Tech herder Dick Carlson: saving money on training

tech_herdingI happened across Dick Carlson’s Tech Herding blog ( “notes on managing technical cats to create amazining learning”).  A few weeks back, he talked about Saving Money on Training—a topic to catch the interest of clients as well as learning professionals.

It’s worth reading in full, but I’ll put his five main points here anyway.  As rules of thumb they’re pretty good.  (And if you carp, “Who’s got five thumbs?” you won’t like his blog anyway.)

  • Cancel any training not tied to a meaningful assessment.

Me: that alone will kill off a raft of “appreciation” training.

  • Cancel any training with “overview,” “introduction,” or “update” in the title.

Me: I once read a manual in which Section One started, “This is really the overview, but we knew you wouldn’t read that.”

  • Cancel any training that has not been updated in the last two years.

Me: I think Dick is overgenerous here.  In many organizations, a year is an awfully long time, unless they’ve been moving mostly on inertia and are slowly winding down to a standstill.

  • Cancel any training that has more than 20 PowerPoint slides per hour of learning.

Me: if I weren’t bound by confidentiality, I’d send Dick the 280-slide set provided to me last year as background on a project, with its accompanying 65-slide helper.  Together they were intended for a three-hour overview.  (I think the helper would appear after “any questions?”

  • Cancel any training by an instructor who doesn’t get stellar reviews.

This last point is the one I feel the most disagreement with.  I see the point Dick’s making; there’s just most instructor-centrism here than I care for.  That may be due to the topics he deals with, as opposed to the ones I deal with, though I’d nominate operation of the Uhlmann thermoformer for “possibly technical.”

Little argument with his main points, though: yes, there are (still) situations in which “training” as a planned process makes sense.  Yes, training should address skills and knowledge areas and not involve what Joe Harless once called “psychotherapy or baby-sitting.”

And, yes, the instructor/facilitator/guide-at-the-side can greatly influence the quality of the learning.  You just have to remember that he’s no more in control of the learning than he’s in control of the blood pressure of the participants.

2 thoughts on “Tech herder Dick Carlson: saving money on training

  1. Well, two points — first — I have to agree with you that that Dick Carlson guy is really somewhat of a guru when it comes to this training stuff. Really has an amazing grasp of the subject.

    More importantly — and in the #2 position — about giving the axe to any training where the trainer doesn’t get stellar reviews. Let me expand on the subject just a bit, to explain why I’m saying that’s a great way to save money.

    While I’m an Instructional Designer, I’m also a trainer — I started teaching people how to use technology back when dinosaurs walked the earth, and we used berries to stain the whiteboards. I love trainers, I appreciate the fact that if my curriculum is awful they’ll get awful reviews.

    But at the end of the day, from a strictly business standpoint, if both the training and the trainer don’t get stellar reviews that is what should get cut first. At that point, you should hire a highly shilled (or skilled) expert like me, and I’ll determine what happened.

    If the content is at fault, fix the content. If the trainer is lacking skills, fix the trainer. I can — and have — done both, many times.

    But if the cost-cutting axe must be swung, I stand by my assertion that trainers who are judged as not meeting high standards go first.

  2. You had whiteboards?

    I don’t really have too much of an argument with requiring high performance of everyone. I’ve often been a grunt, though (at GE we were known as “individual contributors”), and in my experience the assessment of grunts is, as Six Sigma folks say, highly variable.

    If you’ve seen Bob Powers’ Instructor Excellence, a book sadly unknown in much of the training world, then you know that’s an example of how to go about doing it right.

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