Imagine being at the helm of a good-sized sailing yacht. The calm has given way to strong wind gusts, fog and stormy seas. You must rely on the skills of the crew, limited resources, navigation equipment and common sense to safely guide you and your crew to an unseen destination. The course will change many times during the journey. The crew must be prepared, and your directions to the crew on the ship must be crisp and clearly communicated to avoid disaster at sea.
The Learning Journey
Often, today’s chief learning officers are much like the captains of seafaring vessels who have embarked on a perilous ocean journey. Guiding the organizational ship toward its business goals requires skilled preparation. You can train that yacht’s crew to raise and lower the sails. The safest journey will occur when they have learned how their actions affect the maneuverability of the ship in rough seas and how to make the right decisions as individuals and as a team.
Today’s organizations are mass consumers of both training and education. According to The Fairfield Report, “Enterprise Learning: A Spending Summary,” in the September 00 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, U.S. enterprise firms (those with $500 million and more in sales) spend, on average, $3.7 million every year on learning and training. Enterprise companies are forecast to spend $11.9 billion on learning in 003. In the past year, enterprise companies spent, on average, $91 per employee for learning and training programs. The technology, outsourcing options, type of instructional method, topic or content, format and delivery strategy for training and learning services that can be chosen to help an organization achieve its goals vary tremendously by industry and company.”
Who spends these dollars and how creates a maze of decisions. A long of associations, including those arising from the fields of training, education, organizational development, learning technology and human resources, have built communities to ponder these decisions. Countless consultants, educators, vendors and facilities all claim to have the knowledge to direct these valuable resources effectively. Organizations have begun to pay homage to the complex nature and impact of these decisions by appointing high-level learning and training leaders to develop the learning and training architecture that will drive spending, use of employee time and the proficiency and skills of employees. The “training schedule” has broadened to include learning activities such as coaching, experiential practices, e-learning and knowledge management. Learning leaders in organizations will find that the most fundamental decision underlying many facets of this learning plan is whether to train or to induce learning.
Learning vs. Training – Preparing the Organization for the Journey
Let’s consider an organization’s goals, options and resources when creating a learning and training solution. Company leaders seek experienced chief learning officers (CLOs), not unlike the captain of a ship, to navigate through the learning options to help achieve the business goals. Since there are no sophisticated GPS systems available to chart that course, CLOs rely on the analysis and detailed planning they generate to skill the workforce by training or learning events that are appropriate and cost-effective.
To train (something an organization does to employees) means to “direct the growth of, or form by instruction, discipline, or drill or to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient,” according to Webster’s Dictionary. Very often, the preparation of a workforce for proficiency in specific job roles requires training. Training events, deeply rooted in instruction and drill, are very focused and specific and often are not transferable to other job activities. For many critical processes, good training is essential to performance.
To learn (something an individual accomplishes and an organization aspires to assist) as defined by Webster’s is “to gain knowledge or understanding of or skill by study, instruction, or experience to come to be able to acquire knowledge or skill or a behavioral tendency.” The preparation of employees for adoption of behaviors or knowledge that enables them to perform beyond a specific task requires learning activity that is more than instruction or drill. Learning that requires individuals to discover the right action is often ongoing and not only related to an “event.”
Data gathered over the years demonstrates that learning events are offered to managers and executives, while training has been directed to the operational workforce or direct labor. When you consider the desired performance outcomes in most workplaces, it is likely that all members of the workforce would benefit from a blend of events to achieve their highest levels of proficiency.
Consider that organizations have routinely been building training plans to prepare their employees to perform procedural or assembly tasks properly. Currently, the emphasis on self-managed work, strategic thinking, complex work requirements, desirable behaviors for quality and commitment to the high performance of the organization has shifted the emphasis to enabling employees to “learn” as well as “be trained.” The likely goal for most organizations striving to be the best is a blend of both training and learning. Recognize that solutions for business success vary – by the performance required, type of organization, employee backgrounds and resources. Let’s examine a course of action that explores the alternatives more closely.
Achieving the Ideal Blend of Learning and Training
Like any journey, it is important to chart the course for organizational learning! The following high-level steps are undertaken in some fashion to craft an organization’s unique learning solution:
- Identify the goals and destination for organizational learning.
- Define the desired skills and behaviors.
- Determine skills and abilities using assessment tools.
- Measure the gap.
- Identify training and learning options.
- Craft the learning solution.
- Execute the learning plan.
- Measure progress and performance.
- Constantly evaluate and adjust course.
The creation of a unique organizational learning solution for the workplace starts with an analytical process that identifies goals, destination and desired skills. Decisions have to be made concerning the strategy, business intent and priorities that will specify training and learning needs. While many organizations do so, it is less than effective to build learning solutions without a clear understanding of the destination. Learning and training leaders in organizations can look to assessments, skill gap studies, outcome predictors, target-audience learning profiles and a host of other tools and activities to build the best solution for their organizations. The logistics often stem from the available resources and culture and include the delivery process, delivery technologies, the systems to register and record progress, the curriculum content, which might be “off the shelf” as well as customized, and locations for training. Location may mean self-paced at one’s own PC, in training facilities, via cell phones or teleconferences, at conferences or in prestigious university classrooms.
Training directors report that budgetary, employee time and information implications greatly affect whether training or learning is targeted. The right mix or, in today’s popular vernacular, the “blend” of activities requires an understanding of the options and outcomes. Given the number of options, the selection process can be intimidating. Training and learning decisions become coincident with business decisions that require both the involvement of business managers and the understanding and commitment of senior leaders. Knowledge creation, training, learning, education, e-learning and performance development provide many organizational improvement avenues.
