In this year’s installment of The Apprentice there was an episode in which the contestants were tasked with organising a corporate training “away day” for two blue chip clients in team-building, communication and listening skills. For anyone who did not see it, both teams failed to deliver a training event that fulfilled the clients’ needs, as they simply threw together several “team building” exercises, with a tenuous link to an overall themed day. One team had a back to school theme that included cake making and wine tasting, whilst the other had an army theme that included archery and sumo wrestling!
Although The Apprentice is TV entertainment, and not reflective of a real workplace environment, it did highlight many errors of training and development design that many businesses can fall foul of; namely that:
- The training has little impact on person’s day-to-day job
- No meaningful follow-up is planned after the event
- There is no measure of the return on investment (ROI)
Part of the problem could be that the traditional approach to training and development is to identify a learning need, and then design a programme away from the workplace that addresses this. By working this way, businesses can encounter the errors highlighted above and end up with training events that are similar to those experienced in The Apprentice. The reason for this may be because the learning is taking place away from the job, it is less meaningful and therefore harder to generate any real change in behaviours.
Extracting Learning From Work
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In order to counter these issues, the answer may in fact be to look beyond the traditional idea of workplace training and development were you inject a learning intervention into the workflow, by instead looking to extract learning from work. This idea was examined by Charles Jennings in the following article and is based upon research by the Corporate Executive Board.
What was discussed in this article is that the traditional approach to employee training and development is to isolate a particular area for development, say communication, and then build a training event around this. Most likely this event would be delivered in a course away from the workplace.
So, using the example from The Apprentice; the senior managers were attending the “away day” with the explicit purpose of developing new team-building, communication and listening skills, to then transfer them back to the workplace. One of the reasons why the contestants may have failed on this task was because the training activities designed were separate from the normal workflow and therefore, without the context in which to reflect on this, the learning was minimal.
Context is Key
Context is critical to this theory, because as Charles Jennings points out:
if people have the opportunity to learn and develop as part of their work and they are supported by their manager, then learning will be much better transformed into measurable behavioural change and performance improvement.
Rather than injecting learning into the workflow, extracting focuses on allowing workers to learn more from their day-to-day work, without having to adjust their normal work practices by undertaking specific activities, (e.g. attending an “away day”). Examples of how this could work in practice are:
- After completing a project, all those involved could be by encouraged to reflect on their experiences to help draw out new learning experiences.
- Managers providing new and challenging work to develop skills on-the-job.
- Business leaders introducing social and mobile technologies to encourage collaboration and the sharing of ideas.
Measuring the Return
By moving to training and development that is aligned closely to the workflow, businesses can measure the impact by linking it in with normal performance management metrics and reviews. This helps to give greater clarity as to whether training is transferring into improved work based performance.
These ideas may seem alien to conventional wisdom on how best to train and develop staff, but by sticking to a traditional training model like that used in The Apprentice, it can only lead to more time and money being wasted by businesses.