Rigors in Training & Development

For much of the past twenty years, various aspects of my professional life have involved training and development in one way or another. As one of the few infantry scouts with any collegiate education, I repeatedly found myself tasked with the training of other soldiers, in tasks ranging from cultural and political sensitivity (a.k.a., political indoctrination) to the deployment of weapons systems such as the Dragon missile system, the claymore anti-personnel mines, crew-served and small arms sharpshooting, as well as tactical skills such as land navigation, stalking, tracking and intelligence collection. In my fraternity, I was elected to run our pledge education program. And from my first days in the Navy, I managed training programs that included professional development, transitional and leadership development, HR compliance training, and technical language and cryptologic training.

My career emphasis in training and development only intensified after I left government service in 2000, and in the past nine years, I have embarked on more intensive corporate training roles in leadership development and coaching, the management of e-learning development initiatives, and the complete restructure of a Fortune 400’s Education Division to better align with corporate strategies and needs. Some of these experiences have involved actually participating in the design and implementation of training programs and courses, while others have required a more hands-off leadership approach in formal management and director roles.

What has become increasingly troublesome to me in recent years has been the deliberate move by many organizations away from training and development programs that insist upon accountability in the learning environment. How many of your organizations offer dozens upon dozens of training programs to employees throughout the year? And how many of you have actually attended internal development programs? I would guess nearly everyone has attended at least something, if only HR-mandated diversity training or the such, in the past 24 months. Even more likely is the possibility that most of you have taken e-courses right from your office or cubicle, as organizations increasingly embrace online technologies in disseminating educational offerings and materials.

But how many have really found any challenge to the courses offered through internal training and development offerings? In how many companies is attendance all that is required to “pass” a course and prompt an electronic transcript notation certifying you “harassment trained,” free from the annoying and persistent emails from HR or your Education Division until the following year? What would happen if we pushed our training and development staff to design actual rigor into training programs, insisting on the challenging of both minds and assumptions as a prerequisite for approval of any developed courses?

I submit that by increasing training rigor, organizations would: 1) build pride and a sense of accomplishment into their workforce, 2) would elevate the perceived value of internal training and development resources (who are in a constant struggle to attain a “seat at the table” of strategic, executive decisionmaking), 3) would weed out those who merely wish to be employed from those who are interested in being active and innovative contributors to success of the organization, and 4) would build organizational capacities for innovation, excellence and knowledge acquisition.

Recommendations for all organizations:

– Take stock of your current approach to training and development. Is your goal to simply say that you have trained your employees, or is it to truly build success factors into your organization by emboldened knowledge acquisition?

– Retool existing educational programs and course, injecting rigor and true stretch goals into assessment practices

– Insist on significantly higher standards and development criteria that pushes all learners beyond their current mental capacity

– Engender a life-long learning attitude from the highest level of your organization to the newest clerk in the mail room.

By taking these steps, you will insure your organization against the elements of change that have become a part of everyday leadership in all sectors and industries. Your employees will experience the value you (as an organization and their employer) are developing in them and the organization, and the payback will be incredible, economically and culturally.

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