09 July 2006

Leadership and training

I have always found training to be a strange activity within many organizations. Especially the way training takes place.

The trainee
If we look at what training means to a person who is going to be trained, we see the following.
First training is a fast way of gaining more and new knowledge and skills. It is a situation of which you can be certain that the wished for knowledge and skills will be available.
Secondly training is a change process. The receiver of the new knowledge and skills no longer has a deficit in knowledge and skills.
Thirdly training is a social activity. The transfer of knowledge and skills from the trainer to the trainee takes place through communicating the training content. In this social situation the trainer receives respect from the trainee for his work.
The fourth point in training is that is a brake in the daily situation. Especially if training takes several days and is organized outside the workplace. If training becomes schooling it becomes part of the daily situation.

The organization
As training has a certain meaning for the trainee, it has a different meaning for organizations.
Firstly training is a purchase activity. As there is a shortage of knowledge and skills a product is needed that will reduce the shortage or change it into a surplus.
Secondly training is an investment. The purchased knowledge and skills have to create value for the customer and the organization as soon as possible.
Thirdly it is a change process. Where at first there was a shortage, now a method must be found to make money with the new skills and knowledge. Sometimes the change is forced on the organization because the keeper of the new knowledge and skills changes organizations and a new employee has to be found with the samen knowledge and skills. And when this employee is found he or she needs to be trained in working with the organization.
Fourthly training is a social process. The training is giving to one of the employees and this often is followed by new chances and relations within the organization for the trained employee.

So what is strange about the way organizations use training? Often training is no more then a way to eliminate a shortage of knowledge and skills. For example training is more often used as a way of rewarding employees who have been exemplary and can not be giving a pay rise or bigger bonus due to company policy. So they are sent to function related trainings at nice locations. But after returning from the training nobody expects them to use their new knowledge and skills. You could call this a paid short working vacation. That as a result of the training a lot of unfinished work has piled up, that needs to be done as soon as possible, is no need to stop sending people to trainings. So the employee has to work extra hard the first few days back from training to clear this backlog. And a simple solution to this backlog problem would be to use a reasonably quiet period to send employees to training.
Training as a part of the reward system also is delayed payment. As the employee is upgraded by the training, his or her worth for an organization is greater. So the employee will be able to take on new positions that have a higher salary scale.
Next training often is not bought because of a shortage, but because it is a habit. Every new employee follows the same training, containing so much new knowledge and skills, that you can not expect anything else but inefficiency of training content use. The advantage of such a habitual use of training, especially if it is done consequently at the same training institute is that all employees learn to speak the same language.
And of course some training is purchased because of a recognized shortage of knowledge and skills. But then the organization acts as if training does not change the level of knowledge and skills. So as the employee returns from his training the new knowledge is nog addressed and the skills do not get a chance to be used. The expectations shown to the employee are for a product similar as before he or she left for training, even if with the training the employee could create more value than before.

Strange training purchasing
And that is the strange thing of buying training by organizations. And here we see a contradiction with buying machines.
You might even call it a radical contradiction buying machines or training. When an organization purchases a new machine everything is researched. From the qualitative and quantitative differences between the current and the wished for machines to the TCO and ROI. Does it take a long time to learn to work with the new machine or can it be done in a short amount of time. Does it give more if you learn longer or can you do any amount of learning without any advantage. All this is researched before deciding buying the new machine.
And there we see the strangeness of training purchasing within organizations. Because it seems to be difficult to find the ROI, we forget about the TCO. We do not look at the learning curve or better the forgetting curve. But most of all we do not look at efficiency or effectiveness. Although doing something about this situation is not difficult.

Social activities
As I said before, training is a social activity, as well for the trainee as the organization. It even is so, that by making training a real social activity the forgetting curve becomes a learning curve, effectiveness increases and TCO reduces. With social activity I mean coming together to decide what should be learned. Taking care of replacement during the training and showing interest and coaching afterwards. In a sense what an organization would do when it would buy a new machine and had it installed.