From Training to Education

September 7, 2010 by
Filed under: Quality 

It is interesting to see what happens at some point in almost every workshop I run. Just after talking about some topic, often a topic where I get up on a soapbox and go off on a rant that takes us well beyond the standard training fare, I’ll have a few people come up to me at the next break. Almost in unison, they suggest that their managers need to hear what I had to say about this topic. For me, it’s an indication of the difference between training and education.

In many places, training takes a common form. It is often seen as a perk for the employees, with some budget set aside for workshops (unless, of course, there are slow times, when training budgets are the first to go). People might have free reign to choose how their allocated budget is spent, or someone in management might identify a particular topic that they feel is worthwhile. Almost everywhere, the people involved in the workshops are keen, interested and attentive. There is great dialogue throughout the session, and as much as possible we try to identify how to apply the learning in the workplace.

In most cases, the workshops will identify things that can be done at several different levels. There are always new practices that people can try on their own, things that don’t require anyone else’s OK. This can range from working on active listening skills or conflict management, or perhaps how to prioritize your own work. It might involve breaking down an estimate into component parts, or even starting to collect information on how your personal time is spent so that you might be able to avoid some of that apparently urgent stuff, or have historical information to better estimate in the future. Nobody needs to tell you to do these things but you.

There are other things that need someone else’s agreement that things will be done differently, typically because they involve different ways of communicating. This might be things like using different models to analyze a problem you are facing, or agreeing to interact in a certain way for the good of the team. With these things, even though you need to coordinate with others in order to move forward, you don’t typically need management approval: these things won’t often show up on a project-level schedule.

Some things will indeed have this higher visibility, typically because they involve an investment of time and resources that is relatively significant in the grand scheme of things. Starting out an inspections program, or collaboratively building a project schedule, or working through the scope of a project come to mind as things that are at this level. Even though they may save the project a bundle of effort and grief overall, there is a cost associated with them that can often convince people they are not worth the effort. Particularly if the project is tightly constrained, as most seem to be.

Which brings us back to those moments in workshops where people come up and suggest their managers need to hear that message. These never occur for those practices in the first two categories, where you can simply behave differently on your own or you can lean over and agree with your partner to try something new. They occur for the practices that people recognize are important for the projects they work on, but are visible enough for someone to say no.

I expect the people often come up because they have essentially said no in the past. Even if the N-word wasn’t mandated directly, there’s a good chance that current practices (that aren’t working) are the status quo, and people may have even tried changing things in the past.

While it is great to know that people can (and often do) change their own behaviours or agree with their peers to adjust how they do things based on our workshops, I also know that the impact that these things have on overall project success can be limited compared to these wholesale changes. For these wholesale changes to take place, the powers that be need to understand the rationale behind the suggested changes, or they’ll never agree to what they see as a big risk.

And those powers that be are rarely in the room. If they are, it’s tough to distract them from their Blackberry screens.

So while training can be a great perk for employees, and there can be an ROI on the training that goes beyond mere employee retention to actually saving money on projects, organizations are often missing out on these big wins.

What is needed when training is deployed in organizations is some higher level thinking. How are we hoping to improve as a result of this training, both as attendees and as an organization? Is there a gap to fill, some sort of competency that needs to be upgraded? Are there improvements that will require management approval, and how do we convince management of the value of these proposed changes?

Most importantly, what will we as an organization be doing after the class to make sure that what we have learned connects us to that improved future?

With answers to these questions, we get beyond training and we get an organization and employees that both benefit: education occurs at both levels. – JB

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3 Responses to “From Training to Education”

  1. Kevin Eikenberry on September 7th, 2010 9:39 am

    Well stated Jim. Every effective trainer has those moments. Your solutions are on target and much needed.

    We continually work to help organizations make those shifts.

    K 🙂

  2. Wendy Mack on September 7th, 2010 10:25 am

    Great post Jim. Though, in my mind the issues you raise seem to be about moving from Training to Implementation. If organizations are investing in sending people to “training” without connecting the elements of senior leader buy-in and follow through, chances are the training won’t result in real change.


  3. Jim Brosseau on September 7th, 2010 12:31 pm

    Thanks, Wendy.

    You raise an important point about implementation, I think it’s really a combination of that and education. If the organization sees this as an investment rather than a cost and makes the effort to follow through and align the benefits for the organization and the individual, everyone wins. We can’t lose the idea of training as a perk, we need to extend it to be a perk for everyone.


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