Is Our Training Paradigm an Unbeaten Dead Horse?

Maybe a better question might be…How can you beat a dead horse if you don’t realize it’s dead yet? I’m convinced the training paradigm is one dead horse and many of us are beating the stuffing out of it…or soon will be after discovering that it is indeed dead. And we will keep whaling away rather than take the hint that beating on it won’t change the outcome. Time to move on to a different approach. A new horse? Maybe a smaller pony and a new performance paradigm. Read on…

Please accept this upfront apology for the use of the word “paradigm”, but until I can think of something more appropriate, I see no way around using it. The paradigm of which I speak is that related to Training…or if you want to modernize it, call it the Learning Paradigm. “Learning” at least doesn’t sound so old-school; but wipe off the lipstick, and we still find ourselves relying upon training our workforce to drive performance. After 36 years in this business, I can confess to holding that belief for at least the first 24 years, and the teams I had the pleasure to lead were killing it with our sizzling training output. We had all the metrics and measures and activity numbers and blends to prove it. When the company where I worked went Chapter 11, our VP of L&D and I, as Director of Sales Training Development, were totally blind-sided with the news. So much for “killing it”…

Every two weeks we held a new hire sales training extravaganza that lasted for 8-days, and we usually had 30-to-35 butts in seats. Everybody loved the training. Level 1 evaluations proved the new hires were engaged; loved the instructors, the content, and the chicken tacos at the Marriott. Level 2 evaluations confirmed we successfully transferred knowledge; everybody passed with flying colors. We gave graduates their certification tattoos and then hurled them through the window of opportunity into the field to sell their hocks off. Toward the end of our comfy little life in the training paradigm, we happened to look at some numbers beyond our L&D walls and discovered that, despite excelling at training 35-new hires every two weeks, the sales force was not growing larger. Enter life-changing epiphany…we were killing it by transferring knowledge but we were failing miserably at sustaining capability after training was complete and we were gearing up for another extravaganza.

To be more specific, the epiphany proved one fact beyond a shadow of doubt:

Training does not drive performance…it drives potential!

When Henry Ford was asked whether he had done any market research before building the first car, he replied, “If I’d asked them what they wanted, they would’ve said faster horses!”

Replace “horses” with the word “training” and we have accurately stated where our stakeholders are today within the paradigm that we…me included for 24 years…have been feeding them – Training Drives Performance. And they bought it. And they believed it. And so did we…me included for 24 years. And they continue to ask for it because it’s what we sold to them. And if our training doesn’t work, they go outside and buy more from some knucklehead working out of the trunk of their car. I know this because I was one of those knuckleheads for several years pre-epiphany.

Some of us have taken steps to answer the call-to-action by deploying creative blending techniques; and building non-linear MOOCs; and “micro-ing” training and/or “bursting learning” short targeted training programs. We’ve also adopted agile methodologies to speed designing and development of training solutions. We’ve shrunken training to fit smart phones and tablets…and heaven help us…I can see it heading to our watches. Somebody just shoot me now! All of these represent innovative steps to make horses…err…training faster. Hit pause and reread that epiphany. We are still locked on to a paradigm that is scoped and chartered to transfer knowledge. Period. Yeah, we’re getting better and quicker at it, but we’re still training.

Shifting To the Point-of-Work

Sustained capability…or “competency” if HR-speak is more your style…does not manifest during training regardless of flavor or innovative gyrations we employ. Sustainable workforce performance at the point-of-work is where we need to focus, and point-of-work is not part of, nor within the scope of the training paradigm. If the rules of engagement have changed, so too should our paradigm. The downstream, post-training environment…point-of-work…is where tangible business results are created…or lost. Adopting a performance paradigm that keys on sustaining workforce capability is where we need to be “killing it”.

Now…does this mean we abandon training? Heck no! Does adopting a performance paradigm force additional work on a maxed out training staff? No…but it can if we are not willing [or equipped with the right skills and discipline] to leave the stables. When I say “discipline” I’m referring to “approach” or “mindset”. Keep your training skills handy because you will need them, but recognize that the starting line for driving sustained capability is found at the point-of-work. In other words, task-centric… role-specific…execution at the point-of-work.

