Learning Through Osmosis

th5 In many corporate environments today there has been a relatively obscure learning technique being used that I only recently discovered, and I am calling it Learning Through Osmosis.

It involves a process similar in nature to on-the-job training without all the formal checklists and is customized by the learner themselves.  It produces random, unidentifiable results, but the costs to implement are next to nothing.  This gives the person tracking the ROI an easy formulation since any return is positive since the investment was nothing.

After 25+ years banging my head against a wall designing, facilitating and performing detailed training needs analysis before implementing any kind of learning solution I have come to learn that many “training professionals” have been getting a salary and not having to lift a finger in implementing squat!  I feel like such an out of touch idiot for not discovering Learning Through Osmosis sooner.

So what exactly is Learning Through Osmosis?  It begins by removing all structure to learning, and allowing all employees to discover their own learning paths.  It requires no eLearning, online or classroom training and two simple resources.  The first is an unfettered access to the complete internet.  What is on the internet is completely correct I am told, and you can find out how to do anything!  Sweet!

The second resource is other people, and where most of the learning occurs through the osmosis process.  You see all that is necessary is the ability to stand near (not even close enough to touch) the person that actually knows how to perform the tasks you want to learn, and through the science of osmosis, these skills are developed by the learner without taking away the skills from the original owner.  It is almost like magic!

Now while the true secret for how this process moves skills from one person to another person without any kind of old fashion training techniques is unknown, many training leaders are trusting the process and have abandoned all other training events and put all of their hope in Learning Through Osmosis.  As long as their paycheck comes every two weeks, they are certain in their success.  And if that is the only way you measure training results, then you are good to go, right?


The above insight is my sense of humor, and attempt to figure out why some organizations fail to provide accountable training solutions and ignore employee development.  Learning Through Osmosis is NOT a real training method, and should never be relied on for any professional development. 

If you need help in discovering how your training efforts could be more successful, order my two books at http://www.thetrainingphysical.com or email me at Jim@jkhopkinsconsulting.com and schedule a time to talk.

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.

The Training Wand

Several years ago when I was a trainer, I was reporting to a training manager who was a skilled operations manager, but knew little about training adults.  Her number one measurement tool was how many people received training each month.  It was never an issue whether the learning was applicable, or if the participants obtained skills, but the number of people who attended.

She was famous for agreeing to line requests for training on the fly, and those of us that were facilitators would be given days to pull something together for a workshop on any number of different topics.  We all functioned as waiters and cooks ready to serve up anything the client wanted to train.

Although we tried endlessly to explain how instructional design worked, and that learning objectives were a serious part of matching training with needs, she would not give us the time to make sure we got the training right before we delivered it.

During a rather tense staff meeting, one of the bolder trainers (not me back then) had went to the toy store and purchased a two foot long, bright pink princess magic wand.  It had feathers and glitter and to a 6-year-old would have been a perfect gift.  This trainer presented it to our manager with the insight that whenever she preferred to avoid adult learning principles in design and training requests in the future, she need only wave the wand over the trainer and everything would work perfectly.

No one could hold back their laughter, and the manager stepped right into the fun promising to use it in the future.  The activity released some stress, but none of us expected a change in her behavior.  And yet it did.

She put the wand in her office in a pencil cup on her desk.  When people asked her for training after that, she was often heard negotiating the terms and insisting that we had time to design a good workshop.  I once heard her say, “do you think I have a magic wand and I can just make the workshop appear out of thin air?”

Years later when I was a director of training, I found a similar wand at the dollar store and bought it for my office.  It was a reminder that training may look like magic, but it is really a science.  My boss hated it in my office, but I told him it was there to keep me from losing my focus.

Wanted: Super Trainer!

The record months of unemployment has empowered a lot of companies to believe they can hire every competency they want, pay a salary not seen in three decades and wait for months for their “Super Trainer” to apply.  It is time to get realistic!

Now I will admit there are people who can facilitate training in a multitude of skills like management development, compliance, operations, sales, customer service and the assorted systems and programs.  You may even find this person is capable to deliver in both a classroom and virtual classroom environment too.

I will also admit you might find someone who can do all of the above, and are experienced instructional designers in print and assorted eLearning, mLearning and virtual learning programs.

I have even seen all of the above, plus they are experienced organizational development consultants, and can facilitate, plan and communicate strategies and vision.  They are even skilled in project planning and needs analysis.

And although the list is narrowing, I have even known people who can do all of the above and have management experience.  And when you have all this combined, to me your title ought to be “Super Trainer!”

But here is the humor, what happens when a company actually wants all of these skills and experience in a single person?  This staff of one may be able to perform all of these skills, but not at the same time.  They might be very versatile, but they are still a single person with just so many hours in a week.

