I have never encountered an organization that at least rhetorically did not champion the importance of training for all its employees. But I have encountered quite a few organizations whose management actions and cultural attitudes sent some confusing and contradictory signals to the workforce concerning just how important anything beyond ON THE JOB TRAINING actually was.
So what follows are a few of my own experience-based thoughts about how to bring what an organization says about the importance of training, into harmony with what that organization actually does. And of equal importance, how to ensure that organizationally sponsored training truly serves important organizational goals.
TOP DOWN MANAGEMENT INVOLVEMENT IN TRAINING ACTIVITIES IS ESSENTIAL. This is a theme I also addressed in an earlier article in this series entitled “Top Management, This One’s For You.” I begin with it because I believe that without consistent management involvement top to bottom, so much of the potential success of an organization’s training efforts are simply left to chance.
It is management’s responsibility to decide on the themes, messages, content, and appropriate venues for the training it sponsors and pays for. HR’s responsibility is to insure that management gets what it wants. While this may require some negotiation, letting HR determine an organization’s training agenda — or failing to provide effective, consistent over site of the overall training program and its effectiveness in serving the organization’s goals — is an abrogation of management’s responsibility. If managers avoid training themselves or do not frequently involve themselves in training activities, that is a problem and a very bad message.
It is also up to management to insure that the application of the skills and desired behaviors learned via training occurs on a daily basis throughout the organization. This demands management engagement, conversations, and observational efforts. Managers should know who is in what training and why, and should routinely engage subordinates in discussions concerning the application of newly acquired skills to their work. Managers should be evaluated on how well they do this.
What managers say about training and how they respond to employee training needs sends strong messages about the importance they place on these activities. For example, by demonstrating their ability to manage their way around employee absences during training, rather than require employees to postpone departures or intrude on their training time for work related matters, communicates importance in a powerful unspoken way.
GET YOUR ORIENTATION PROGRAM RIGHT. By right I mean the right expectation and culture messages, substantive content and duration. Management must absolutely be involved in assuring this. Some organizations hire individuals whose skills are workplace ready, thus requiring shorter orientation programs. Other organizations hire bright talent but their work assignments will require specialized skills that may necessitate longer training commitments. It is always a mistake to rush new people into the line before they are skill-ready. Sufficient time spent up front pays off for years. If in doubt, observe the military.
First impressions are powerful and last a long time; yet another reason to get employee orientation programs right.
DO NOT DISCRIMINATE BETWEEN PROFESSIONALS AND NON-PROFESSIONALS, LINE AND SUPPORT WHEN IT COMES TO TRAINING. If only a certain cohort of individuals in an organization seem worthy of — or are eligible for — job related training, it establishes a class system that hurts an organization in many unseen ways. Make eligibility requirements sufficiently flexible and open to encourage all employee to strive for improvement, new skill acquisition, and advancement regardless of their background, prior education, or job classification.
MAKE CLEAR THAT THE PRIMARY REQUIREMENT FOR ANY ASSIGNMENT IS THE DEMONSTRATED POSSESSION OF THE TALENT, SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE IT REQUIRES. When this approach to assignments outweighs degrees, credentials, or who you know, it encourages employee commitment to training, skill acquisition, and growth. It encourages initiative, leaving one’s comfort zone and fosters organizational commitment and loyalty. It also allows an organization to discover talent it may not have recognized before.
Saturn Motor Company demonstrated its commitment to this philosophy some years back with a policy that said any employee can do any job on its car building teams so long as they could demonstrate the ability to “do it safely and up to professional standards”. Now that is a powerful motivator.
NEVER USE TRAINING AS A REWARD. The ideal goal of an organization’s dedicated commitment to training and on-going education is CONTINUAL LEARNING AND GROWTH across the organization. Organizations make these commitments because their management sees them as an essential ingredient for keeping their workforce on top of their game and for maintaining a competitive edge in their industry or field. Training is not something an employee should get permission to do as a reward for something he or she has done. Rather it is something he or she has come to understand they need to do as a basic requirement for advancement and success.
THEREFORE, THE ORGANIZATION MUST MAKE CERTAIN THAT TRAINING AND CONTINUAL LEARNING IS AN ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENT FOR ADVANCEMENT AND SUCCESS. I have said to managers many times in these articles: “if you do not mean it and will not enforce it, then do not say it”. Talking up the importance of training while failing to reinforce its value, importance, and necessity with ACTION is only hot air. Furthermore, for management to abandon its essential role in assuring an appropriate return on its training investment, undermines its credibility as effective stewards of their organization.