Here are the building blocks for learning processes, which deliver better, more lasting results than classic instructor-led training.
One of the constant trends in the training world is a consistent desire of training professionals to prove training's worth to the organization. Measurable performance improvement as a result of a learning initiative is the desired, aspired, and often unachievable goal. In search for a better concept, staff at SCD Israel reviewed 43 academic and practitioner articles worldwide from the past decade and concluded that a shift in paradigms and principles is necessary when designing an effective learning initiative. They found that trainings worth is greatly enhanced once classic concepts and methods are replaced by learning processes (LPs).
There are three essential phases of the learning process.
Assessing needs. Probably the most important and overlooked step in the learning process is a needs assessment. Expressed needs usually include lack of knowledge and skill or lack of a solution itself. The picture is seldom that simple. The participants' and managers' perceptions, the circumstances, the technology, and other factors play a part as well.
Research tells us to broaden our view. The manager's input is not enough. Instead, a thorough investigation of a need must be conducted before deciding on the solution. Participants must take an active role in the design and preparation of a given solution because it will enhance their motivation to participate and implement the learned skills. Managers and the organizational environment also must be involved in the process. Performance improvement is mostly at the hands of these significant others. With no opportunities and pressure to implement acquired knowledge and skills, performance improvement remains a dream.
Choosing and implementing the solutions. The reviewed articles and field experience reveal that managers tend to use training (mostly instructor led) as a common solution to many organizational needs. This paradigm is wrong, and without our professional insistence to challenge it, it creates the perfect illusion and sense that the problem has been solved when it really hasnt.
In contrast, the literature does show interesting cases of combining training with organizational development to achieve better results. If the need is not simple, the solution cannot be. Training can be a part of a process, but not the process itself. Managers must be supplied with a creative variety of multidisciplinary solutions combined together for a desired result.
Evaluating effectiveness. The general positive correlation between investments in training and organizational success is well measured but not causative; thus it is not enough. Trying to measure effectiveness with known models is usually unsuccessful, as documented in a great body of worldwide research. Training professionals mostly stick to smile sheets that are evidence oriented and keep dreaming of return-on-investment quantitative calculations. For effective learning, begin designing measurements while planning the solutions. Then be prepared to plunge into the data per given solution and accumulate the proof rather than the evidence.
Implementing learning as a process
As a result of SCD Israel's review, training staff designed a method of work that would include and help them operate the important lessons learned. We chose to emphasize learning over instructor-led training and to be more process oriented, thus the term learning process. An LP is defined as a cohesive group of solutions to a need identified collaboratively by the participants and managers in which at least in one of the solutions given, implementation and benefits to the organization are measured. Heres how this concept is implemented in the field.
At the organizational level, the LP concept first was explained to managers and then shared with staff in every forum, including top management. It also is explained to every newly recruited manager. Additionally, classic instructor-led training and LPs were separated in the annual plan and measured individually.
Assessing needs and planning. Instead of talking only to the manager, the first step is to perform a thorough investigation of the need. In cases of certifications, safety, software upgrades, and so on, staff usually conduct instructor-led training. In other cases, training staff changed the question from when or how to why, so we can better understand the situation and decide on our relevance in the solution and the possible routes to take and avoid. In some cases, a process is stopped due to substantially different perceptions of managers and participants, a gap that will greatly jeopardize the process.
The next step is to determine the day after definition, which is the desired change in behavior, performance, and results. We also develop the ways of measuring the change. This step is the hardest because it challenges the managers habits, perceptions, and opinions on training and the role of learning professionals. Learning staff engage in several dialogs if necessary, but if we cant agree on these issues with the manager, we cannot move on.
Choosing the solutions. Here we decide on the solutions, and their order, their link to each other, and the manager's role and involvement in the process. This is where the training staff have a chance to prove their professional worth in building a process with a variety of solutions from different fields.
Implementing and evaluating. If all is agreed upon with our customers, the next step is operating the LP, controlling it, and achieving its goals. It is during this phase that we collect the proofs, perform one-on-ones with the manager, and administratively support the LP.
To further explain the LP approach, it is best to go over actual cases and check the extent to which they fulfill the definition of an LP. These cases are not necessarily the most successful, but are varied from relatively easy subjects for an LP to more difficult ones.
Office Super Users LP
Most Microsoft Office users are familiar with only a small part of the softwares abilities and need more knowledge and skill. Training staff used to conduct basic annual instructor-led training and some advanced sessions showing tips and tricks.
Needs assessment. Focus groups revealed that basic users need much personal attention and on-the-job training to acquire skills and confidence. When confronted with a problem, advanced users usually turn to the informal expert at the end of the hall.
