Good performance consulting always begins with seeking to understand the problem before launching into deciding what the solution is going to be. Organizational Development processes also believe it is important to identify the problem before recommending a course of action. But what happens if you cannot identify the problem?
In many situations we evaluate, and then the problem is fairly apparent. Once we have identified what needs to happen that is not happening, we can usually move quickly into a fix. Yet I had to be reminded this week of what happens when it is difficult to identify the problem and where we could be going wrong.
After meeting with a new client we had a clear-cut understanding of what he wished his employees were doing more of, and how not doing it was causing his frustration. If we could just get the right behaviors to happen, the issue would disappear. When I started to review my notes, and prepare for a second round of interviews with other team members, I became stuck with putting my finger on the problem. My notes seemed to be headed in several directions.
I spoke with a trusted colleague this morning and asked her to help me sort out my confusion. And the conclusion was I was not confused at all. I had identified not one problem but several problems. I was so focused on narrowing down the scope that I was trying to confine my thoughts. And yet, my thoughts were telling me to ask “What Are The Problems”, plural, not problem, but problems!
Once I realized that I was not confused, but rather clearer of thought than I had given myself credit, it all made sense!
My advice to any of you that seem unsure of the problem is to allow yourself to realize there could be a lot of problems causing a single issue. And the other piece of advice is to talk with other learning professionals and get a second take. Often the person you ask for a second opinion of is separated from the situation and simply can see the forest for the trees better. In my case, it was great to get a confirmation that I wasn’t missing anything, and at the same time it gave me the sanity to realize it was okay to have several performance issues going on at the same time.
I’m often asked what is usually wrong with a training function that is not having a lot of impact and/or success. I’ve narrowed it down to a list of my most commonly found issues. All five of these issues must exist for a complete shutdown of effectiveness, and you only need one working in the opposite direction to keep the training function on track.
- FIRST, the training function is not strategic in nature, and is more reactive. Instead of working on projects that will prevent a fire, they are waiting until someone calls 911 to alert them that the place is on fire. Once the ashes are cleared away they wait for someone to tell them how to rebuild. Because they are not in touch with the goals of the organization, they are unable to supply a blueprint for rebuilding.
- SECOND, the training department does not work off a project plan with due dates. Let alone a strategic look at the projects in a given year or month, they will take off on implementing a LMS, or launching an initiative to train managers and there are no deliverables attached to due dates. Project Management 101 tells us that things go undone without due dates for tasks and the ultimate implementation.
- THIRD, is a lack of accountability. Neither the training function itself is accountable for progress, nor is anyone else in the organization holding the training function accountable. While it is preferred that the training leadership runs a function that wants to be productive, it is imperative that senior management also have expectations and hold training accountable to achieve results.
- FORTH, is a lack of actual competencies to perform the training manager role. Too many companies are fooling themselves into thinking that they can hire an experienced facilitator or an instructional designer as a training manager. These folks have not learned or acquired the competencies to manage a function. They try hard to make things happen, but in the end they get little done year after year because they don’t know how to manage training.
- FIFTH, any company that has a weak training function also has a weak HR function too. If employee performance and retention are less important to HR than keeping the recruiting function in high demand, having well-trained employees does not serve their purpose. The best ally training could have is the head of HR, but if that HR Leader competes with training than the company ends up losing.
“The real take-away is that if any of these 5 areas are working well, then the training function has a fighting chance to succeed.”
- When the training function acts strategically, than projects are aligned with organizational needs and the training function is working on the right things at the right time.
- When the training function uses traditional project planning processes with due dates, then projects get completed on time!
- When both the training function and senior management holds training accountable, things get done!
- When companies hire experienced training managers to lead their training functions, and cross train their training employees for succession, training accomplishes their mission.
- When HR supports well-trained employees as a way to increase retention, and decrease the need to constantly manage poor performance and recruit for replacements, than the employees and the company win big!
Good training prepares an employee with the skills necessary to do the job at hand. Along with work experience, well-trained employees can tackle future responsibilities when the need arises. But what happens if training comes too late in an employee’s journey? What happens when a company decides “we are doing just fine right now, and we will start training later?”
10 years ago the mortgage industry was a very large employer. Most banks had large staffs of employees concentrating on home mortgage loans, and there were dozens of large mortgage companies across the country employing thousands of people. Each of these companies had robust training and learning environments to keep growing their employee populations. When the housing bubble burst, there where a lot of highly skilled, but unemployed people without work.
Yet over the past couple of years, the mortgage industry is coming back online. It would seem at first glance all these companies would have to do is rehire from the past and training wouldn’t be necessary. Yet new laws, compliance changes, and different products are now part of the new mortgage industry. Likewise, all of those former employees needed to find work and a majority of them found new careers.
So you might imagine that restarting the mortgage industry would be a little like starting from scratch, and with that in mind, include training in the foundation of the company. Most though are trying to make it without expending money and attention to employee development. They are waiting. Waiting for the need to become so obvious that it may be too late to make a difference by that point in time.
Training is not magic. Rather it is more of a science when it comes to adult learning. Not only do adults prefer to learn as they see a need, they also want to apply what they learned rather soon after acquiring the skill. This means that the training function cannot arrive the same day that we want to train a skill. There is a lot of upfront work to make sure a training initiative is implemented correctly to achieve the desired results.
Now while I chose the mortgage industry as my example in this blog, they are by far not the only industry waiting and postponing the implementation of training. Some companies wait too long, and fail before they can adjust to change. If your company employs people, then you should have a training function. Unless of course your goal is to go out of business someday. And without training, it is just a matter of time before you do.