Lipstick on a Training Paradigm – Oink!

Yeah, this could be classified as another rant, but that’s what happens when someone gets radicalized by a new paradigm…a Performance paradigm, to be more specific. My radicalization did not take place until after I had been in L&D for over twenty-five years, and looking back, I had racked up an impressive string of failures during that timeframe. Not failures in my output or those of teams I led, but in the workforce performance our efforts sustained…or more accurately…what our efforts did not sustain.

Why? We lived comfortably in the myth that training drove performance results, when in reality it only contributed to the promise of potential. Our shortfall was perpetuated by clustering around Training as our primary solution for creating and sustaining performance outcomes. There may be some of you reading this that can resonate with similar experiences. Permit me to share a really brief story that highlights how my thinking evolved into a new paradigm.

22 years of my career centered in Telecom – 15 of those years in Sales Training. We trained and we trained well, and had Level 1 and 2 evaluation scores to back up those results. We were pumping out new hires freshly tattooed and certified as graduates, hurling them through the window of opportunity and into the field to figure out how to sustain their performance. Each year I participated in President’s Club celebrations for the top sales producers. Consistently, a very small percentage of our graduates showed up to celebrate stellar sales performance results; the rest had churned out and were cycling through a similar fate with other competitors. We trained well, but we did a lousy job of sustaining capability in the field. Sound familiar?

Something had to change because delivering top-drawer training wasn’t rendering the results we needed. Nobody failed during training; failure happened downstream, post-training, at the point-of-work. We had to find out what broke down after graduation. So, in self-defense, I became a performance consultant inside of the L&D function.

After drinking the performance consulting Kool-Aid it struck me that the L&D focus was incomplete…and it still is…despite myriad Training innovations like MOOCs, micro-learning, mobile learning, virtual learning, and any other exotic blend you can name. No matter how we dressed it up, no matter how much lipstick, it was still Training. The myth continues to live on.

Now…before anybody blows a gasket, I’m not so radicalized to say Training is a waste of time; it certainly is not…BUT…Training, as a stand-alone solution does not address the entire continuum on which sustained capability at the point-of-work manifests. Competency is NEVER reached during Training regardless of what our Level 2 evaluations promise. Our Learners are certainly headed in the right direction, but no tangible evidence of business outcomes are generated…yet.

  • No sales close during product training or selling skills classes
  • No key accounts are retained by customer service reps during e-learning courses
  • No material waste is averted during manufacturing process training courses
  • No critical conversations are meaningfully effective during in-class role plays
  • No top performer attrition is avoided during a leadership development retreats

Do we abandon Training and development in these areas? Heck no, but we need to evolve into a paradigm that recognizes that generation of these result in a tangible way only happen after training and at the point-of-work. The problem, as I saw it…and still do…is the critical need for an expanded discipline that addresses the post-training environment where we are chasing tangible business results. That means we need a paradigm shift toward Performance that is inclusive of the Training we do so well and in so many different venues.

I fired off a post yesterday about “When Are MOOCs Not MOOCs?” that supports the concept of a Learner-To-Performer Continuum. It incorporates Gottfredson’s Five Moments of Need that incidentally served as THE foundational framework for my radicalization. Check it out if you have time; it’s definitely not lipstick.

So…in summary, if you look at an organization’s dynamic learning and performance ecosystem as a farm, you can quickly see why only dressing up the pigs neglects the rest of the “tools” in barnyard. We have to get out of the sheltered domain of the barnyard and engage all the tools, expanding into the pastures and fields where things actually grow into harvestable results. Sorry…I live in rural Indiana and at this time of the year I’m in corn and soybean up to my hocks.

Truly, our corporate enterprises are ecosystems; they are dynamic; and they are full of interdependencies that require robust learning AND performance. I’d be willing to argue that L&D should morph to L&P [Learning and Performance] because we have a call to action to address both. Our workforce experiences their journey to competency as continuum – it is a process, not a transaction, and if our end game is to create and sustain capability, we cannot afford to only make our pigs more attractive.

Gary Wise
Workforce Performance Strategist
(317) 437-2555
@gdogwise