Recently, I was asked a very thought-provoking question by the director of HRD for a large organization. I was explaining the “5As Framework” to her and she asked, “What are the implications for what we do here?” I immediately launched into my usual speech about getting managers of learners TrainingPicture
involved in actively supporting the learning process. This led to a discussion of all the excuses she hears from managers to explain their lack of involvement in employee learning. It wasn’t until later, after further rumination, that I realized the better answer to the director’s question is, “Throw out the course catalog!” 

Like HRD departments in many large organizations, each year they offer a long list of courses and programs that have all of the current buzz words in their titles. I have no doubt that her department delivers excellent, world-class courses and programs. And I’m sure employees enjoy the courses and even say that the knowledge and skills will be very useful to them in their work. However, I’m also quite sure that very little has changed in the wider organization as a result of the many outstanding events put on by this unit. The problem is the lack of alignment between event-based instruction and important business results.

The competency model, which provides the underlying theory of event-based training, is doing a disservice to the current needs of organizations. Training and development professionals seem to believe that if they can identify the competencies that people need in order to do their jobs and then offer courses to teach those competencies, employees will be more productive and successful. The problem with this way of thinking is that performance has as much (if not more) to do with work culture as it does with job competencies. To be successful, employees need supervisors and co-workers who are supportive of learning and performance improvement, they need a supervisor/boss/mentor who talks to them regularly about learning and results, they need the opportunity to apply new learning and to receive feedback, and they and the organization need to be held accountable for learning and results. If there is this culture of learning, employees will continually improve performance.

According to my colleague, Ralph Jacobson, we have to change the local environment so that people actually “work differently”, not just learn how to work differently. All the courses in the world will not change behavior and improve results unless the local culture supports change. At one time, when jobs were static and organizational change came slowly, a menu of well-designed courses was sufficient. Now, when change has to happen rapidly, when we have to find ways to lower the cost of learning, and when we have better and better online, just-in-time, mobile learning resources, event-based learning is no longer the best answer.

We must provide learning experiences to people when and where they need it and in ways that optimizes application to achieving important business results. We need training and development that is timely, short duration, and project-focused. We need frequent on-the-job feedback from supervisor/boss/mentor to employee. For example, leadership skills are best taught during a challenging, team project while the leader is trying out new behaviors and receiving ongoing feedback from a coach. This way of learning will have much more impact on performance than a course or conference on leadership.

What do you think? Can we throw out the course catalog?

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