From the learning ideas set forth by Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” and Robinsons’ “Performance Consulting” in the early 1990s to more recent notions like “Emotional Intelligence” by Goleman and Kotter’s “The Heart of Change,” research and articles have underscored the measurable success of organizations that go beyond good and basic training to more systemic education that promotes ongoing learning. Using employee time and corporate resources efficiently to prepare the workforce for peak performance not only requires careful business planning and analysis, but also needs to reflect the culture and values of that organization. For instance, some organizations have provided training to equipment operators who have traditionally performed a repetitive process under the watchful eye of supervisors. Downsized workforces may now evoke considerable change when supervisors are eliminated in favor of self-managed work teams. Operators will need to learn how to evaluate the situation and make decisions to optimize performance as well as operate the equipment.
The classification of skills and behaviors as trained or learned appears intuitive at first. However, skill preparation should reflect the intended outcome. You can train employees to use a particular performance appraisal system, but they need to learn how to manage performance. This illustrates the way some organizations might view examples of their alternatives. In some cases, the outcomes can vary by whether an employee is trained on or learns about a topic. Some objectives are best achieved one way or the other.
Classrooms, labs, lectures, demonstration, self-study, seminars, conferences, shadowing, job aids, presentations.
Discussion, simulation, role-playing, experimental, mentoring, coaching, case studies, games, interactivity, support.
Six Sigma (quality) tools
Project management tools
Product features and functions
Six Sigma (process improvement)
Coaching and mentoring
The evolution beyond training to “learning” is accommodating many techniques that enhance employee performance. IBM, a longtime leader in training for employees and customers, now titles its training operation “Learning Services” and includes conferences and e-learning in addition to traditional training. Prestigious companies engage organizations like Lore International Institute to conduct sophisticated assessments and provide executive coaching to help leaders “learn” to be more effective. Motorola University, established to create the Six Sigma quality education wave in the late 1980s, now links “leadership, learning and performance” and offers its services to outside training organizations.
The Successful Learning and Training Journey
Are there ways that learning leaders can prepare for a captain’s role? Applying leadership savvy is a good start! Packing the right components for the journey that equip an organization for maximum learning and training benefits can also make a difference. Consider the following “Packing” for the CLO’s journey:
10. The Learning Vision: An organization needs a destination, a vision to target. Capture the organization’s vision, or create one for learning purposes. People are propelled forward when there is a purpose, very much like earning that degree in school. Only a few organizations generate a learning vision.
9. Measurements of Learning Needs and Style: Understanding the baseline (skills of a group or an individual) is a critical measurement. Use one of many assessment tools to determine where skills are versus what skills are needed. Train the right people, at the right time, just the right amount, on the right topic!
8. The Learning Map: Record the learning plan to shape training and learning acquisitions, give employees a sense of direction and provide a baseline for changing the plan – as likely will happen. A visual representation helps employees and managers understand the direction and adopt the plan.
7. Motivating Learning Content: Train on what? Learn what? What are your culture and business needs? Identify needs, match them with topics and select or build good content that can hold the learner’s attention.
6. Creativity: Use varied and interesting techniques to train and help people learn. Coaching, mentoring, experiential learning and interaction are as much learning options as instructor-led classes. Build a plan that measures not what is taught, but what is learned. The up-and-coming wave of employees has very different learning styles to accommodate, so be open to new technologies.
5. Flexibility: Build a flexible learning system – one that can be changed to reflect business directions, needs or resources. Rigid training programs become obsolete easily. Find ways to make training and learning instances easily accessible and easily adapted. Consider “living” learning, like job aids and help desks – just a couple of examples of 4×7 learning assistance.
4. Train and Learn: Is it a skill to be taught, or a behavior to be learned? Build a plan that fits the business objectives, learners’ needs and resources. A blend for all employees is a plausible target.
3. Push and Pull: Training and learning is an oscillating process. Structure a learning environment that entices employees to learn as well as requiring them to be trained.
2. All Learners On Board: Every worker has something to learn. All members of an organization’s crew have roles and responsibilities that improve with training and education. Learning as individuals as well as having the opportunity to share learning as a team produces multiple benefits.
1. Learning Leadership: Lead the initiative with passion! Leadership suggests that learning is a cutting-edge process with accountability and initiative contributing to the organization’s success.
In the 1999 movie “Toys,” toy factory CEO Leslie Zevo (played by Robin Williams) proclaims, “I know where I’m going. I just don’t know how to get there.” The right mix of training and learning delivered at the right time for employees will prepare the workforce for the journey to “arrive at its destination.” By constructing the organizational learning plan as skillfully as the product or service plans are conceived, the organization’s goals can be achieved. The best part in today’s dynamic economy is that a learned organization, enabled to use its well-trained skills as needed, can overcome unforeseen changes in direction.
Like navigating the waters in that sailing vessel, it takes leadership, skills, the right tools and techniques, timing and common sense. The chief learning officer needs to be prepared for the challenges of this journey. Journals like Chief Learning Officer magazine and preeminent consulting and research organizations like The Concours Group are beginning to assemble learning executives who are embracing the need to explore their organizations’ options. A new kind of knowledge leadership can grow to skillfully plan for their organizations to learn for the highest quality performance.
Maryann G. Billington, engagement director for The Concours Group (www.concoursgroup.com), specializes in performance consulting and strategy, learning and e-learning and executive coaching. Throughout her career as an independent consultant, executive coach, corporate training manager and college dean, Maryann has explored many aspects of learning and training. She is also the founder of Spectra Performance Services and can be reached at email@example.com.