Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Let’s Stop Pushing “Development” as a Cheap Replacement for Training

A slightly abbreviated version of this post was recently published in Smartblog on Leadership:

True confession time.

I once worked for a large, global conglomerate that was in a death spiral and struggling to turn things around. The company was harvesting its mature and declining business in order to pump cash into its growth bets.

This company had a proud tradition of investing in the development of its employees. Sales reps were trained in their products and how to sell them, scientists went to conferences, engineers were offered continued training to keep their skills up to date, and new managers were trained how to manage.
There was even a requirement that every employee received 40 hours of training.

A new CFO came on board and decided that training was a luxury that could no longer be afforded. Instead of a way to improve skills and make the business stronger, it was seen as an expense – even worse, a strategically irrelevant expense, like rearranging deck chairs on the titanic.

Training budgets and staff were drastically cut. What training staff was left was charged with trying to convince the remaining employees that the company 40 hour training commitment was really a 40 hour development commitment. That is, projects, books, discussions with your manager, just about anything could and should be counted towards those 40 hours.
The Center for Creative Leadership is known for its “70-20-10” model of leadership development. That is, 70% of an executive’s learning comes from job changes and actual work, 20% from others, and the remaining 10% from books, courses, and hardships. We took that research and peddled it as a reason to eliminate ALL training, including sales, product, technical, management, and anything else that took place in a classroom. We replaced it with elearning courses and development plans and told employees “go at it, you’re on your own”.

Cindy McCauley, one of the original CCL researchers behind the 70-2-10 model, wrote recently in an article called "My Love-Hate relationship with 70-20-10""I hate it because people misuse it. I’ve heard colleagues complain that it is justification to cut formal programs. The reasoning: if they account for only 10% of development, why do we need it? (Back to the critical details—some things are best learned in formal programs.)  Another complaint: Attempts to force everything into the 70-20-10 mold, as if one concept should rule decision making about program designs, learning and development budgets, and individual development plans."

I’m not proud to tell that story, as I was a part of peddling that garbage until I had had enough and joined a company that was really committed to employee training and development. The reason I’m baring my soul is that I still see HR and training professionals trying to sell themselves and their employees the same propaganda. Sometimes they are doing as they are told, but sometimes they really seem to believe it.

Look, I’m not naïve, and as a training practitioner, and now a provider, certainly have a strong bias towards the value of real training. I totally get the need to watch the bottom line, and eliminate any form of wasteful spending. I hate wasting money and people’s time on lousy training!
Development is important – it truly is where we learn most of our lessons in life. But so is training. There are key points in a leader’s career – first time promotion – a significant new responsibility – getting ready to move into a senior executive role – major shifts in strategic direction - and others where a good old fashioned dose of training (yes, even classroom, where you can learn and network with others) will accelerate that learning curve.

Sure, without training, people can still “wing it”, try to learn on their own, and sink or swim. Eventually, though trial and error, they may pick it up. But when you are in a leadership position, your mistakes can hurt others, and the higher the level, the more costly those little lessons learned become. Wouldn’t it be worth the cost of 1-2 days of training to prevent a million dollar mistake?

Let’s stop pushing “development” as a cheap replacement for training, if it’s really just an excuse to cut costs, and let’s get smarter as to how we invest our limited training budgets.

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