When Did Training Become Optional?


thumbnailCA4Z1XR6In some industries, training employees has become an optional activity.  No longer do companies see the need to develop employees so they can produce results, exceed goals or even as a retention tool.  So “When Did Training Become Optional?”

Thirty years ago, financial services was an industry that spent serious time and money on developing staff.  If they were to be competitive, they had to have the brightest people representing them, and that meant training skills was a required activity.  Employees learned both operational skills and communication skills, while at the same time we built interpersonal and management development skills.  Sadly, only a handful of banks in this country develop their employees today.

Our society has evolved into a disposal society in more ways than most will admit out loud.  Employees that don’t come with the necessary skills better figure out a way to obtain them or they will lose their jobs.  Employers have learned in the past 8 years that they can replace one warm body with another warm body without a lot of effort.  So why spend money on development when you can throw away and replace any given employee?

Human Resources have learned that to be constantly viable to an organization, they must either devote a lot of effort to performance management, organizational development, succession planning, training and retention.  Or, they can avoid all that and just get good at recruitment.  Oh, did I just say the obvious?  Unless you devote time to your existing workforce, they will leave and you will be spending time finding replacements.  And that my friends is what makes a lot of HR people feel secure.  “They need us because we have a lot of openings to fill.”

In financial services, only the bigger institutions train their employees anymore.  Mid-size to small banks and credit unions will train compliance topics because the regulators force them, and then only train topics after performance is found to be an issue.  Reactive training efforts far exceed proactive development efforts.

The only way this can turn around in any industry or company is through the leadership ranks.  Until we have leaders that see the value of developing staff, nothing will change.  To assist this effort, new applicants should ask what kinds of employee development occurs before they entertain or accept an offer.  If nothing much is happening, then make that the reason you decline.  If it becomes hard to recruit, leadership might just have to wake up to a new reality.

Advertisements

Are Competencies Required?


lion-tamer In this photo, who would you say has more competencies, the Lion or the Lion Tamer?  Anyone foolish to enter a lion’s cage without the necessary competencies can probably count on similar results.  Yet why are people hired for positions when they lack the competencies and experience to perform?

An associate of mine that has been in the learning profession longer than I have was trying to assess why he had been passed over for a job and it was given to someone that actually had zero learning background.  As the same thing happened to me recently we decided to talk through what these people had that neither of us did.

Outside of the obvious lack of work experience, I noted that each of the hires were half our age and would not be looking for compensation in the same ballpark we would have been looking to accept.  So we started a list of young and inexpensive as our first two preferred criteria.

Next we went through the remainder of the protected classes list of things that couldn’t be used to discriminate against us, and we saw nothing else.  We then decided to see if young tied together with anything other than lower compensation because both of these businesses still needed to get things done.  At the same time we talked about our working styles because of our experience.

Readers of this blog have learned that I think training should always produce results.  It should never be used as window dressing, or some kind of reward.  If training is warranted it needs to concentrate on skill competencies and how we measure results of our efforts.  We spent some considerable time talking about times when we let things slide and paid the cost of having to retrain people.  Lost revenue and higher expenses were sometimes incurred when we did things outside of proven methodologies.  We laughed about times when we had gone around in circles with management over avoiding ineffective training methods and how many times it became a battle of the wills and who would win the fights.  That’s when my associate said “BINGO!”

We had found another good reason to avoid older experienced people over younger inexperienced workers.  They never argue because their lack of experience prevents a counter argument.  Many leaders today do not want their ideas challenged.  They want people that lack competencies so they lack the ability to push back.  While this is a win for the manager, it is a big loss for the people getting trained and the company as a whole.

In both of the companies that we had been attempting to work for there was no HR role held by an HR professional.  The HR responsibilities were being covered by another individual as part of their overall job.  This means that recruiting was being done by the hiring manager.

I found a company recently that is a franchise of a major chain, and HR is part of the District Manager’s job, along with sales, production, facilities, security etc.  So when I overheard this person telling a General Manager that “we don’t hire old people here because it doesn’t fit our image”  and that “looks are important, so no fat people or ones with crooked teeth either”  I could almost here the cash register ringing.  It will only take one sharp employee to turn them in and the costs could close the doors.  Yet if you don’t hire older people you can avoid knowledge of HR rules too.