While it is a real feather in your cap to have Super Trainers working for you, we must never forget that training is a team effort.  Success is based in part on the talent, but the creativity and quantity of work hinges on the amount of talent working for you.  The training team cannot be a single person, no matter how much they know how to do.

For those employers seeking a bargain when hiring I offer these words of caution.  You get what you pay for, and you need to pay for what you want.  If you are going to demand a full set of competencies, you will need to pay top dollars for that package.  However, if you underpay someone what they are worth, it won’t be long before they find another employer that will pay for their skills with the appropriate salary.

Establishing training from scratch is a strategic proposition.  If you are interested in learning how to do it the best way for your organization, give me a call!

Super Quick Training

I read a job posting for a training manager role this morning that although I know they are serious in their need, I had to laugh out loud over the very thought of this expectation.  It said “that at anytime the training manager should be able to fill in for a trainer and deliver any program within a 20 minute notice.”

While it is a worthy endeavor to find a Super Training Manger, able to train any topic at the drop of a hat, it is a lame expectation that anybody could deliver their full curriculum offering with 20 minutes of prep time.  I take longer to prep a course delivery that I have taught many times, but I am obsessed with the quality of learning.

The job description went on to say that the need to always deliver every posted workshop required that the training manager could multi-task as a last-minute replacement for the assigned trainer.  That training is so important to the culture that nothing should stand in the way of delivering a planned workshop.  I guess that includes a quality learning event.

Somebody with half a brain has prioritized the event over the quality of learning.  Employees will lose time off the job attending any training event, so why not make sure that when they do that time is spent learning correctly?

Yet the person that signed off on this hair-brained idea in the training role is the one that let the company down.  Many times management that doesn’t fully understand the adult learning process will challenge the training world to do something that is counter productive, but the real challenge is to push back when the idea is not grounded or works against the learning process.

As a training manager you must be the advocate of the employee learner.  This job posting said “those that disagree with the requirements need not apply.”  I obliged by not wasting my time applying.  This training department is showing signs of illness, and probably is in need of a complete Training Physical to determine how ill they really are.

40 Hours A Week

I’m sure you have read the joke sheets that break down a whole year, minus holidays, vacations, sick time and all the activities of others that leave you as the only one working and why you are so darn tired.  For the sake of a snicker or two (if I’m lucky) I thought I would try to break down a typical 40-hour work week for a hypothetical training manager.

When you think about 40-hours in a week to get work done, it sounds like a heck of a lot of time.  If you were a consultant charging even $100 an hour, that is $4000 for a week’s work.  Since our training manager is salary it is a lot less money, but still it is cash in exchange for 40-hours of work, correct?

Let’s assume our training manager begins work at 8:00am.  Well they arrive at 8:00am, put away the stuff they brought into work like a coat, briefcase, lunch in the refrigerator and maybe they have turned on the computer.  While the computer is booting up, and email is loading, a break for a first cup of coffee seems in order.  By 9:00am they are reading email, forwarding jokes to friends and catching up on the news at their favorite online news source.  After reading the email that has been sent this morning from others, and planning out their day, it is around 10:00am.

So from 8:00am to 10:00am each day the stage is being set.  That is 2 hours a day, and now we are down to 30 work hours left in the week.

After email, a restroom break and a stroll around the office to talk with staff (no doubt valuable coaching time) the first meeting of the day begins at 10:30 with a department head.  The meeting should have been 30-minutes, but didn’t start on time and ran over so it is now 12:00 and time for lunch.  Normally a 1-hour event, you stop for a quick look at email, and by the time you leave and return it is now 1:30pm.  Wow, what a productive morning!  Yet, another 2.5 hours has slipped by (not counting the lunch hour), and assuming a similar schedule each day, we are now down to 17.5 work hours left in the week.

From 1:30pm until 2:00pm we find our training manager listening to voice messages, reading email but rushed for time to return a single phone call or reply to a single email.  In fact the time is so limited they are unable to fit in a single delete of a junk or spam email to clear out the inbox.  My, my, another 2.5 hours gone for the week, and only 15 work hours left.

If there was a training event going on, the afternoon would be a good time to visit a classroom and observe a trainer’s facilitation.  If the training manager was actively working a training plan, they could be reviewing progress and looking for ways to remove barriers so the staff could get their work done.  Yet there is no training plan, and the staff seems to be busy doing something so we stay disconnected and look for busy work.

These last 3 hours a day, or 15 hours out of the week could be productive, but instead they are consumed with internet surfing for training products that have not even been identified as performance solutions.  Often they attend online free webinars for product demonstrations and to keep current with trends.  Yet these events often lead to more emails and phone messages from pesky sales people who stupidly thought they wanted to know more about the product or service.  Silly people, this was just a convenient way to kill time in the afternoons.

By 4:30 each day it is time to run to the restroom again, sign off the computer and gather personal items for the trip home.  Oh my, they forgot to wash their coffee cup out.  They will now “have to stay late again to finish up work.”