Do You Make These Five Mistakes in Managing the Training Function?

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Editor's Note

This article, in essence, is a revised, cut-down compilation of several articles published over the past year by CLN.

It's slightly longer than we would like. But we do think readers will benefit greatly from the ideas and concepts presented. Stay with it! You'll be glad you did.

We felt the need to get to the point faster, make a point more emphatically, target the audience more clearly and write to the L&D executive's special needs and problems given today's rapidly changing business environment.

Our hope is the points made in this article will wind up readers in a special way–their insights, their actions and their spirit.

In the final analysis, the L&D organization needs to think through its strategic planning (i.e., the decisions of today that will make the organization more effective tomorrow). 

The issues discussed in this article–from the need to abandoning ongoing efforts to make room for expanding what's truly producing results to developing a measurement-driven L&D organization that meets the ROI needs of the most demanding CFOs/CEOs–will be front and center in the months and years ahead.

Five Mistakes in Managing the Training Function

1. Are You Too Slow in Abandoning Obsolete and Unproductive Activities and Programs?

This is an affliction shared by many C-suite executives. However, it's a "no-no" to start out with determining what should be sloughed off.

Start out by thinking what should be strengthened and built rather than attempting to save money.

Said Peter F. Drucker, "Feed the opportunities and starve the problems." Once you identify the opportunities, you can then determine what type of funding is needed to exploit those opportunities.

Then, and only then, can you intelligently ask the question: "What should we stop doing in order to properly fund the opportunities?"

The Message Is Clear

"Unless challenged," observed Drucker, "every organization tends to become slack, easy-going, diffused… It tends to allocate resources by inertia, tradition, habit rather than by results…

… Above all, every organization tends to avoid unpleasantness… And nothing is less pleasant and less popular than to concentrate resources on results, because it always means saying 'No'…"

Today's increased emphasis on justifying training/learning expenditures on the basis of their return on investment (ROI) will lead to sloughing off unproductive and obsolete activities/programs.

Any institution, notes Drucker, "degenerates into mediocrity and malperformance if it's not clearly accountable to someone for results."

Many CFOs/CEOs are prompting the use of "training outcome" measurements directly related to business results.

Come to the remaining days of our no-charge virtual conference (March 16, 23) & Drucker Master Class Day on March 30, 2021, & learn a systematic approach for determining what & how to abandon the outworn, outgrown & obsolete… and reallocate resources (i.e., monies & people) to the result areas.

2. Do You Fail To Distinguish Between Training and Education?

It's true: There is a difference between training and education. Training requires continuous drill, repetition and constant feedback.

The old adage "telling ‘ain't' training" probably sums up best the notion there is a difference between education and training.

Learning a skill (or for that matter any subject) can only be done by the learner. Learning is a self-management/self-mastery discipline.

Learning a skill demands reinforcement through practice, practice, and more practice. Teaching can provide insight and understanding – and most importantly, what the learner should practice.

Great Teachers Prepare Students for Learning

Most good teacher-lecturers are usually brilliant synthesizers who are capable of organizing a complex subject into a meaningful pattern; they're also capable of engrossing their audience with dramatic wit and sparkling examples.

The lecture method is a valid technique in the hands of skilled practitioners. But the lecture method is at best only preparation for learning and is not learning itself.

Even though many participants of corporate learning programs initially claim "I learned a lot," they really didn't learn anything until they put it into practice.

This bears repeating: Before it can become "learning "or "knowledge" it must be put into practice. Otherwise, it remains just "information."

To Summarize

Knowledge is different than "information." Knowledge requires providing/or having the requisite skills to put information into practice.

Superb lectures are just organized/well-presented information; whereas knowledge is the ability to apply information to specific work & performance.

Training/learning programs of all kinds must equip employees with the requisite skills to successfully apply the information taught.

Come to the remaining days of our, no-charge virtual conference (March 16, 23) & learn how others are moving from teaching to learning – that is, requiring executives to immediately apply/put into practice what is learned in leadership/management development programs.

3. Are You Confusing "Efficiency" Measurements With "Business Outcome" Measurements?"

CEOs/CFOs are now demanding training/learning groups demonstrate the ROI on training investments. A simple example explains better than any theoretical discussion exactly what this means.

Internal service organizations of all kinds can be likened to government agencies. L&D is an internal service organization.

Back in1993, David Osborne and Ted Gaebler published their national best-seller "Reinventing Government."

It contains an excellent discussion on the difference between measuring process/efficiency and measuring results.

Even though we're using a government example, most training executives will see the relevance to their internal training organization.

Said Osborne and Gaebler,

"When the vast majority of government agencies set out to measure performance, their managers usually draw up lists that measure how well they carry out some administrative process: how many people they serve; how fast they serve them; their volume of output. But outputs don't guarantee outcomes…

…A vocational school might pump out more and more graduates of a welding program, for instance. But if those graduates can't find jobs as welders, what good is the program?…

… It may be generating impressive efficiency measurements (i.e., outputs) without generating any positive measurable outcomes."

