Abhay  Padgaonkar

Article Summary:

What are the top ten obstacles that training departments need to overcome to ensure their success within the organization?

Ten Obstacles That Training Departments Need To Overcome

While the unemployment rate is still low by historical standards, increased globalization, outsourcing, and technology innovation have created a tremendous amount of job churn. As business leaders look to cut costs, the training department has become one of the "usual suspects" that is rounded up at most companies -- an unfortunate and short-sighted occurrence.

For decades, training departments have been on the defensive, fighting to get the recognition they deserve. Re-branding the department as "Learning and Development" or "Global Talent" has hardly helped--any more than it helped Personnel to be called HR. Corporate Leadership Council's research report titled Defining Critical Skills of Human Resources Staff based on a survey of 555 executives in 68 countries points out that "fewer than one in six CEOs assigns strategic importance to HR and only one in four rates HR's performance favorably." Training didn't even make the list.

With literally billions of dollars spent on training, why is it not more effective in changing organizations' practices? Why are training departments continually being targetted for cost cutting?

Memo to Training: Take Charge!
Training departments can do a lot more to control their own destinies. It goes without saying that Training,as with any staff function, has to be efficient, effective, and relevant. But it also has to contribute to business success. There are different levels of questions, based on Kirkpatrick levels and clearly in increasing importance, that must be asked:

  • Did they (trainees) like it?
  • Did they learn?
  • Did they use it?
  • Did it impact the bottom line?
  • What is the Return on Investment (ROI)?

The knock against traditional training is that it is too internally focused and often stops, at best, at level II question. The most important questions are rarely asked or answered adequately. Training needs to evaluate its role from a broader perspective and incorporate new ideas to become a strong contributor to business success.

Running the Gauntlet
Here are top-ten common obstacles that prevent Training from being invited to be at the head table.

  1. Front-end alignment
    Does Training have a crystal-clear understanding of the organization's strategy and direction? More importantly, Training needs to translate these broad strategies into desired outcomes and needed changes in skills and behaviors. Training needs to get business sign-off rather than just being order-takers so that the training content and delivery is geared toward delivering tangible value.

  2. "Training ain't learning"
    When something is said, it doesn't mean it is heard. Similarly, it is naïve to think that just because somebody was trained, that they learned. As Mark Twain said, "Don't let schooling interfere with your education." A lot of so-called training is just a "data dump." Training needs to find out how much people have actually learned and retained.

  3. "Learning ain't knowing"
    It is one thing to have learned what to do in a classroom setting, it is entirely another to know what do in a complex, fast-paced, real-life situation. Oftentimes, off-the-shelf training is delivered without incorporating the culture, processes, policies, and personalities involved outside the classroom. Training needs to be careful in ensuring that what is taught is real and that it doesn't end when the class is over. Recent phenomena such as e-learning, distance learning, and self-directed learning--all invented to improve efficiency--have drastically reduced the effectiveness by taking away an interactive environment conducive to learning.

  4. "Knowing ain't doing"
    As Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton point out in their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap "there is a loose and imperfect relationship between knowing what to do and the ability to act on that knowledge." Training needs to challenge the very basic assumption that "doing" happens through "knowing." There is ample evidence that it is actually the other way around. The new motto Training needs to adopt is: "Hear it, write it, talk it, do it!"

  5. Be careful what you wish for
    A lot of training today is done under the guise of reengineering. Except for the totally uninitiated, reengineering has become a euphemism for an around-the-corner reduction in force or layoff. If training is going to result in process improvements that will, in turn, result in job losses, what is really the incentive to learn?

  6. Cognitive dissonance
    Many times, what the organization says it wants people to do is not necessarily what is rewarded. For example, typically an account manager or a call center employee is trained on customer service, but is evaluated and rewarded for business development or selling. Training needs to be mindful of the reinforcement processes in place.

  7. We're all in it together
    Success hardly ever depends on a single department doing well. There is a great deal of interdependency among different parts of the organization for pulling the ship in the same direction. If there are contradictory goals among various departments such as sales, implementation, client management, service delivery, and information management, no amount of training will put them on the same path.

  8. One size doesn't fit all
    Adult learning research has shown that different people learn differently. According to Pamela J. Gordon, an adult learning expert, people with different learning styles ask different questions to sort and store information: "Why is this important to me?" "What are the facts?" "How is this practical?" "What if I do this?" Training needs to incorporate the needs of all different learning styles so everyone can track along.

  9. Haves and have-nots
    An unequal amount of training is done among the management ranks with the hope of a "trickle-down" effect, while employees on the frontline are left holding the bag. The fact that training will involve removing them from their revenue-generating activities is actually used against them. Mary Walton in The Deming Management Method says, "Too often workers have learned their job from another worker who was never trained properly. They are forced to follow unintelligible instructions. They can't do their jobs because no one tells them how."

  10. What's measured is treasured
    Too much of Training scorecards report activity (number of classes, training days, trainees, etc.) rather than outcomes. Training needs to develop, measure, report, and hold itself accountable for metrics at each level identified earlier. A scorecard with a greater weight toward higher levels can go a long way in establishing the indispensability of the training department.

Judge for Yourself
Whether you are a business leader or a training professional, it is important to ask if any of these obstacles apply to your organization, to what extent, and how best to overcome them. Unfortunately, most of the burden for figuring this out falls on Training. Although the list of obstacles is long, a simple first step for Training would be to examine the assumptions that are going into every aspect of the training activity.

Abhay Padgaonkar, a management consultant, author, and speaker, is the founder and president of Innovative Solutions Consulting, LLC, which provides advice on formulating strategy and turning it into meaningful actions and measurable results for major clients such as American Express. For more information, visit Innovative Solutions.org.

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