yet another wake up call

13 08 2006

in his blog e-clippings mark oehlert mentions an article by david maister entitled why (most) training is useless  in which maister says that most training is poorly planned, irrrelevant to employee’s current work, and seldom tied to corporate startegy.  mark is right in his assessment that it’s sad that the blackboard patent issue over shadowed this honest and confrontational article.  please read the article in it entirety.  i’ll summarize the three of is major points.

0 of 3 isn’t good, is it?

Maister shares three questions he asks potential clients to determine whether he’ll take on the challenge.>

a good example of ill-conceived (and premature) training approaches is seen in the many calls i get to put on training programs to help people become better managers. i put my callers through a standard set of questions:

  • did you choose people for managerial roles because they were the type of people who could get their fulfillment and satisfaction out of helping other people shine rather than having the ego-need to shine themselves? (no!)
  • did you select them because they had a prior history of being able to give a critique to someone in such a way that the other person says: “wow, that was really helpful, I’m glad you helped me see all that.” (No!)
  • do you reward these people for how well their group has done, or do you reward them for their own personal accomplishments in generating business and serving clients? (both, with an emphasis on their personal numbers!)

so, let’s summarize, i say. you’ve chosen people who don’t want to do the job, who haven’t demonstrated any prior aptitude for the job, and you are rewarding them for things other than doing the job?

thanks, but I’ll pass on the wonderful privilege of training them.

to me, this so clearly points to the need for the learning/training function and the performance management function within a company working in a very coordinated fashion if not merged into one business process.  learning is the means by which an employee, guided by their managers, can understand the performance changes specified in the performance evaluations and goal setting of performance management.

well i was only following you

after all, with learning interventions, we are seeking a change in behavior, attitude or skills in the targeted members of our workforce.  the second key point that maister makes is regarding the role of the manager.  he says there are four key areas that managers must attend to if they are going to affect change in an organization:

systems: does the company actually monitor, encourage, and reward this (new) behavior?
attitude: do people want to do this? Do they buy in to its importance?
do they know how to do it?

skills: are they any good at implementing and executing what they know?

…the importance of the attitude questions is often underestimated. It is management’s job to make people want to learn things by managing the “why” — helping them understand why this is important, why it is exciting and fulfilling, why people should sacrifice their time and attention

i like that he includes systems as the first variable in this list.  so often the systems effects are ignored because they are either too daunting in magnitude or because they are outside the scope and/or capabilities of those involved in learning to effect change.  This is why active and continuing executive sponsorship must be maintained for any key projects.  inevitably there will be a cultural or system resistor to the change involved in a project.  the executive sponsor’s job is to anticipate and clear the way for the project team.

finally, maister’s point regarding the role of the manager is dead on.  in fact, it may be the most important role in any change effort.  research has shown that employees depend on their manager to provide them with direction and insight into what they are to do.  without the active participation of the managers in the organization, you’ll have a hard time directing the employees’  learning every step of the way.  it’s essential that every learning department build a campaign to win over the managers within their organization.   because you may think you are leading the parade, but that’s only the case when the manager is right beside you.  It’s the manager they are all following.

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2 responses

16 08 2006
Jim Belshaw


Maister’s comments drive to the heart of what I was trying to get across in my comments on people management in professional services firms – and link to my informal learning comments.

His most important point is the last.If your performance management systems just focus on individual numbers, then training must fail. As must any other form of performance improvment extending beyond the individual.

Dave, I have to suddenly cook tea so that daughter can get to the play she is performing in. Will add more a little later.


Jim Belshaw

16 08 2006
Jim Belshaw

Dave, briefly finishing my comment.

You wrote: “to me, this so clearly points to the need for the learning/training function and the performance management function within a company working in a very coordinated fashion if not merged into one business process.”

I think that this strikes to the heart of the issue. Your other comments are well taken too.

Thank you for this throughtful post.

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