A Six Sigma/Statistical Process Control Manufacturing Example

W. Edwards Deming was a pioneer in quality management.

Indeed, he was truly an advocate for the use of Walter Shewhart's – of Bell Labs’ – mid-1920s invention of statistical process control (SPC) as the method of choice to locate the root causes of problems in specific processes.

In a manufacturing process, the cost associated with scrap, rework inspection, re-inspection, field service calls, warranty claims, returned items and the like can be calculated before a Six Sigma/SPC training program is initiated.

If these cost metrics are significantly reduced as a result of an SPC training program, the return on training investment can be computed given the before-and-after metrics.

Just to be clear: Deming showed how to apply SPC to processes of all kinds including those of hospitals, government agencies, internal service organizations and the like.

William Wigginhorn, former President, Motorola University said:

“We've documented the savings from the statistical process control methods and problem solving methods we've trained our people in.

We are running a rate of return of about 30 times the dollars invested––which is why we've gotten pretty good support from senior management.”

The measurements in manufacturing processes are quite straightforward. Costs associated with inspection, re-inspection, scrap, rework, warranties and field & service calls can be easily computed.

Motorola computed these costs before launching their statistical process control program. Then, they recomputed these costs after the learning program.

Measurements Define What Is Meant by Performance

What was done by Motorola can now be done in learning programs relating to producing and managing successful innovation, leading change, sales forecasting, using marketing analytics for acquiring retaining & growing customers, sales force management, maintenance management, and dozens more.

To show the ROI of training investments, it is essential that L&D organizations understand the relevant business outcome performance measures.

Increasingly, L&D executives are working with various functional groups to develop the appropriate business-outcome measurements to judge, appraise, & quantify training/learning results.

Come to the remaining days of our no-charge virtual conference (March 16, 23) & Drucker Master Class Day on March 30, 2021 –and learn directly from Dave Vance, Founder & former CLO of Caterpillar University & Peggy Parskey, Executive, Center For Talent Reporting – a step-by-step procedure for helping L&D leaders determine " what to measure" and "how to measure."

Further, you will also learn at Drucker Master Class Day from Dr. Bernard Jaworski, Professor at the Drucker School of Management, measurements related to outcome-driven innovation & leading change including productivity increases resulting from abandonment, continuous productivity improvement, & exploiting existing successes.

4.Do You Know How To Find High Payoff Training Projects?

Discovering best internal practices and converting those practices into systematic, well-organized learning programs present training organizations with a new opportunity for contributing to bottom-line results.

Employees "oughta really wanna" learn how others within the organization are getting better results. However, there is usually strong resistance to learning a better way to accomplish a given set of tasks.

Internal training departments must assume responsibility for facilitating, through a mixture of formal and organized continuous learning programs, the spreading of their organization's best internal practices.

Knowledge gained in one part of the world can be used to gain an advantage in another. It's the job of internal training organizations to ensure the worst performers learn from the best.

If multinational internal training organizations can turn themselves into global knowledge brokers, both individual and corporate productivity will skyrocket.

When Formal Learning Programs Are Needed To Upskill Employees in Best Internal Practices

Let's be clear at the very outset: It's not the responsibility of internal training groups to systematically identify best internal practices that produce significant performance variations. That's the job of six sigma/BPM groups.

But it is the responsibility of the internal training organization to identify high-payoff training/continuing learning projects–and to construct meaningful learning programs–if necessary – that increase both individual and organizational productivity.

In many instances, simply "telling" what an individual or group is doing to get extraordinary results, can be easily imitated and put into action.

However, in other instances, what others are doing to get superior results are not immediately transferable, that is, the under-performers will need formalized learning programs to duplicate the results of the star-performers.

An Example

In a well-received article in The Wharton Magazine, Laurence Prusak, former Executive director of the IBM Institute of Knowledge Management, told the following story about how British Petroleum identified and transferred best practices knowledge.

… Some years ago executives at British Petroleum— now BP Amoco, a $5 billion oil giant—noticed an unusual fact. While studying the company’s performance, they discovered significant disparities in the productivity of oil wells in different parts of the world…

…Intrigued by the discrepancy, John Browne, British Petroleum’s CEO, asked his associates to find out what was going on. The team that investigated the phenomenon soon found the answer…"

It's the Differences That Make the Difference

According to Prusak:… ”It turned out that tiny, seemingly insignificant innovations, that the workers practiced—for example, the method they used to remove barnacles from a ship’s hull—cumulatively made a huge difference in results and ultimately oil well productivity…

…Enthused by this discovery, British Petroleum set about trying to introduce these high-yield work techniques at all of the company’s oil wells…

…The initiative should have led to a massive, across-the-board increase in productivity, right? Wrong!…

…British Petroleum learned, to its dismay, that productivity did not rise at all. The reason was simple…"

As Expected: Resistance to Change

… "The oil workers, who saw these changes as dictates imposed from above, resisted them. British Petroleum had to spend large sums educating/training the oil workers and persuading them of the need for change…

This time, the effort paid off. The company slashed drilling costs by $47 million per oil well. "

"Like most stories," notes Prusak, “this one had a moral: companies that capture knowledge about best internal practices and share it across the organization can sharpen their competitive edge.”

