The treasures and travails of training

Monday, 31 October 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

I enjoy training. It is one of the multiple roles I play. One such recent training I enjoyed even more was a training of trainers. It also prompted me to reflect more on training as a concept as well as a practice. Today’s column is the result of such reflection.

Overview of training

There is a variety of training programmes taking place. My emphasis is more on management training. It is not only because I am a management learner and a teacher, but also being a management trainer.

Training can be regarded as the formal and informal processes organisation uses to facilitate employees’ learning so that their resultant behaviour contributes to the attainment of organisational goals. An example for a formal process could be a classroom session. An informal process takes shape of observations, understudying or guidance.

Training and development go hand in hand. The simple difference is the former is for current and the latter is for future. In essence, training is to do something. Development is to be someone. Both are intertwined in such a way that training leads to development.

Training and learning

It is interesting to see the nexus between the training and learning as well. Learning occurs inside an individual. We call it individual phenomena. To be precise, learning is a process whereby an individual acquires knowledge, skills and attitudes through experience, reflection, study or instruction.

Peter Senge, a well-known researcher on organisational learning tells us more about learning:

  • Through learning we re-create ourselves.
  • Through learning, we become able to do something we were never able to do.
  • Through learning, we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life.

There are a variety of ways that people learn. Much has been researched on this. David Kolb came with the idea of the learning cycle. As he advocated, learning can take place through a concrete experience, a reflective observation, an abstract conceptualisation or an active experimentation. This complex process can lead to four learning styles.

  • Diverging (feeling and watching)
  • Assimilating (watching and thinking)
  • Converging (doing and thinking)
  • Accommodating (doing and feeling)

Each of this style can be described at length with examples. That’s not my aim today. I want to discuss the nexus between training and learning. Training is the facilitation of learning. Also, it is the management of learning. As we are aware, learning occurs in an individual. It is an individual phenomenon. Training is the institutional mechanism to support learning.

Training as a system

A system basically means a set of elements with a boundary, with clear inputs and outputs. Training, being an institutional mechanism, can be depicted as a system. Figure 1 contains the details.

As the diagram clearly depicts, the story begins with the need analysis. For me, training is gap filler. You have to identify the gaps with regards to knowledge, skills and attitudes. For an example, someone who is very good in accounting is not very comfortable in dealing with Microsoft Excel. That’s a gap, which needs to be filled by appropriate training.

Once needs are identified, objectives have to be set in order to ensure the results. I have one sad observation. Most of the electronic brochures on training I get daily do not contain the objectives.

Having fancy images or smiling faces of trainers is one thing. What is more important is to spell out the Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-bound (SMART) objectives. In some cases such as attitudinal training, it might be difficult to have SMART objectives. Yet, you can work around it to have a certain sense of measurement. Then only the evaluation becomes meaningful.

Designing of the programme in keeping the key learning principles in mind is the next in the process. Then comes the delivery. At the end, there has to be the enhancement of knowledge, skills and attitudes of the participants.

Trainers in action

I see a mushrooming of trainers in Sri Lanka with the mailbox getting flooded with many details of training programmes. Whilst noting the positive aspect of it in catering for unmet needs of the market, my concern is on the quality and relevance. Simply because someone has the gift of the gab, he/she does not necessarily become a trainer. Knowing the depth and breadth of the topic is essential.

Let me propose three Ds for trainers highlighting their roles. A trainer has to be a designer, a deliverer and a developer.

Trainer as a designer

This is all about beginning with the end in mind. Being proactive in identifying the needs and setting objectives appropriately has to be done. The design of the training is critical to the delivery. It is like the plan of a building. Many trainers spend less time in design and exert more energy in delivery, which may lead to interesting yet not impactful session.

