Organizational Skill Development Pathways and Pitfalls
By: Jim Clemmer
Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/
"I have never found an organization in the world that overtrains its
— Charles Garfield, peak performance researcher and author
- Despite clear evidence of the huge returns training provides, many organizations
do far too little of it. Even within the training business, many companies
are so wrapped up in operational pressures of maintaining today's cash
flow that they neglect improvement efforts that build tomorrow's wealth.
High performing organizations consistently invest from 3 - 5 percent of
their payroll expenses in training. Many lesser performing companies fall
well below that (1.5 percent of payroll should be the bare minimum level).
- A key contributor to ineffective training is weak evaluation. "Happy
sheets" (rating of the training program, instructor, facilities, lunch,
etc.) don't tell us if the training was any good. Instead, they measure
behavior change and impact on service/quality levels, process performance,
leadership ratings by those being served, innovation, productivity, costs,
or progress in reaching improvement goals.
- Match the development method to the objective. No amount of traveling on
the wrong road will bring us to the right destination — no matter how many
other misdirected travelers are also headed toward oblivion. For example,
knowledge-based or theoretical approaches are the wrong road to developing
practical skills and behavior change.
- A powerful and underused method for organization skill development is to
train senior managers as trainers and have them deliver many of the skill
development sessions. Whenever this is done, there are few attendance problems
at training sessions. Participants don't show up asking "how serious
is management about these new approaches?" This approach also puts
senior managers on the spot to practice what they've been preaching. Teaching
is also a potent learning experience for the teacher that leads to a deeper
understanding and mastery of the skills being developed in others.
- One way to flush training dollars down the drain is by failing to link
training with strategic imperatives and organizational Focus and Context
(vision, values, and purpose). What happens in the classroom and what happens
back on the job are worlds apart. Trainees learn which hoops to jump through,
pledge alliance to the current improvement fad, give their enthusiastic
"commitment" to building "the new culture," get their
diploma — and then go back to work.
Don't train just because it's a good thing to do. Skills are a means not
an end. Lasting skills aren't built in a vacuum. They're developed on the
basis of clearly understood needs (performance gaps) and application to
pressing threats or opportunities.
- Don't "sheep dip" people through training programs that give
them skills they might eventually need. Use Just-in-Time training to provide
the skills team leaders and members need at the time they're going to use
them. For example, teach people how to lead or participate in process improvement
teams just before they're going to form or lead one.
- Don't deal with skill deficiencies through changes to organization structure
or reengineering processes. Both of these are vital to improved performance.
But you likely need to dig deeper. If a team or individual has performance
problems, it may be because they don't know how to make the needed improvements.
- When most organizations who are attempting to expand their use of teams
are asked what they would have done differently, the response is often
more training of team leaders. Too many team leaders are asked to deal
with complex and difficult team issues with little preparation for a vastly
different role. As a result, meetings frequently become wasteful and ineffective.
Healthy team diversity and differences degenerates into destructive conflict.
These struggling teams often lose their momentum. Reaching agreement and
taking action becomes difficult. Many poorly led teams also remain narrowly
focused and miss the big picture. And these teams generally fail to look
ahead and anticipate change.