It’s not about training, it’s about performance

Learning and development exists to improve workplace performance through learning.

L&D is there to help people get better at their jobs.

It wasn’t always thought of as having such a broad scope.

It used to be called Training, and it was only about delivering training sessions. The people at the front of the room were often called Instructors; their job was to be a font of knowledge – an expert in a specific content area – and to walk people through activities designed to transfer that knowledge.

This is a familiar model based on the schoolroom – and as most of us know through bitter experience, the “sage on the stage” model is not an efficient or effective way of transferring knowledge from one human to another.

Most of us recognise the wisdom in Mark Twain’s pithy quote …

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education

… especially since the development of the Internet that has brought so much knowledge (and nonsense) to our fingertips. I have learnt far more from a couple of hours on Wikipedia or YouTube than I did in several years of schooling, with the added advantage of not being beaten up by the big boys who didn’t appreciate my thick glasses and cheeky know-all wit.

Those old school-like Training Courses often last a few days (I use the present tense because there are still a lot of them about), and then the Training Instructor packs his or her bags and heads off to the next one.

The participants head back to their workplaces, forget most of what was learnt and, for various reasons, often fail to apply whatever they manage to retain.

The “Training” box is ticked, the training was delivered as planned, and the happy sheet said they’d had a good time so it is all chalked up as a success. The organisation can now crack on with its business without being distracted by peripheral nice-to-haves like training courses.

This isn’t to say that old-fashioned training courses are never useful – if they are well-designed and delivered so that the learner is mostly active, and the process suits the content and the participants, then training courses can be very effective.

Unfortunately that’s rarely the case.

More likely the knowledge-tsunami training course – possibly linked to a certification that is little more than CV bling – is the industry default response and the client default expectation. Unfortunately it is a shoddy tool for the job of driving improved performance, and so exacerbates the idea that L&D isn’t part of the chain that adds value to the organisation.

To put it into numbers, albeit fake numbers that I have just made up to illustrate the point, the hit rate of old-fashioned training is about 1%.

This 1% represents the “Realised Value” (rV) of the training and means that only 1% of the “Potential Value” (pV) is delivered.

That’s pretty rubbish.

The Potential Value (pV) is the total value that could be added to the organisation if all the skills and knowledge of the training were implemented consistently and to a high standard.

In order for Training to improve on this fake 1% rV number and do its stuff properly, L&D departments should scope their projects around “performance improvement” rather than “training delivery”. In other words focussing on the Outcome (performance improvement), and not just the Output (learning), or the Input (training).

If we take this broader approach – what I call “the L2P journey” (Learning to Performance) – then suddenly anything that gets in the way of learning leading to improved performance is in scope and must be addressed within the L&D project, even if it’s not L&D pulling all the levers.

Anything else would be unethical, because it would be a project doomed to fail; doomed to produce a measly 1% rV.

A project in any other walk of life would (or should) consider the broader picture. No house builder worth their salt would build a house on quicksand, regarding the unstable ground as outside their scope. The desired outcome is a house you can live in, not that some building work gets done, so the dodgy ground needs to be addressed before work starts on the walls.

Similarly, we should not train people when we know it is unlikely to lead to performance improvement because there are other structural problems in the workplace getting in the way.

This means L&D plans need to start with a Business Case based on the performance outcome, and must include the entire L2P journey, even if actions within that plan sit outside of L&D.

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