Peter Cook’s no-nonsense guide to providing effective training to manage performance
If someone does not measure up to your expectations – what do you do? Fire them? Fire yourself for not hiring them properly in the first place? Well, the time-honoured HR solution to the capability problem is to train them. Nothing wrong with that at all, I hear you say? No, except there are some faulty assumptions built into the antidote.
Firstly, that training will actually make the person more capable. Secondly, that they actually want and have the capacity to learn. Training is also a highly political issue, especially in public services, where it is sometimes used as a concession for poor performance, with thousands of people who don’t wish to learn anything sent for mandatory training, just to keep corporate scoreboards straight. Finally, the training itself can be of such poor quality that the probability of learning anything is zero. In the words of Ian Dury: ‘What a waste’.
So, what is the great leap forward to make learning worthwhile?
It’s very straightforward and needs to be done in this order:
- Identify what needs to be learned.
- Identify and navigate obstacles to learning – factors within the person such as their preferred learning style, opportunities to practise at work and support from the boss.
- Identify the best learning method – there are plenty of ways to learn. A training course is just one approach but not always the best.
- Just do it – deliver learning using the best method, addressing particular obstacles, targeting specific needs and providing opportunities to practice and apply the learning.
If it were that simple, why isn’t everyone doing it?
I suggest that this is because training is sold and positioned as a ‘solution’ rather than an ‘option’ for personal improvement. In other words, the discussion starts at step 3 – sending someone on a training course, when they are unclear about what they are expected to learn, and where there may be obstacles to learning, which may not be the best solution. This is quite simply a waste of time and money.
In the words of post-punk disco and crooning phenomenon George Michael: ‘If you’re gonna do it, do it right’ (from the great song Freedom). The antidotes to this problem are common sense, yet they are not commonly applied.
Punk Rock People Management asks us to snap ourselves out of the trance that says training is inherently good and offers us four chords on training:
- Decide whether training is needed in the first place by getting to grips with the person’s learning needs.
- Recognise that there are many ways to learn, and training is just one. Fit the method to the need, not the reverse. Other ways to learn include self study, learning by doing it, reading, mentoring, job swaps, shadowing, e-learning and so on.
- If training is the answer, execute it well by: lining up expectations, adjusting the approach to meet learning styles and ensuring follow-up opportunities to practise what has been learned.
- Avoid the ‘premature evaluation’ trap in training and evaluate what has been learned and how it has been applied in more depth than the typical ‘how was it for you?’ approach.