Competencies really do matter IF you want to achieve results.  However, if your real goal is to avoid confrontations, control thoughts and methods, competencies actually get in the way.  What would the goals of your hiring methods reveal?

What’s The Problem?


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.

CEO Learns About Human Resources


I am helping a CEO learn what Human Resources should be providing his company.  Like many CEOs, he is well versed in the financial and operational sides of the business, but the HR world is a little mysterious.  Yet this CEO realized that not knowing what HR should be doing has left him to wonder if they are doing what he needs for the company to be successful.

This particular company doesn’t have a training function, and HR has no desire to add one to their list of responsibilities.  “If they want training some other senior leader needs to take it on” was the response I got when I asked why training was absent.  So I went to the CEO to discover who would be the best champion for the building of a training function.  He said, “Human Resources.”

There are days I just want to scream, but this time I simply replied, “they are not interested in taking on the responsibility and suggested that if the company wants training some other senior leader should be responsible.”  I then suggested we talk on the phone for 15 minutes.

While this CEO claimed not to really understand the HR function, he knows so much more than he realized.  Yet in fairness, he was not holding HR responsible for much.  As we build his confidence, I am noticing that he is getting more involved in the workings of his HR.  He noticed that the recruiting process seemed long.  He noticed that entry-level jobs don’t retain employees and they were leaving for other companies.  He noticed that HR spent a lot of time dealing with performance problems.  This guy is a quick study!

Now while training can prevent a lot of issues, he realized that there was more to the problem then just the absence of training.  He has a very competent HR Director, but she was feeling under appreciated.  This is why she had no desire to take on additional responsibilities.  In time this will change, and in no small part because this CEO learned what Human Resources was all about.

 

Qualifications of a Training Manager


No two job descriptions are the same in describing the qualifications of a training manager, and I feel so sorry for the recruiters that are left to find suitable candidates to fill these varied positions.  Bless their hearts though, they strive to find the perfect match for what their company is seeking.

Industry experience seems to be a fundamental requirement that most companies seek in a training manager.  Banks want training managers that have been tellers, loan officers and operations officers.  Restaurants want training managers that have been waiters, cooks, and general managers.  Retail stores want specific and similar retail sales and management experience, so a women’s clothing store training manager must have women’s clothing store experience.  If they came from Sears, Home Depot or Wal-Mart they won’t be qualified.

Now while I will agree that industry experience is important in the role of facilitator, every other training role up to and including the manager is not essential to them being able to perform their role.  In fact, it is less of a challenge if they are not too familiar with the industry because they make fewer assumptions and ask better questions to understand the working environment.

So what are the real qualification of a training manager?

  • First, they should have management background in managing performance of a staff.  It doesn’t matter what kind of work, as long as they are able to set performance objectives, coach, give feedback, and evaluate performance.
  • Second, they should have at least 2 years as a facilitator in a variety of skill development areas, at least a year as an instructional designer in both print and electronic medium.
  • Third, they should have at least 2 years of organizational development, and/or performance consulting background with the ability to perform training needs analysis.
  • Forth, they should have experience creating strategy and plans for implementation.
  • Fifth, they should have experience in negotiating and working with external vendors, contracts and implementations.

By the time a person is made a Training Manager, Training Director, or Chief Learning Officer, they should have had a lot of hands on experience in each of the disciplines they are managing.  They should have an internal understanding of adult learning principles so they know when training is applicable and how best to design a solution that works.

The flip side to being required to have experience that is not needed, or lacking any time in the training field before becoming a manager is not only difficult on the individual’s ability to succeed, but it opens up the door for training to fail.

There is a restaurant that is seeking an experienced training director to take their learning organization in a completely different direction to assist employees in adjusting to some major cultural changes brought on by new management.  While there is no shortage of qualified and experienced training professionals that have done this countless times, the position has yet to be filled because the candidates must have managed a restaurant for at least 5 years in addition to 8-10 years of progressive training experience.  Meanwhile the company’s goals will have to wait for who knows how long until the perfect fit arrives.  (It has already been 6 months)

There is a bank that is growing, needs to develop a training function from scratch, and is going through another merger soon, so they hire a person to be the training manager, with 3 years of experience in banking as a trainer.  With zero experience in developing training from scratch, this poor chap has accomplished little in the first 90-days, and in the next 90-days the merger will close.  I feel sorry for the new employees and the new customers.  At least the customers have the option of leaving.

How Long Does Training Take?


