Are We Wasting Time? by Kevin McManus
I would like you to take a couple of minutes to reflect on two questions. First of all, how many hours of training do you think takes place in the business world each day, and what is that total cost? Secondly, if we tested each trainee on the material he or she covered today two weeks from now, how much of it would they really remember?
I have my opinions, and they are not positive ones. Unfortunately, they are based largely on personal experience and observation, so I feel that I have done a fair amount of research, albeit largely anecdotal, to justify my feelings. I think most of the training that occurs each day in business is a waste of time!
The list of training system weaknesses should help show you why I feel this way. I am also aware however of what I have forgotten or simply not used from all of the things others have tried to teach me over the years. Some of it was not relevant, some of it I did not understand, and most of it I forgot. As I spent more time as a trainer myself, I eventually began to find better approaches to training that began to improve skill retention and application.
The world of sports however helped me really understand the need for practice. I was already convinced that you had to practice in sports if you wanted to get better. What I had not yet realized is that most of the skills we expect managers and supervisors to know and use in a high performance workplace (or in most workplaces for that matter) require a lot of practice IF we expect people to become proficient at them!
Think about it. How much practice time have you been given to learn new skills on the job? Have you been getting enough practice to really become good at the key skills you are expected to know? How much can you really learn when you are trying to practice while the game is going on?
As for the daily cost of training ... I stopped thinking a lot about it once I saw that we were easily wasting a million dollars a day. For example, 100 managers at a $35 hourly wage rate receiving 8 hours of training at 50 different locations will give you a daily cost of $1.4 million! I sure hope that those 5,000 managers use what they spent that money for.
What is a Practice Field?
I first became aware of the notion of practice fields when I read Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline back in the early 1990s. The follow-up book, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, expanded further on this concept. The following thoughts on the need for practice are taken from the first book. They apply both to training and to teams who ideally strive to learn more from each other.
“In most business team environments, people use time to make decisions about specific situations, which are often debated and decided under great time pressure, with each decision being final as soon as it is made. There is no experimentation with options - worse still, there is little opportunity to form reasoned assessments of the wisdom of different decisions.”
In such a time-sensitive world, how can we take the time to practice? Practice fields come in two forms - actual skill practice and computer simulations. If you want a supervisor to get better at resolving conflict, then he needs to do more than read a list of tips for resolving conflict – he needs several practice repetitions, with quality feedback being part of each rep. Practice being great!
A More Effective Approach to Learning
There was a point in time where I too as a trainer relied mainly on lecture to deliver the material I was supposed to teach to others. I simply did not realize that it made that much difference!
Why did I do this? Because that is the main way that others had taught me since I entered the world of formal education at the age of five. From the short term perspective, it is much less painful to teach in a manner we are personally familiar with than it is to learn to teach differently. Who cares if anyone remembers or uses anything or not!
I had two eye opening events occur during the 1990s that really shifted my own paradigms about how training needed to be delivered if a company even expected to have a chance of it being understood, retained, and applied. The first experience involved teaching a two-day statistical process control (SPC) class to my food plant supervisors. The training seemed to go well enough, but I later learned that part of the trainees’ cooperation had to do with the fact that many of them had only a third grade level of math literacy, and in turn didn’t know what was going on with all of those decimal points!
The second event occurred when I went to my first National Examiner training session. As this was being put on by a group associated with the federal government, I assumed that it was going to be two plus days of boring lecture. Instead, I ended up being part of a highly interactive set of exercises that really did encourage learning and altered my paradigms about training effectiveness.
The first experience taught to never assume anything when preparing to deliver a training class. The second event showed me how there are highly effective alternatives to lecture out there. Since that point in time, I have modified all of my training packages to be exercise focused. The flow chart at the right provides an example of how a one hour exercise might be conducted using the Baldrige Examiner training model (which I am sure they learned from someone else). Try it – you’ll like it!!
Would You Like Some Help?
Over the past twenty or so years, I have helped design training systems in five different companies - both small and large - in the manufacturing and service arenas. This experience has helped me discover value added, simple ways to set up training curriculums, personal development plans, certification programs, and effectiveness measures to support a high performance workplace. Lecture-based training is the primary power restrictor for this power system - these tools help you both eliminate that barrier and move forward more rapidly towards higher levels of performance. If you are interested in the training systems and tools that I have to offer, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep improving! -- Kevin McManus, the Systems Guy
Would You Like to Learn More?
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“The only thing I know is that I do not know it all.” -- Socrates