Last week, I found myself in a couple of discussions about the difference between training and learning. I only took one philosophy course in college, and later on I hollowed out the textbook to hide a gag gift, so it’s clear I’m not that contemplative on this issue.
To oversimplify, many people in more traditional training jobs felt strongly that there is such a thing as “training” and that it has the potential for great value. Other people, by and large on the you-manage-your-own-learning side, seemed to place little value on structured training as such.
Although I doubt most participants intended it, you could interpret the divergent views as “this is important work I’m doing that helps people become more productive” versus “get out of your rut.”
Maybe not a rut, but at least a well-worn path. I’ve spent a lot of time in that corporate-training path: 7 years at Amtrak, 18 at GE, and much of my consultant career since. Usually I’m far from the executive suite, so I have some sympathy for challenges that first-line and middle managers face together with their work groups.
Which is why, over and over, I recommend Robert F. Mager‘s What Every Manager Should Know about Training. Not just to clients (though I’ve even sent the book as a gift when I thought it would be well received) but to the corporate trainers supporting them.
It’s not a scholarly book, nor a thick one; you could probably read the 140 pages in two hours. But in that space, Bob Mager works hard to get managers out of the training-as-dosage mythology.
- Rule 1: Training is appropriate only when two conditions are present:
- There is something people don’t know how to do, and
- They need to be able to do it.
- Rule 2: If they already know how, more training won’t help.
- Rule 3: Skill alone is not enough to guarantee performance.
- Rule 4: You can’t store training.
- Use it or lose it.
- Rule 5: Trainers can guarantee skill, but they can’t guarantee on-the-job performance.
- Rule 6: Only managers, not trainers, can be held accountable for on-the-job performance.
Mager: “If training is only a means to an end, what is the end toward which it strives? It’s performance.” Someone familiar with concepts like ISPI’s human performance technology model (links to a PDF document) recognizes exactly what Mager’s doing: smuggling performance improvement into the organization. He’s just hidden it in a plain brown wrapper that’s labeled TRAINING.
He was clever in choosing the title, because I’d argue the majority of people who supervise or manage in organizations use “training,” at least in casual conversation, to mean a whole complex of things related to getting people to produce valuable results on the job. Instead of trying to convert them to performance-improvement or informal-learning jargon, Mager starts where these managers are likely to start. Then he builds on their likely experience in other dimensions of work to help them see how training (as a structured approach toward helping people acquite skills they don’t have) is one part of overall performance.
In the chapter, Where the Magic Goes In, Mager addresses another concern managers have:
Instead of asking, “How long will it take to develop my course?” you might consider asking:
What can you do for me with the lead time I’ve got?…
For example, if [the training department has] only two days for training development, the most useful thing they can do is to verify whether training is a valid solution, and to verify which solutions will have the greatest impact on the problem.
If the trainers have time to do one more thing, a task analysis would be the most useful action. These analyses can be turned into checklists in a matter of minutes, and the checklists can be given immediately to the instructors…and to the trainees, to show…what competent performers can do….
If there is time to do one more thing, trainers can derive the objectives of the instruction and then draft skill checks by which instructional success can be measured…
…Which, by the way, isn’t a bad way to think about any sort of guidance you’d like to provide other people.