A cohesive group of solutions. First, we established a formal group called Office Super Users (OSUs) comprised of the companys Microsoft Office experts and supporters (mostly pulled from the group of informal experts, with their managers consent). We gave them an experts course and listed their names so Microsoft Office users knew who they could contact for assistance.
Next, instructor-led training for basic users was moved in-house and provided to smaller groups. After that, the solutions offered by the OSUs were entered into our wiki, and then "tips and tricks" training was designed using knowledge from the wiki. Now we train the OSUs on how to edit the wiki, so they can continue their contributions.
Implementation and evaluation. About 200 questions have been answered by the OSUs, and in-house training is conducted annually and with high feedback. In some cases, users saved time as a result of a solution, to the tune of $10,000 in working hours.
Any problems? We need to better deal with Microsoft Office upgrades and their influence on current written items. Also, keeping the OSUs engaged isnt easy; some left the group, leaving us with a new training task for new OSUs.
Root cause analysis (RCA) methodology implementation
In a complex factory, the inability to quickly find the root cause of a manufacturing problem and fix it has direct financial costs. The integration manager wanted to improve the analysis process in speed and quality.
Needs assessment. A consultant was hired to diagnose existing methods and propose changes, and the integration team offered feedback. The entire process was managed by the integration manager (the owner of the LP).
A cohesive group of solutions. First we conducted several sessions on the proposed method to various groups to request their feedback. The new method then was adjusted and report formats were prepared for use by the integration group. Next, integrators received RCA training in a one-on-one meeting with the consultant for implementation. After a few successful attempts, integration and engineering managers made it compulsory to work only with these tools and formats. We then organized a system of folders on the server for documentation. Finally, the use of an external failure analysis laboratory became available because of the methods focus and technique.
Implementation and evaluation. Methodology implementation requires patience. Still, today every RCA team works only with this method. One of the benefits of this process is that, for the first time, failure analysis proved to be a valuable tool, and top management finally agreed to recruit a failure analysis engineer.
We have several teams with success stories of finding quick and long-term solutions to manufacturing problems.We interviewed managers and found they need fewer update meetings, and have more control over the process due to the new report formats. For the first time, the organization has a knowledge base on RCA processes.
Any problems? We failed to find a comparison case of RCA before and after the LP. We still try to implement the postmortem mechanism; the wiki may be the answer. The operations division is fully implemented, but the research and development is still in the works.
First managerial role
We took the risk trying to change the classic managerial courses to an LP. Despite the difficulty in measuring implementation and benefits in this type of learning, this journey proved to be surprising. The basic need expressed by managers and the vice president of HR was the lack of systematic and consistent managerial training in the organization.
Needs assessment. We conducted benchmarking and interviews with current managers and HR personnel to gather the important subjects the LP should cover. The first LP cycle was defined as a pilot to further study the need.
A cohesive group of solutions. We set the criteria for entering the LP with senior managers, conducted a six-day course combining one-on-one consulting meetings between course days, and gave participants tasks to perform and present during the course. Then participants chose a managerial project in collaboration with their managers, which were built on the content discussed in the course, and were consulted by training staff.
Implementation and evaluation. The implementation rate of projects is 65 percent so far. The projects encouraged participants to implement what they've learned. For example, weve had two distinct successful employee retention projects; five cases of task management change in method and technology with reported better organization and control; and three cases where role enrichment programs were built and implemented. The teams gathered action items for improving existing methods and initiated the change.
Any problems? This LP is the hardest to maintain and measure. In too many cases, participants and their managers lacked motivation for the project. We still have to figure out how to change the structure and setting to further integrate implementation with the learning phase.
Change is in the air
Passing near a coffee machine recently, I overheard two managers talking. One said, "Well ask the training department to organize a training session and solve the problem." The other answered: "If you knew how they work, you'd know that the last thing they do is organize instructor-led training; they have another method." It took three years to hear such a sentence but it was worth it.
After attempting the LP concept for three years, our customers tell us that using LPs positions us in a higher professional level. As a department, that benefits the organization more than before. Managers also appreciated the fact that infrastructures created by a successful LP stick and do not dissolve.
As for the training staff's experience, LPs involve participants and managers more and deliver better, more lasting results than classic instructor-led training. It clearly enhances training's worth to the organization. On the other hand, it requires a great deal of attention and creativity, patience, and long-term thinking, and greatly changes our role in the organization.
It is not easy but it is certainly worth it. In the first year, LPs were 5 percent of the annual plan; today they make up 25 percent of it. Instructor-led training will not disappear entirely, but hopefully will be used only when appropriate.