Reinventing the Training Function: The Next Phase

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Unless many internal training organizations really start to reinvent themselves, they face downsizing for the sake of downsizing—that is, slashing and cutting for the sake of the numbers rather than to enable their organization to win on the corporate battlefield.

What is needed for the next phase of managing training for results—and time is of the essence—is to ask basic questions originally formulated by Peter F. Drucker:

  • What is the real function of our training organization?
  • If we weren't doing many of the things we're doing, knowing what we now know, would we go into it?
  • Are we really aligning training to corporate goals—and designing our training programs to be strategy supportive?
  • And if we are doing this, how should or could it best be carried out?

Using Training to Implement Strategy

In many organizations, the function of training is to enable the enterprise to implement strategy. Training needs a big enough budget to carry out their part of the strategic plan. 

There has to be ample funding of efforts to strengthen existing core competencies and capabilities and/or to develop new ones.

Too little training funding slows progress and impedes the ability of organizational units to execute their role in implementing the strategic plan.

Too much funding for training (or funding of the wrong kind) must be deemed a waste or misallocated resources.

Both outcomes argue for training executives to be deeply involved in the strategic planning process. Perhaps this is another way of saying training must become a true strategic business partner with all the organizational units.

Purposeful Abandonment

Internal training organization executives must be willing to shift resources from one area to another to support new strategic initiatives and priorities. A change in strategy nearly always calls for budget reallocations.

Training activities supportive of yesterday's strategy may now be oversized and overfunded. Internal training executives must view themselves as strategy implementers.

Arthur Thompson Jr. and A.J Strickland III in their excellent book Crafting And Implementing Strategy observe:

"Strategy implementers need to be active and aggressive in shifting resources, downsizing some areas, upsizing others and amply funding strategy supportive-training activities and programs."

Viewed differently, abandonment and concentration are opposite sides of the same coin. By abandoning unproductive training activities and programs, executives can increase their effectiveness by concentrating on result areas.

Every internal training organization requires organized abandonment. This means training chieftains must put every training program and activity on trial for their life.

Stated differently, Drucker proclaimed that every organization and organizational unit must eventually be turned around. But to turn around any organizational unit or business requires always the same three steps:

  1. Abandonment of the things that don't work, the things that have never worked; the things that have outlived their usefulness and their capacity to contribute;
  2. Concentration on the things that do work, the things that produce results, the things that improve the organization's ability to perform; and
  3. Analysis of the half successes, the half-failures. A turnaround requires abandoning whatever doesn't perform and doing more of whatever does perform

Building on Strength

Drucker, however, pointed out that savvy executives know they never start out with what should be abandoned.

They start by thinking through what should be strengthened and built.

They don't start by trying to save money. They start by trying to build performance.

If internal training organizations don't do this, they will inescapably be subjected to what Drucker called "amputation without diagnosis."

In short, these are some of the questions that now have to be asked. If they aren't taken seriously, at one point or another, training executives will have to substitute the meat ax for thinking.