The Point?

British Petroleum’s corporate training group was tasked working with their Best Practices group and developing, designing and ultimately delivering a formal training program.

As Prusak indicated, the first attempt to transfer best practices to under-performing units failed. Once the best practices were converted into a systematic, well-organized learning program, productivity and profits soared.

Come to the remaining days of our no-charge virtual conference (March 16, 23) & Drucker Master Class Day on March 30, 2021 & learn how other L&D organizations are organizing for continuous sharing of best internal practices… and in many instances providing the basis for setting annual improvement goals based on internal benchmarking.

5. Are You Failing To Develop Your Front-Line. Executives To Manage in Turbulent Times?

None of the headline-makers with which we are so constantly bombarded – neither how L&D organizations are revamping their organizations’ learning goals… Encouraging peer teaching… Tailoring learning programs to individuals, nor any other “ hot topic” of the moment – are as important as the changes taking place in rethinking leadership/management development content.

Yet relatively few L&D organizations have even perceived what might be called “ a future that has already happened.”

'Economists of all stripes are predicting – due to the vast amounts of money being spent by governments worldwide – we can expect “ after the pandemic, giant government deficits that will lead to financing the accumulated debt through printing more money and raising both corporate and individual taxes.

The Impact of Printing More Money & Raising Taxes

In a nutshell, printing more money inevitably leads to inflation if it’s not accompanied by a corresponding increase in the production of goods and services.

Raising taxes on individuals decreases discretionary spending which, in turn, leads to declining demand for goods and services.

Declining demand forces many businesses to correspondingly adjust to decreased consumer spending – that is, downsize.

All in all, we can expect turbulent times ahead. Simply put, there will be many economic, social, and cultural changes that must be dealt with.

Organizations of all kinds must see their task as leading change. In periods of rapid structural changes, the only ones who survive, said Peter F. Drucker, are the Change Leaders.

Drucker's 4 Step-by-Step Approach to Change Leadership

Drucker outlined four distinct (but highly related) tasks for making effective change happen.

These Drucker tasks have recently acquired an easy-to-remember acronym – ACE – I.

Task 1: Abandonment of the outworn, obsolete and outgrown. Every organization has to systematically find and abandon the things that no longer work, never worked, and the things that have outlived their usefulness and their capacity to contribute to performance and results.

The best therapy for any organization – from the point of your performance – is to purge itself of marginal mediocrities.

Systematic sloughing off of yesterday frees energies and resources. It makes available the people and funds required for doing new things.

Task 2: Continuous Productivity Improvement. It is the job of the executive/manager to make all resources more productive in areas for which he/she is responsible for.

There are many ways to do this including internal benchmarking which disseminates best internal practices… constant retraining… using Lean Six Sigma approaches for making the organization more effective and efficient… redesigning/reengineering processes to enable workers of all kinds to work smarter not harder… and dozens of other ways that can increase the productivity of all assets.

Task 3: Exploiting Successes. Drucker believed that the first – usually the best and least risky – opportunity for profitable new growth is to exploit one's own successes and to build on them.

In short, do more of what's truly successful and abandon what's only marginal or not working.

It should be simple to discover what's working. But reality tells us this is not usually the case.

There are many ways to identify successes that should be exploited – many of which require specific methodologies/practices for doing so.

Task 4: Innovation. Purposeful innovation is the key to sustained success. An organization must identify where it needs new innovations and must understand what must be done to produce and manage successful innovation.

Innovation is not a eureka moment. It is an acquired management skill. Peter F. Drucker's body of works in identifying and converting into operational reality needed innovations is without equal.

Many people still believe (unthinkingly) innovation refers to invention, spinoffs from science, engineering and technology. Not so. Innovation in the broadest sense can be simply defined as "new value."

Innovation when defined as adding "more bells and whistles" to an already existing product or product line, is more likely to produce "miracles of technology" but disappointing or no new value to customers.

Without doubt, Drucker's approach to leading change and producing high outcome innovations should be a major part of all leadership/management development programs.

Come to our Drucker Master Class Day (March 30, 2021) and learn – from Dr. Bernard Jaworski, one of the foremost Drucker experts in the world & Professor at the Peter F. Drucker & Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management – how to systematically and purposefully use Drucker's ACE – I approach to transform rapid changes, threatened and real, into opportunities for productive, profitable action.