Re-Thinking Learning and Development. Part 2: Do Fewer, Go Deeper


In our first post in this series, we looked at the pressures on learning and development officers to produce better ROI’s by managing the cost side of the equation.

We can appreciate how this happens: companies have many people to be trained, and have many competencies on the list. However, we want to challenge the quantity vs. quality mentality.

It is reasonable to consider productivity when thinking about the ROI calculation for Education (ROEI).  So if we deliver more training sessions to more people within the enterprise, doesn’t that deliver more value?   I guess you could make that argument.

Or, you might think about benefits of learning in terms of their impact on people and the organization (what the original Kirkpatrick Model challenged us all to think about back in 1959).

So the notion that we should concern ourselves with impact on peoples’ behaviors and on business results  are big ideas – just as elusive today as when Kirkpatrick initially developed his call to arms.

It seems to me that the first challenge we face, is that learning does not really occur in the classroom.   We can deliver the concepts to program participants (the intellectual elements), but until those participants apply these concepts in their own world, do the concepts sink in?

For example, let’s say we teach you a new approach to planning and managing performance appraisal discussions.   If the ideas are new to you, we can hope at best, that you might be inclined to try them on your own at the time of your next performance appraisal session.

When you do, if the outcome was a “good” one, you might be encouraged to try the new methodology a second time – or even a third (if the 2nd went well also).  Then gradually your confidence grows and the new behaviors become your new norm.

But what if your outcome using the new method was not a positive one?   In this case, I think most of us would be quick to abandon the new idea in favor of our historical behaviors (EVEN if we believed our past practice produced mediocre results.)

Without some means of ongoing reinforcement or coaching, the new behavior is likely to fall by the wayside.   This coaching could come from your boss, co-workers, or a trained facilitator (it doesn’t matter which). But the act of coaching is essential. This is why our hypothetical 12 hour MBTI workshop described in part 1 of this series was broken into 4 sections – allowing participants time to experiment, to share their results with the class, and to experience that vital coaching opportunity.

So, let’s recap what we have concluded thus far.  Here are some important points to consider when developing effective learning and development strategies:

  • WHEN PRACTICAL, TRAIN WHEN THERE IS AN URGENT NEED (we are MOST receptive to learning new things when we are trying to solve a problem where we recognize the need for new skills.  The best way to teach Lean or Six Sigma is when your group has a process they want to improve.  Teach MBTI when people are already frustrated with some of the human interactions they face.  Teach Project Management when you have formed a new project team.   This creates a built-in mechanism for immediately applying what is taught.)
  • DO FEWER, GO DEEPER (if budgets are limited, doesn’t it make sense to reduce the number of topics covered, so that we can actually work on changing behaviors?)
  • THERE MUST BE AN EXPERIENTIAL COMPONENT (most of us do not learn in the classroom.  Some of us have to see it with our own eyes to get it.  And others of us have to actually DO IT.)
  • If we do not have good outcomes when we try something new, THERE NEEDS TO BE REINFORCEMENT AND COACHING for the learning to stick.
  • TRAIN AROUND ISSUES THAT ARE OF STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE to the enterprise.   (Many HR people develop lists of “leadership competencies” and train to them.   While these may be good, another way to think about it is to focus on the main initiatives that the C-suite is interested in, ask what skills or attitude gaps exist, and then train to those. This approach is more likely to enlist senior management support.)

In Part 3 of this series, we will consider why we need to rethink the entire way we conventionally design learning experiences to make learning stick.

What about you? Have you had an experience where a crisis or significant opportunity “forced” you to embrace training? What was the outcome?

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1 Comment

Filed under Innovation

One response to “Re-Thinking Learning and Development. Part 2: Do Fewer, Go Deeper

  1. Brent

    A previous client was struggling with a multiyear software development project, they referred to the problem as having “100 wandering cats” that could not be herded to pull off the project. It was a strategic imperative to complete this project. After burning through resources they became extremely receptive to learning and embracing training on Project Management and its integration with a Software Development Life Cycle. The training only covered the most important 10% of both processes. Although this was one of the largest groups of resources to align through training, it was one of the most successful engagements, they went on to receive industry recognition for their successful accomplishment.

    In contrast, another company wanted to perfect 100% of these processes before using them, there was shallow involvement and they ended up with a large pile binders describing how to develop software, no one used it.

    Great article thanks for posting it.

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