Making Training Work Better – Thinking Outside the Classroom


Like many of you in business, I wear many hats – I am a consultant, a manager, a program manager and a full time learner.  Seth Godin, bestselling author and founder of Squidoo, offers this (slightly edited by me) observation on project management and training.  

The easiest form of management is to demand that people do more or go faster. The more important and difficult form of management is to encourage people to do better. Better is trickier than more because people have trouble visualizing themselves doing better. Doing better requires training followed by coaching and patience to create a better performing team.

Did you know that companies around the world spend more the $100 billion per year on training? That’s billion with a “B”. Do those organizations know if spending that much money on training is worthwhile in terms of increased performance or higher sales? According to McKinsey Quarterly’s recent article, “Getting More from Your Training Programs” only 30 percent of organizations use any metrics to track effectiveness of their training.

The McKinsey staff, who authored the article, suggest a two-pronged approach to making the time and dollars spent on training more effective. First they say, is the importance of helping people want to learn by making the problem and benefits clear using real world examples. Create a vision of the possible and establish some ambassadors – folks who have been trained and believe – to help sell the initiative.

Next, understand how adult learning is different from school (Yes- I know that some adults behave like children, but that is not what I am talking about here!). To make training more meaningful, it is essential to define outcome behaviors you want to see, not facts you want someone to know. Realize in developing training programs, that soft skills such as leadership and communication are as important as hard skills such as how to use a tool, create a schedule or count widgets correctly. Actually- in my opinion – soft skills like communication and leadership are MORE important!

Integrate real problems and experience with practical solutions during training rather than textbook exercises or classroom style lectures. Field test training and use feedback from participants to improve content and presentation. (Your training and performance staff already know this! So talk to them.)

The second prong of McKinsey’s suggested approach deals with support after training is complete. Support for change in “how we do things here” must start at the top of the organization down through direct line supervisors and project managers. If employees see that what they were told in training about how to behave is different from how the people who give them assignments and evaluate their performance act, guess which behaviors they will emulate? I have been at the PMO Symposium this week and one of the big topics was how we change behavior and culture in our organizations in order to improve processes and outcomes.  It starts with that adage “Behavior is just the shadow of the leader.”

Besides acting as a role model for changed behaviors, project managers and PMO directors need to reinforce new behaviors in employees who have been through the training. It is hard to change your style of interaction or the tools you select to do your job. You are never as effective or skilled in the beginning as you will become with practice. Project managers need to acknowledge the coming up to speed learning curve and reward the effort. Leaders need to have faith that the result will be worth the struggle and communicate that belief to their team.

Please share positive and negative experiences with training in your organization and any tricks you learned along the way to make training work better.

And for those PMO directors that I have had the pleasure of spending 3 days with in Dallas – thank you for sharing your experiences, frustrations, and lessons learned with me!

2 Responses to “Making Training Work Better – Thinking Outside the Classroom”

  1. fulcrumuk Says:

    Great post Bruce.

    I agree that there is a need to develop the “softer” skills in project teams and to focus on effective communication, too often people rely on the formal systems and valuable information and guidance slips down the cracks.

    Your comments on the need for top managers to manage the development of the cultural underpinnings of the changed behaviour they are seeking is spot on too. Often change processes are undermined either because the top team don’t demonstrate that they have adopted have the desired approach or by continue to reward [formally or informally] the behaviour they are trying to change.

    They need to manage the informal reward systems, the stories in the organisation and be very careful not to destroy initiatives by a few careless words or actions.

  2. Bruce Lofland Says:

    I have seen in several different organizations when a new methodology is rolled out, training is done and then people convince themselves that they have already been doing this “new stuff” and therefore it is not new to them; they are just ahead of the curve! This gives them an excuse not to change.

    The ultimate objective of any work-originated training is to change things in the organization. This is difficult and does take a lot of leadership. A lot of organization do not see that. They are just checking a box to say “me too.”

    Maybe we just need more leadership training. 🙂

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