Don't play Santa Claus when it comes to training

Every year, Santa comes down that chimney with presents galore, regardless whether last year's gifts have been played with, used or worn. Don't make the same mistake with training, says Martin Fairn, CEO of Gazing Performance Systems.

Last Updated: 21 Dec 2012

As a father of two young daughters, excitement over the impending arrival of Santa Claus and his presents has already taken over my household. However, I can't begin to express my frustration at seeing new presents unwrapped each year while last year’s un-played with toys are pushed to the back of the cupboard.

I have spoken with enough parents to know that our situation is a common one. The answer is obvious! Just tell them they don‘t get any new toys until they play with the ones they already have, and do so throughout the year. It would certainly make for a cheaper Christmas or at least increase their appreciation for what they are given.

So what does this have to do with the provision of effective training programmes for the workforce of today and tomorrow? Recently David Fairhurst, chief people officer for McDonalds Europe, wrote in the Huffington Post: 'Workplace training shouldn't be a 'nice to do.’ It has to be a 'must do’,' while talking about the skills that are needed to help our economy to grow out of recession and nurture talent to the benefit of all. I agree entirely with David’s sentiments but with that need also comes the risk of wasted money.

If you are going to invest in training and development, you can’t afford to pay lip service to it. This has never been more true than in today’s tough economic climate. But getting a return on investment is a must; investing and not getting anything out of it is far worse than not investing at all.

My observation is that many training departments act exactly like Santa Claus in giving ‘shiny new toys' to children who have not played with the ones they were given last year!

These issues can be summed up in three points:
1) Even if they try to make a connection, most training departments remain too remote from business performance and results to truly understand what training is required.
2) There is a ‘junkie’ like obsession with getting delegate approval and ‘good’ feedback on the universal ‘happy sheet’.
3) The dreaded ‘training needs analysis' in which a seemingly valid requirements research exercise allows people within the business to act like the aforementioned children writing their ‘Christmas list’ for Santa.

One can argue it’s better to provide some development rather than none at all. The problem is that what people want is not necessarily what they really need, especially if the goal is to provide development programmes that have a measureable and sustainable impact on the business.

This is a worrying situation. When every penny of investment is microscopically scrutinised, training may not survive logical examination! So what is the answer?  My observation is that there must be a ‘joined up’ approach with training - it should never take place in isolation. For example, once people have been equipped with new knowledge, skills and tools, then the attention of the ‘training department’ needs to shift to ‘in field’ support - providing simple practical tools to help people use the skills that they have acquired, along with regular coaching to help use them better.  Mobile applications can be perfect for this, as they can support people on the ground, while out in the field, during their everyday business life.

There are still too many ‘Santa Claus' like training departments. If organisations are to play their part in growing out of this recession, business leaders need to take a long hard look at the training they supply and ask themselves whether the right support and follow-up is in place to ensure newly trained employees are in a position to use the new skills that they have gained.

Having now written this article, I feel there maybe some difficult conversations with my daughters as we get closer to Christmas this year!

Martin Fairn is CEO of Gazing Performance Systems.

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