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What if training isn't the answer?
A few alternatives to L&D's default intervention.
As I’ve written about in a previous newsletter, many L&D projects are driven by direct requests from the business. And more often than not, what the business wants is something that looks like training.
By the time our team gets invited into that conversation, the project has usually been tied to the training track, with a 3-hour e-learning course bearing down upon it.
Instead of jumping on board and throwing more fuel in the furnace, our first step is usually to try to slow things down. We do this by asking what we like to call ‘usefully ignorant’ questions: questions that get to the heart of the problem we’re trying to solve.
Once the problem has been clearly defined, and we’ve determined what success would look like, it’s tempting to continue full-steam ahead, and start designing some kind of training.
At this point, I like to ask one more question: ‘If training wasn’t an option, what could we do to solve this problem?’
I think this is a useful question to ask because, while training is the most appropriate solution in certain cases, it isn’t always the right tool for the task at hand — it’s more like a hammer than a Swiss Army knife.
Julie Dirksen’s Design for how People Learn is foundational to our practice on the Learning Experience team at Mind Tools, and one of my favorite ideas from the book is the concept of ‘gaps’: The things separating learners from where they are now and where we want them to be in the future.
What I like about this idea is that it recognizes the various factors that can affect performance, including knowledge, skill, motivation, habit, environment, and communication.
For me, training is best suited to addressing skill gaps, where the behavior we’re trying to change is one that requires practice. If skill isn’t the gap that’s hampering performance, then training probably isn’t the ideal solution.
Below are some examples of non-training content we’ve developed for our clients, and how we’ve used this content to bridge different gaps.
I recently worked on a project for a client who was trying to standardize a critical process across their organization. After a few scoping calls with SMEs, I realized the process was incredibly complicated, with various dependencies and exceptions that applied in different circumstances.
Instead of training learners to master the process - which would have required sustained practice - we created a knowledge center, where they could access the support they need when they needed it. Rather than asking learners to practice the process itself, we focused on encouraging use of the knoweldge center, with a view to embedding this behavior over time.
Sometimes, people know what they have to do and they have the skills to do it, but they choose not to. This might be because they’re not incentivized to perform a particular task, or because they can’t see the consequences of failing to do so.
When motivation is the gap, forcing learners to sit through training on a topic they don’t care about probably isn’t going to solve the problem. If changing or creating incentives is off the table, then we’ll generally take a ‘hearts and minds’ approach. This might involve developing a short animation, filming videos with the people involved, or recording a podcast with a focus on engaging the audience’s emotions rather than conveying information.
In other cases, people might have the knowledge, skills and motivation to act; they just haven’t been told to do so. This is particularly relevant in situations where a task needs to be performed infrequently.
One way of addressing this is through timely ‘nudges’, delivered via email, Teams or Slack. In the process-standardization example above, one of the issues we identified was that learners were expected to perform certain follow-up activities, often months after the process had been completed. Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping they would remember, we designed a series of reminder emails, and timed these to be sent at key moments in the year.
Need help figuring out if training is right the solution for the problem you’re trying to solve? Then email firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this newsletter from your inbox.
🎧 On the podcast
In our globalized world, we work and learn with people from diverse cultures. So, how can we facilitate multicultural training in a way that is not only inclusive, but helps get the best out of everyone?
In this week’s episode of the podcast, Gemma and Nahdia are joined by Gaëlle Watson, director of SyncSkills, to discuss the benefits and challenges of multicultural representation in facilitated sessions, and how facilitators can adapt their approach to design and delivery.
Check out the episode below. 👇
📖 Deep dive
In keeping with the theme of this week’s newsletter, I want to recommend a book I talk about regularly on the podcast: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.
At the start of the book, Gawande draws a distinction between failure that results from ignorance (lack of knowledge) and failure that results from ineptitude (poor use of knowledge). He argues that, in the twenty-first century, the latter is much more common than the former. This thesis is advanced through examples from a range of disciplines, from surgery to aviation.
The solution? A humble checklist.
As Gawande demonstrates, failure in the modern world cannot be avoided through expertise alone. To perform complex tasks consistently and effectively, even the most experienced professionals need step-by-step guides (what we would call ‘performance support’ in L&D) to succeed on the job.
Gawande, A. (2009). The Checklist Manifesto.
👹 Missing links
Powered by ChatGPT, ReframeAI specializes in taking your negative ideas and putting a positive spin on them. It then recommends ‘tactical actions’ you can take to reframe the issue, or consider it in a different light. So, are you really tired of corporate training? Or do you just need to approach it with a more positive mindset?
Visit any UK charity shop, and you’re likely to stumble across at least one copy of The Da Vinci Code. Certain shops have so many that they have started actively discouraging donations of the book. Artist David Shrigley noticed this, and set about collecting 6,000 copies of Dan Brown’s bestseller. After having them pulped, Shrigley repurposed them into a new edition of George Orwell’s 1984, which he believes is as resonant today as it was when it was first published.
As organizations scramble to set policies around AI in the workplace, many employees are using tools like ChatGPT on the sly. To me, one of the most interesting issues around this technology is how people speak about it at work, and how comfortable they feel disclosing the extent to which they use it to perform day-to-day tasks. Whether companies choose to ban AI outright, or put guardrails around how and when it should be used, it’s clear that the genie is out of the bottle.
👋 And finally…
To wrap up this week’s newsletter, here’s a heartwarming story my wife shared with me on Instagram.
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