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When a Top Down Approach to Training Is Not the Answer

conductor-733165As it happens for most of our clients, training development groups are asked by internal business units to address this or that need: “We need training for XXXX on YYYY by WWWW.”

Sound familiar? Couple that with the high percentage of training and is mandatory and you have a perfect storm of training that while being done (and occupying most of our attention) does little to address the needs of the employees.

I don’t even want to try to address the basic issues that company training does not always address lack of performance, since such gaps or shortfalls can have sources that have absolutely nothing to do with lack or the quality of the training itself.

Assuming we can leave this type of “whack a mole approach” to using training interventions—what can become of the litmus test that training groups can undertake?

During the last few years, we have reviewed projects we are involved in and noticed our thoughts gravitating towards one basic question:

Is the learning population ready for learning?

Many years ago, this “Ah ha!” moment was brought to the forefront in the following engagement:Allen was asked to bid on systems training for a large transportation company. After an initial analysis, we felt we could not bid on the project. Our hesitancy was based on a clear mistrust we were able to identify by the employees to the training objectives and the training itself. Since as a company, we are always keen on making sure our learning is impactful, we felt this was not a good scenario to be involved in.

Clearly, in this case, there was a disconnect between management and the learning population. While this story may be extreme, it is not atypical of a top down approach to training.

Last week, we touched on some learning models like the Gange model and the ACRS model, but what I want to focus on today is that very few models address where motivation comes from. In fact, I specifically want to address the threshold for training readiness. The ACRS in particular does a great job in helping us identify motivational tactics, but is this enough. Training as opposed to learning almost always happens structurally. I know very few cases where training happens organically. Informal learning is a great example of training happening organically; it is controlled by the learners with what the learners want to know, giving them a level of choice that does not exist in formal corporate training. We’ve blogged on this before. As informal learning becomes more structured, it then becomes an oxymoron.

To get back to client story, what we found was a pretty big distrust between management and the line employees. Employees felt that new technology was being brought in to make their jobs redundant and reduce the workforce. Management felt this training was necessary so that the learners could be successful in their jobs and the company would be more competitive using this new technology.

So, when asked for a recommendation by the client, we said there needed to be a pre-step. That pre-step needed to find the common ground between these two divergent views on the training to be developed. What we needed was to find some commonalities between management and employees and break down the layers of mistrust and lack of understanding.

What we found was that people from this company didn’t just end up in management. Many had started lower in the organization. In addition, management has family members going back years that had themselves been on jobs working on the line. What could bring these groups together is the commonality of deep history of people working for the company. Something else we discovered was a common theme of country music as well as the shared history.

Using these two commonalities, an important readiness or lack of was addressed through the process of creating and producing a song and music video. The client created the very infrastructure for the training to be successful.

In recent years, we have been more and more unwilling to just take content and develop training without asking questions around the environment the learners are in. For example, have the learners been hit with a lot of training recently? Hitting training too hard and too often begins to become a distraction or background noise like a teacher in the old Charlie Brown cartoons.

This story is an example of not accepting the top down approach, but looking at how we spend time with learners and look for a way for them to articulate their own view of the training. Having these answers helps us plan better training through defining scenarios, themes, lay-out, and even language. How will we address compliance training, are we checking the box or is there a readiness to try to change behavior?

Getting back to the story, we can’t do this every time and in fact, this story is an extreme. But we can contribute by making sure that the way we structure and communicate our training to learners is conducive to that learning population. By marketing training from the top down and covering the needs of learners from the bottom up, your end result should create more impactful training.