It reminds me what Walt Disney advocate for the designing of training. As Tom Peters and Robert Waterman describe in their seminal work, ‘In Search of Excellence,’ Walt Disney was meticulous in designing training for Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Disney followed three basic steps in being a dreamer, realist and a critic.

nDreamer: Wearing a dreamer’s hat to unleash creativity, in imagining a wide array of possibilities

nRealist: Wearing a realist’s hat in pruning the possibilities to a manageable, feasible level

nCritic: Wearing a critic’s hat in making the design practical by challenging assumptions

By following such an approach, a trainer can obtain the best of both worlds, creative, imaginative as well as concrete, implementable. Elaborating further, Tony Bray in his Training Design Manual, talks of a STAR design. STAR stands for Simulate, Transfer, Apply and Review.

Stimulate interest

  • Arouse people’s interest.
  • Give positive suggestions.
  • Remove barriers to learning.
  • Create a stimulating environment.

Transfer ideas or concepts

  • Overview first, then the detail.
  • Use models, metaphors and analogies.
  • Stimulate all the senses.
  • Appeal to all learning styles.

Apply the learning

  • How to transfer the ideas into reality.
  • Games, projects, tasks, exercises.
  • Individual and team-based practice.
  • Provide for a variety of learners.

Review what’s changed

  • Review what happened – good and bad.
  • What are the key learning points?
  • How can I use it back at work?
  • Make a personal commitment to change.

By following the STAR model, a comprehensive training programme can be planned. Then comes the delivery.

 Trainer as a deliverer

Proof of the pudding is in the eating, and this is the acid test. It requires purpose, passion and performance. A trainer must be very clear about his purpose in front of the participants. Clear thinking leads to clever action. Without getting derailed by participants’ queries, overall purpose should be in mind like a compass always pointing to north.

Passion is the magical ingredient that makes a difference. It is putting heart into action in addition to the head and hands. A whole-hearted effort with focus on results is what is needed. I tend to think more that such a passion should come within. You got to have a flare for training. Unless one enjoys what he/she trains, there is no fun element there. As Sir Richard Branson advocates, fun is fundamental for success.

The trainer has to be a performer. It is very transparent and digital. Evaluation by the participants is the true customer feedback. What is in need is not a list of excuses for pitfalls but a live experience of excellent performance.

Preparation is a vital aspect here. As the old saying goes, ‘if you failed to prepare, you prepare to fail’. It reminds me of a true event that took place in Europe. There was a lady violin player who had a mesmerising performance is one the grand theatres. The audience gave her a standing ovation. A little girl who was a violin fan walked to her after the show and told her, “I would like to spend half of my life to learn to play the violin the way you played.” The answer was so prompt, “I actually did.”

Hence the mantra for excellent delivery is none other than rehearsing, rehearsing and more rehearsing.

Trainer as a developer

This is the most value adding role a trainer can play. It is not just designing and delivering, but goes beyond. It is ensuring the effectiveness. Mercer Consulting, in its annual global surveys, consequently identified training effectiveness as one of the most important HR measurement.

As we are aware, effectiveness is results related. Training effectiveness refers to whether it has delivered the expected results. Training is an investment. Therefore the organisations naturally want to see the return on investment. Also it is a case of expectations, by the organisation, HR department as well as the trainees. As such, return of expectations matters a lot with regard to training.

As we discussed in a previous column of Humane Results, the most well-known and used model for measuring the effectiveness of training programmes was developed by Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick in the late 1950s. It has since been adapted and modified by a variety of researchers, yet the basic structure has well stood the test of time. According to Kirkpatrick, training effectiveness can be measured at four different levels, namely, reaction, learning, behaviour and results.

The emphasis here is not to repeat the details, but to focus more on the role of trainer in making training effective. When trainer becomes a developer, it entails a wide array of things spanning from pre-training, training and post-training. Post-training activities include evaluating the training effectiveness at several points, covering the twin aspects of understanding and application.

Way forward

Training is everywhere. With the economic growth and business expansion, organisations both public and private, tend to focus more on training. Such a scenario demands the trainers to play their role exceeding expectations. That requires them to do a sincere soul-searching with a view of enhancing one’s training competencies.

It is no more a game of going behind corporate decision makers in seeking opportunities. It is a case of competing on competencies so that caring and committed trainers will get more and more occupied.

That is the tale of training with its treasures and travails.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour. He can be reached on [email protected])

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