of a curriculum.

The “I do everything I can to avoid instruction" School

When HPT pioneer Joe Harless passed away a couple of years ago, I was reminded of the other school of thought. In an article in the Performance Improvement journal, author William Coscarelli recalls Harless opening a 1977 talk with "I do everything I can to avoid instruction." He continued to explain how front-end analysis directs clients to the root causes of their issues, and those root causes are only occasionally matters of “training.”

This "avoid instruction" attitude carries with it a whole other set of assumptions. Instead of training for the sake of training, with a goal of butts in seats, the measure of training success is business impact. Instead of more training being better, adherents to this school recognize that training is expensive to produce and deploy. Instead of trumpeting 4.5 mean responses on smile sheets, the Harlessians (yes, I made that up) know that training has limited utility- it can only be relied on to help build skills.

So What?

Carrying the Harliessian torch is much easier said than done. Even with the best of intentions and rigorous discipline, one cannot reasonably expect to demonstrate measurable business impact on even half of training projects. Alas, sometimes training is just training.

But we have to fight the fight.  I'll always fight the good fight in seeking demonstrable performance improvement over the development of useless training. And I'll always seek true partnership with clients to help them see how training can support their goals. If we can never demonstrate value and a focus on outcomes, our function will cease to exist. 

No comments:

Post a Comment