Saturday, June 06, 2009

Five Forces That Shape Training Businesses

Let's call this five forces of training, after the five forces of competitiveness. Any training programme today needs to address each of these forces - shall we call them dimensions - to be relevant and effective.

But before we plunge into this discussion, a moment on my favourite topic - the training / education divide. The lines are surely getting blurred. The educational institutes are often judged by the starting salaries of their graduates, not unfairly, because most of these education courses have to be privately paid for. But, in my mind, education still remains distinctly different from training. Education is about broadening the perspective and preparing the learner with a wide variety of knowledge, so that s/he is prepared to meet the world half way and with an engaged mind. Training, on the other hand, needs to be narrower and deeper, focused on a specific skill, based on the assumption of certainty - we know what's needed - and the learner, in the end, should be equipped to carry out the specific task/ role that the trainer had in mind.

There are obvious overlaps. Like Management Education, where the whole thing revolves around an assumption of certainty of knowing what's needed. On the other end, this whole discipline of Leadership Training, which I am trying to get involved into, aims to prepare the learners with the uncertain, the unknown and the fuzzy. Indeed, not an easy thing to do within the four walls of a classroom and a given timetable, but then people are constantly discovering anchoring principles which help in the middle of chaos, and the training programmes are actually designed to transfer those principles.

But, anyway, given this broad perspective on the nature of training - transference of specific skills - I see five forces that determine the effectiveness of the programmes. These are:

1. Globalism: The work is global in most cases. So, the behaviour expectations, performance benchmarks, productivity standards, and operations systems are mostly global. The training programmes today must prepare the learner to enter and thrive in such a workplace. I am not exactly talking about teaching American culture in every training programme here. But, it is important that even if this is a training programme about The Principles of Family Business, the training design must take into account global practises, benchmarks and expectations out of the programme. If not, this is not doing justice to the learners' time and the sponsors' money.

2. Diversity: At the same time that work is becoming global, our lives are becoming more local and our uniqueness of cultures more distinct. Training must acknowledge the diversity and work with it. Here, the reverse - a programme on American Business Practises must take into account the host culture and its nuances. I have seen many Time Management programmes which impose the American way of managing time - where time is a discreet object which can be saved, stored, wasted and used - on a largely Eastern Audience, who lives within time, culturally, and where the world waits for the right time, a confluence of circumstances and abilities which happen to come together at that moment. A training programme must go beyond the superficial to be successful, and factoring in the diversity [but not get overwhelmed with stereotyping] is crucially important.

3. Talent Bias: The work is also individual. Most work, which could be carried out without thinking, have been automated. Or, are in the process of being so. Today, individuals must bring to table their unique value propositions. And, training must start with an acknowledgement that every participating individual has something to offer, and identify and sharpen that talent. Some training programmes, designed to fit the straight jacket, fails to do that completely, imposing a view on the individuals and forcing them to conform [or, at least nod their head]. However, a more successful training programme will actually lay down the framework for excellence, a clear understanding of the target skills, and let individual learners travel to it in their own unique way.

4. Asynchorinity: As it is important to bring out, or help to bring out, the participants' distinct talents, so is it to allow them their own travel gear in this journey. If we learnt anything new about learning in last two decades, it is that different people learn differently, using their unique blend of intelligences and abilities. And, yet, we try to create skills factories, a set of windowless classrooms run on a fixed schedule, to make people learn. However much we talk about it, I do see that such a 1984-esque solution dominate our view of training all the time. The ability of training programmes to allow asynchronous learning will differentiate good programmes from bad.

5. Technology: Yes, it had to come to that - technology. Because it is changing everything that we do, and how we do it, so fundamentally. Like globalism, technology orientation is important because the world of work is going to be technology centric. If it is already not there today. One would not dismiss Linkedin or Facebook as fads anymore. Twitter is still on the threshold, but as TIME magazine runs a cover story about it and lawsuits are being filed against it, it may enter the mainstream fairly soon. And, the learning must adjust to this free-flow, information abundant, judgement critical world. It must move from searching, seeking and storing information to analysing, referencing and operationalising the available knowledge, in line with today's technology-enabled workplaces.

I see these five forces changing all kinds of learning. This is not a suggestion that all training will now become e-training and most trainers will be job seekers' allowance. I think most of the training will remain instructor-led and there will actually be an expanded, value-added role for the instructor, rather than acting like a foreman in a Factory floor. However, I have seen the training industry evolve over last 15 years and changes have been faster than anyone else imagined. We are reaching that inflection point, like the rest of the things and hastened, in some way, by the current recession, when these five forces will mark the difference between the survival and the obsolescence.


Rakesh Poddar said...

You bring out the distinction between education and training really well. As you mention, the lines are surely getting blurred. For example, informal learning in corporate organizations, a topic that is making a lot of buzz of late, would lie somewhere between education and training.

Best regards,

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Thanks, Rakesh for your kind comments and also linking this into your blog.

Training is usually favoured over Education as far as company funding is concerned, because it is supposed to deliver concrete, measurable performance improvement. Not that the companies do not sponsor education - but that is almost given out as a perk. However, in a fast changing world, the benefits of having an educated workforce, who are trained to see beyond the immediate and the obvious opportunity, are undeniable.

As far as informal learning is concerned - I have seen it from close quarters as one of the companies I worked for used to run the corporate library for a leading British Pharma company - this is yet to be loved by the companies. There is this buzz indeed, but it is hard to measure and also to manage. I have seen too many training managers slump into - but people don't want to learn [unless we train them]. Hopefully, one would see the fundamental flaw in this reasoning - an organization must promote learning on one's own initiative for the staff to venture out to learn. Many organizations don't do that, leaving it to the training managers, who, no surprises, are interested in training.

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