We are conditioned to everything happening quickly.  You get a cold, go to the Doctor and are prescribed medication and you want to know how long before I get better?  Some things can be timed, but most things are only estimates.  When it comes to training someone, the expectation is that once training is completed, the person will be able to perform their job.  Wrong!

Training begins the process of learning skills, but as any learning development professional will tell you, the application of skills in the work environment is when training takes hold.  Practicing in the real world is how we humans really learn, and how we acquire the skills.

This is what perplexes me the most about training expectations.  Most managers understand at a conscious level that if they send their employees to a training event, there is still a lot of time that must pass before they are competent performers.  And yet I find myself in the role of an ER Doctor more often with the patient bleeding out and they want me to fix things overnight.  I just love when a company has been through one employee relations issue after another and the bell goes off that they should train management development skills.

While this is a good idea, it would have been a better one 6 months ago.  But we all know that hindsight is 20/20, and often we need to deal with the issue today.  So we fix whatever damage the manager has caused, and begin a treatment plan for the manager to prevent a recurrence of these same interpersonal issues.  Great, let’s develop our managers in performance management communications.

A great training manager would have this scoped out in a couple of days, drafted a solution and be ready to implement a training program within the month.  A good training manager might need a couple more months, but at least in the next 90-days we are striving to prevent another outbreak of foot in mouth disease!

So what happens when this project remains a project for months, or even years?  One excuse after another for delays, and ultimately you have training taking longer than it should because it has not even started.  We said that training takes time to work into the blood stream, and yet here we are taking months to even wave the checkered flag.

How long does training take?  I love this question because I always answer it with the amount of practice time I believe is necessary after the event has occurred.  So if it is 3 months, I will say, “about 3 months after training has completed.”  In other words, if we plan to wait 9 months to implement training, then the skills won’t be available for a year!

Delays in employee development are the number one cause of poor performance.  We want instant performance change, and yet when part of the solution is training, we sit on our hands for months and get frustrated with nothing changes.

I tell training managers to always ask their client, “how soon do these skills need to be in practice?”  And if like most situations the answer is as soon as possible then we need to move now!!  I also tell managers to always ask training “how long will it take after the event for the skills to be learned behaviors, and when will we implement training?”

Setting dates are often tough for anyone that wants to procrastinate or drag out a project.  Yet if you are a training manager, most of the time you got to the party late and need to move quickly.  Training often takes longer than what is ideal, but it doesn’t need to take longer because we delay the implementation part of the equation.

Why We Don’t Need a Training Department


I was enlightened recently by a company that doesn’t need a training department and their reasoning is valid should they ever achieve their idea of reality.  They simply “hire only people with the right competencies, the right experience and the right attitude for the job.”  Simply huh?

While this may seem like a story out of the twilight zone, you have to admit that if you only hire perfect fits, you really don’t need a learning environment.  If everyone working for you is operating with the optimal level of skills, you have optimal productivity and no interpersonal human resource issues.  If only this operating theory could be replicated every company would be achieving 100% all the time.

Now if you have looked at a job posting of any kind recently, you may have wondered why on earth you ever gave away your shirt with the giant “S” on it away.  The list of competencies go on forever.  The list of mandatory, and desired experience goes on even longer.  And when it comes to what it takes to operate in their culture, they paint a picture of what heaven on earth looks like.  These list makers are looking for complete perfection and only recruit those that believe they bring everything to the table.

To further weed out the less than perfect people from applying, they design lengthy online applications that take hours to complete.  Applicants must use every key word in the job descriptions, or they won’t even get an automatic reply email that tells them your application was received.  Some of the most talented applications are often never received because they lack the patience or the time necessary to complete them.  Position vacancies go unfilled for months because the quest for the perfect fit has not been located yet.

Now the flip side is the company that hires any warm body they can get, provides zero training and like throwing pasta on the wall to see if it sticks, hopes and prays that they will stay a long time.

I do have to agree that minimal training is needed if everyone on staff is competent and able to perform their jobs up to and exceeding expectations.  Yet that is never going to happen without a training/learning function.  Sorry folks, but I live in the land of reality, and when people think they can hire perfection, they lack the understanding that humans are constant learners, and as the world changes and updates we all need to be learning the latest and greatest techniques and information.

So for those that read this blog posting hoping to discover how to succeed without having a training department, the short answer is that you can’t.