Part Five - Why There are Cheaper and Better Options than Training
In Part Four of this series, we talked about the importance of distinguishing knowledge from capability, and how to avoid focusing on the wrong type of learning and development. So, in this final article, we’ll look at the different forms of learning and development, many of which are cheaper and more effective than training.
Training isn’t Enough
We’ve all been through enough training courses to know that this isn’t a controversial statement. There are numerous studies that show how quickly we start forgetting what we’ve learned if we don’t make use of it.
The reason, of course, is that training is designed to build knowledge, not the other elements of capability that we discussed in the previous article (skill, attitude, behaviour etc). Knowledge is still important, so we’re not arguing that training is unnecessary. However, the real challenge is turning knowledge into capability. What other forms of learning must be considered?
The 70:20:10 Model of Learning
The 70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development (below), which has been around for 25 years now, suggests that combining different methods of learning is the most effective way to build capability.
It’s not meant to imply that we absolutely follow a precise 70%-20%-10% ratio, simply that we need to consider how to mix these different approaches rather than just relying on conventional classroom training. At Bluefield, we base our own learning and development on this model.
The authors behind the original work expressed their thoughts in this way:
“Development generally begins with a realization of current or future need and the motivation to do something about it. This might come from feedback, a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, failing or not being up to a task – in other words, from experience. The odds are that development will be about 70% from on-the-job experiences - working on tasks and problems; about 20% from feedback and working around good and bad examples of the need; and 10% from courses and reading.”
Source: Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.).
In essence, conventional learning from training and books is how we build knowledge. Individual study is included in this part of the model, too, especially with the recent explosion in online learning material. However, this only makes up a small fraction – 10% or so – of the learning program.
Most of our learning comes from experience – so-called learning by doing – as we build our competency on-the-job. This might involve being placed into a new or temporary role; however, it can also mean being given more complex projects or problem-solving and improvement assignments within a person’s current role.
At Bluefield, we’ve found that complex projects are the best way for our own people to build capability. The main reason is that it forces our team to move out of their comfort zone, which in many cases, forces them to improvise beyond what they already know, or even to invent new techniques and approaches.
The missing link in many cases is the middle 20% of the model – what we call socialisation or exposure. This is all about learning by sharing and receiving feedback about the good, bad, and ugly aspects of our work. Coaching and mentoring is essential to help us learn from our experience by identifying specific things we can improve.
Other examples of this type of learning include presenting seminars or participating in communities of practice. And it’s not just about receiving feedback either, sometimes teaching others about what we know can even help us reinforce our knowledge.
Learning & Development Requires Leadership Effort, Not Money
Reading through the 70:20:10 Model, there’s probably nothing in there you don’t already know. And beyond that, on-the-job learning and coaching costs virtually nothing, especially if it’s all done in-house. So why do we continue to rely on training as our main – sometimes only – approach to learning?
The most likely answer is that training courses allow us to outsource the development of our people to others, because it often feels like we lack the time, as leaders, to focus on it ourselves. It could also be that we’re not experts in every aspect of the part of the business that we lead, so we may not feel equipped to do it.
However, the most effective learning and development programs rely on the individual’s leader almost as much as the individual themselves.
As leaders, we need to show interest in our team’s development. We need to take time to coach them and provide feedback. We need to be willing to rotate individuals into different roles or hand them complex projects to tackle – and then accept that there may be a period of lower performance while they learn.
Again, nothing here is new, it’s probably in every leadership textbook ever written. But, as leaders, how do we dedicate the necessary effort to developing our people? And how do we do it in a way that doesn’t waste the effort, or the resources that we’re investing in our team?
Personal Development Plans – Bringing it all Together
We’ve found the most effective way to manage the learning and development of our people is the Personal Development Plan (PDP). There’s a wide variety of PDP templates, some more complex than others. However, we base our PDP’s on four questions:
Goal – What do I want to improve or achieve?
Current State – Where am I currently?
Desired Future State – What will it look like when I reach the goal?
Action Plan – What action will we take to get from the current state to the desired future state?
The goal can be narrow or broad, so long as it conforms to the principles of SMART (specific, measurable etc). It can be personal (eg achieve a promotion or role change), or performance-related (acquire a new competency, such as supervising a crew or managing a capital engineering project).
The number of goals should be limited – usually one or two is enough – because too many goals are difficult to achieve in a short period of time, and it’s better to narrow your focus.
The current and future states should be expressed in terms of knowledge, skills, behaviours, and outputs or measurable performance. Again, it needs to be measurable, or at least observable if it can’t be quantified. If your organisation has a capability matrix and rating scale, this is where it can really help add value in the conversation.
The action plan should consist of specific tasks to help the individual acquire the knowledge, skills, behaviour etc that they need. Importantly, it needs to cover all three parts of the 70:20:10 Model. If it’s all training and no on-the-job learning, then it’s unlikely to be successful.
Using PDP’s to Add Value
PDP’s can be used in different ways depending on the scenario. At Bluefield, we often include PDPs as an output of our training courses. As participants finish the course, we ask them to build a PDP that lists out how they will reinforce the knowledge they have gained by putting it into practice in their role, and also discussing their progress with a coach or leader.
These PDP’s are narrow, normally with only one goal and 3-4 actions, but they’re enough for an individual to make specific, measurable improvements in their performance.
The other area where PDP’s can add tremendous value is when they’re tied to the performance review process. Most businesses have formal performance reviews once or twice per year. During the reviews is the best time to build a PDP that can be implemented before the next scheduled performance review.
PDP’s can be misused. They’re not a “wish list” of training courses for your team – they must add value to the business as well as the individual. They can also be far too complex. Often, people cram so many actions that there is no way they can ever be done in the time available. PDP’s don’t need to be large or complex; even one or two specific goals with actions is enough. You can also set longer-term development goals that are broken up into smaller six-month pieces, so people get a sense of continually working towards a larger goal.
Many companies also get caught up with trying to put PDP’s into a HR system of some kind so that actions can be tracked. However, the value of a PDP is that it’s a form of agreement between an individual and their leader to work together to help the individual learn and improve. It shouldn’t need an IT system to make that happen.
Supporting your team by showing interest in their development, and backing your interest up by helping individuals complete their PDP actions, is what’s important here. In fact, it’s one of the most valuable things you can ever do for your people as a leader.
Key Take-Aways for Leaders
As we complete this series, it’s worth repeating the four ways that L&D programs can waste money:
Lacking clarity on the desired outcomes (ie trying to solve the wrong problem with L&D)
Focussing on individuals rather than teams or processes (trying to solve the problem with a L&D program in the wrong way, or through the wrong people)
Confusing knowledge with capability (not understanding the gaps you need to close, therefore pursuing the wrong type of L&D)
Over-reliance on training to close capability gaps (spending too much money on ineffective or unsustainable L&D programs)
For leaders, we recommend two key steps to prevent this waste from happening.
First, incorporate learning needs analysis into your business in the same way you would any other problem-solving or project management tool. You wouldn’t authorise a project to modify your assets without being confident it’s going to add value, so why should developing your people be any different?
Second, if you’re not already using Personal Development Plans, start using them as part of your performance review progress. Keep them small and simple, show interest in your team’s progress against the plan, and hold both them and yourself accountable for completing the actions. It’s as important a leadership task as a safety interaction or reviewing work execution quality.
With these two steps, you will go a long way to getting more from people, and therefore more from assets.
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