Knowledge & Skills VS. Sustained Capability

The title of this post sort of implies an “either/or” relationship, and I wanted that to come across – at least initially. Why? Because these two outcomes are attained at two different stages of competency development over the span of time that learning occurs. Not only what learning occurs but where, when and how it occurs. There is no shortage of flashy jargon and countless descriptive labels used in the learning industry these days that promise performance impacts, and I am probably guilty of using most of them at one time or another. Funny thing though…if you stick with the running dialog long enough, some of what appears “jargon-ish” actually has a ring of reality to it…and some of it is actually becoming mission critical.

The promise of “performance impact”, at least for me, has a direct relationship to outcomes – real tangible value kind of outcomes. The disconnect I hope to point out is that the methodology most often deployed to bring these outcomes about ends well before the outcome(s) are realized. And I am not even talking about being sustainable yet…am just referring to tangible evidence of impact. Not unlike the journey to mastery level competency, performance outcomes run a parallel race. If the 1,600-meter relay is four-lap mile; traditional training appears to have to two-runner team ready to run the 800-meter relay…with gusto. Knowledge and skills transfer the baton flawlessly. And we can prove it…with passing scores, successful demonstrations of proficiency, and positive level one evaluations.

Too bad 800-meters do not complete the entire race to sustained capability. At the same time, there would be no way to get to the goal of 1,600 meters without the first two laps. Training is part of the race just as knowledge and skills transfer is part of the learning process. My point is not to diminish the contribution of training, but to make the statement that training cannot run 1,600 meters if their team [scope] is built to stop at 800 meters. This is the point that where, when and how mentioned earlier become the all-important “last legs” of the relay race to competency and sustained capability.

After training has run two laps and the evaluations are completed and learners graduate, where do the graduates go? They go back to work. They go back into an environment that is in a constant state of change and variability unlike the controlled, safe environment of training. Risk is real. Loss is possible. Urgency to perform is engaged all the time. Unfortunately, competency is still an aspiration because learning is still in the implementation phase – where proficiency of application of newly acquired knowledge and skills is still being refined – in the work context. While true value is generated, true loss can also be an outcome. Hopefully the former outpaces the latter.

The potential for damaging business risk, loss, liability…pick your poison…@ the point of work…is why I plugged “VERSUS” into the title of this post. The stigma of “versus” exists today because of two related perspectives. First; Training, as an organization, does not see the scope of their role extending into the work context where competency is developed and/or value and/or loss are realized. Second; the operations side of the business does not see Training’s end product generating a tangible payback in the form of positive, sustainable impact. They are both right. And the situation that exists for both to be right…is so very wrong.

What is the solution? Training’s scope must evolve to include the downstream, post-training work context, and learning assets [often not training content] must be designed, developed, delivered, and/or made accessible @ the point of work. The operations side of the business is never going to see the results they seek until this happens, because training [as a business value contributor] comes up about 800-meters short of a mile.

The point of work is a different, evolving venue for the consumption of learning assets, especially when we could consider mentor/mentee or apprentice/master craftsman relationships as “learning assets”. These different venues can be as “social” as they are downloadable asset-equipped.  This evolution is a full 1,600-meter race, and the evolving venue has a ton of implications on the design, development, delivery, and/or accessibility of these assets. In fact, ADDIE needs to shed a few pounds and become more agile…producing content that is a little more nimble…a little more downstream-thinking in order to address the where, when, and how learning assets may be consumed.

The point of work is where “one-to-many” design models fail. This venue is where I have an information need surface and you do not. When your moment of learning need surfaces, mine does not. When I need a live chat with a Help Desk SME, you need a streamed “how to” video clip, and one of the sales reps on the road needs to “pull” a PDF out of a marketing collateral document management system. The nature of the downstream work context does not lend itself to cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, learning solutions. In many cases, the content may not be “training-focused” at all.


Not training-focuses at all? Then why would training even BE involved?

Exactly my point – it is a VERSUS relationship

And it will continue to be “either/or” as long as performance outcomes…as long as business impact…as long as sustained capability are not included in the mission statement of the Training organization. And as long as the training solutions we build…purchase…sell…or give away do not consider the point of work component, there is always going to be a VERSUS. Knowledge and skills transfer…no matter how awesomely accomplished is but half the race. The operational side of the business is going to continue to turn away from Training for those areas of their business where business value is at risk.

New venues for consumption? New formats? New technologies? New success metrics? New collaborations? New training competencies? You bet…they are new…all of them.  There are 1,600-meters of them and the scariest part is that Training’s budget is often getting whacked for running half a race. They are already two-laps down. Maybe ADDIE is not the only thing that needs to trim a little fat. Given the choice of 10-trainers over a half dozen performance consultants in today’s environment, I would take the performance orientation every time. Why? Because that is where business value is generated…or lost. And the business partner who can prove the generation of business value is valued by the business.

The Ops guys are singing that song today, loud and clear, and I do not blame them. I have been seated across the table from a VP of Operations and clearly heard, “I let training handle the compliance stuff, and I spend my money on external consultants to help us figure out how to…”  To what?   Increase this or decrease that or equip the workforce to do the other. Training’s biggest client [in-house] is shifting the greatest “bang-for-buck” work away from Training. Funny how budgetary funding tends to follow their lead.


Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning