Training, performance, and Trader Joe’s cashews

Two virtual conversations (mostly via Twitter direct messages) got me thinking about means, ends, cashews, and potato chips.

I tend to see “training” as a shared-misunderstanding term–everyone thinks they know what everyone else means by “training.”  It looks like a convenient label, but it’s a hidden discrimination, a kind of conversational wrapping paper folded over who knows what.

The rhubarb diet probably doesn't include pie.Kind of like “diet.”  That can mean “rules about food,” like “eat only vegetables beginning with R.”  Or it can mean “how I manage the way I eat.”  These things aren’t either/or; they’re a combination of procedural knowledge (a gram of fat equals 9 calories) and cognitive strategies (most of the time, I think of a serving of potato chips as one bag–regardless of the size of the bag).

What’s that got to do with anything?  In one of my conversations, I was grumbling about the icebreaker/ten-quick-tips/put-fun-in approach to training.  To me, these are sideshows.  I don’t have a problem with organizational training; it makes sense to think about specific skills and knowledge that clearly contribute to organizational results.

Formal training, though, can’t do the job alone.  By definition, it’s time-limited, which means you probably can’t practice recurrent skills enough.  You may not have enough time (or have done enough analysis) to have rich, relevant whole tasks.  And often training doesn’t address the real causes of performance gaps at work.

In the long run, you can’t grapefruit-diet your way to health; you can’t train your way out of poor performance caused by incompetent information systems or unrealistic standards or worthless feedback.

Managing performance--it's in the bagNot everyone (client or practitioner) is ready to act with a performance-improvement focus.  And perhaps some of the time you don’t have to, though it’s not a bad goal to have in mind.  I see practical, training-focus efforts like the bags of cashews they sell at Trader Joe’s: a big bag full of little bags.  Each little bag has maybe 125 calories’ worth of cashews.  Buying that packaging works for me; the individual bags slow me down enough that I don’t eat a cup and a half of cashews at ones.

Not so potato chips.  For me, a serving is one bag–regardless of size.  So I manage that performance by not buying bags of chips often.

Even when I’m working in a constrained, formal-training situation, I try to use performance improvement as a kind of workplace mindset.  The ultimate goal is not an assessment or a record in an LMS; it’s a person who can produce worthwhile results on the job.

CC-licensed images of rhubarb and cashews both by FotoosVanRobin.