Adopting a Continuum Approach

Okay…point-of-work…got it, but nobody starts their job at the point-of-work, so why start there? The short answer is because that’s where we want them to be sustained and effective. Everybody shows up for this journey of development at something I call point-of-entry. That could be at new hire orientation, or first time exposure to a new product line, or to learn a new skill or concept. That would be training right? That would be correct, BUT…a performance paradigm changes what we do during training by extending work into the experience…not the other way around.

This concept is best illustrated by a Learner-to-Performer Continuum [See Figure #1].

Extended Blend

Figure #1

The Continuum framework covers point-of-entry across the journey to sustainability at the point-of-work where workforce capability matures and the workforce is confronted with the five moments of need developed by Dr. Conrad Gottfredson. Moments 3 thru 5 represent the point-of-work while moments 1&2 represent point-of-entry. Regardless of the nature of task-level work executed at the post-training moment #3 – APPLY, every member of the workforce experiences all five of these moments.

Business value is either generated or lost within the workflow represented by these last three moments of need. The assets best suited for consumption by the workforce within these three critical moments are NOT training, and the technology used to support these moment is not the LMS.

Extended Blend

The shift to a performance paradigm forces us to apply and rethink; hence, my use of “mindset” earlier, an evolved discipline that extends point-of-work into point-of-entry. If we build the right assets to first satisfy sustained capability of the workforce at the moment of APPLY, why would we not extend those assets into moments 1&2 as part of the blend?

The “A” in ADDIE becomes a performance assessment not just a training needs assessment. This is where task-centric, role-specific discovery is made to determine a few key attributes of the point-of-work that are essential to an effective extended blend including:

  • WHAT is broken and the root causes contributing to the breakage…I.E. task-centric;
  • WHO is involved when it breaks…role-specific, and not just the performers but the supporting cast including help desk, supervisors, coaches/mentors, etc.;
  • WHEN does it break…frequency of breakage… every time they add a new “X”, etc.;
  • WHERE does it break…physical location and/or proximity to or within a workflow;
  • HOW are the workers accomplishing the work…systems, software apps, mobile technology, etc.; and
  • WHY do they do the work in the first place…business value… risk…as evidenced by key performance indicators [KPIs], also used to serve evaluations at Levels 3&4…even 5

Without knowing the answers to these discovery categories in a performance assessment we have no clue as to what the optimal media, mode, or venue should be to extend the blend back into moments 1&2. Should the assets be “pushed” or should they be “pulled”…or both?

Intentional Design Practices

And don’t forget…we are NOT designing assets exclusively for training; rather, we are designing assets “intentionally” for consumption at the point-of-work first. Emphasis on APPLY puts the “intentional” label on our design and development disciplines. We are intentionally designing assets for the workforce to apply at their respective moments of need FIRST…and then we extend those very same assets into moments 1&2 so we can train learners to recognize when to use them, where to find them, and how to apply them effectively.

The typical results from adopting this practice show that the amount of time needed to train goes down dramatically. With the right authoring technology, documentation and development time is reduced by well over half and maintenance workload to ensure content accuracy is also significantly reduced.

Summary Thoughts

Truly, this is not rocket science here. I’m only suggesting that we target those who DO the work and those specific moments where knowledge transferred via even the best training is not retained and is left behind on the floor of the stable. The emphasis in this new paradigm is on leveraging reference knowledge by embedded performance support assets at the moments of need that surface across the entire Continuum versus “killing it” with awesome training and relying upon recall knowledge to stick in hearts and head long enough to apply it at the point-of-work.

We cannot be satisfied by simply becoming faster and more efficient at grinding out training because we are only embracing moments 1&2 and we are leaving the “show-me-the-money” moments manifesting at 3 thru 5 unsupported…and performance is not sustained. In closing, I will share another quote that comes to mind made by Peter Drucker:

“Why do with great efficiency that which should not be done at all?”

You could’ve heard a pin drop at DevLearn when this quote came up during my session. For me, that quote is a “drop-the-mic” moment because of just how serious and essential this paradigm shift is, especially with its very real implications of change.

Personally, I don’t think we have any choice but to adopt a performance paradigm, and I say that because I have my Chapter 11 t-shirt to prove that we did NOT change our focus in time despite continuing to improve at what we had been doing…heads down…”killing it”…tracking “our” L&D numbers and ignoring the post-training evidence found at the point-of-work.

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