Part One - The Four Cardinal Sins of Learning and Development
Getting more from assets often depends on getting more from people. Leaders must make sure their people have the knowledge, skills, behaviours, and resources they need to achieve the outcomes they’re looking for. But for many businesses, learning and development programs often seem to fail to deliver the value they promise.
Most of us have probably experienced one or more of the following:
Individuals go on a (costly) training course, but their performance doesn’t change or improve when they get back to work
Individuals spend a lot of time doing training that has nothing to do with their role, or simply isn’t going to help improve their performance
Training doesn’t solve the problem that we hope it will - such as poor project management performance - even if we send a whole team (at great expense and disruption to a business).
Many of Bluefield’s projects involve learning and development, whether it’s a stand-alone program, or part of a larger improvement project such as a Bluefield Transformation. We’ve spent some time reflecting on our experience with learning and development, and identified some common reasons why learning and development programs don’t deliver the value we expect.
In our view, there are four major ways to waste money on learning and development problems:
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)
Reason 1: Lacking Clarity on the Desired Organisational Outcomes
One of the most common reasons L&D programs fail is that businesses aren’t clear on the problem they want to solve. L&D should help a business close the gap between their current and desired performance by increasing the capabilities of its team members. If this gap isn’t understood, a business can waste precious resources on solving the wrong problem, or at best solving it in a piecemeal fashion.
As an example, we’re often asked to help clients improve their defect elimination, in particular Root Cause Analysis (RCA). When we explore the problem with them, we often uncover that their reliability engineers have already been trained in RCA’s (sometimes on multiple occasions), and are perfectly competent in this area. Often, what clients really want is to improve availability by reducing breakdowns, which has little to do with RCA’s, and much more to do with improving maintenance strategies and work execution quality.
Reason 2: Focussing on Individuals Rather than Teams or Processes
It’s important to think about the process or task that drives the outcomes we want, instead of just the individuals. Consider the above example about defect elimination. Let’s say we do train the reliability engineers and their skills improve. How does a reliability engineer bring about the improvement on their own? If reducing breakdowns needs improvement in maintenance execution quality, then we really need to focus on the execution team.
Businesses must also think about the entirety of a process, and not focus on a narrow aspect, else they risk missing the true problem. As an example, we regularly work with clients to help them improve their shutdown processes with the common problem of schedule overruns. Often, this is put down to poor shutdown planning, and the thinking is that training the shutdown planners will fix the problem.
However, in many cases, shutdowns overrun because of last-minute scope inclusions. During the shutdown execution, new defects are identified that won’t make it to the next shutdown, leaving the shutdown planner with no option but to squeeze jobs in without proper planning. The real cause is the asset health and condition knowledge leading up to the shutdown, thus training the shutdown planners will simply cost money without fixing the problem.
Reason 3: Confusing Knowledge with Capability
We’ve all had the experience of going on a training course, then starting to forget things almost as soon as we walk out the door. The reason training courses rarely work as a stand-alone form of learning is that they only create knowledge, not capability, which is the ability to do something.
Capability has many different components, such as skill, attitude, behaviour, and even the resources we have at our disposal. Knowledge on its own isn’t enough.
Not understanding this distinction is another reason why L&D programs can fail. In our experience, it’s a particularly common issue with maintenance planners. They complete a planning course, and then we expect them to come back to work and start producing the weekly maintenance schedule without any further support or coaching. It’s not realistic.
The other side to capability is how it’s measured. The risk here is investing too much (or too little) into your L&D compared to what’s really needed. Many training matrices are presented in terms of whether a course is optional or mandatory, but this doesn’t speak to skill. It’s important to know what level of capability and performance you need your workforce to reach. Do you need a team of all-stars with world class capabilities? Or do you simply need most of your team to be able do their job effectively in everyday circumstances, with a handful of specialists for the complex situations?
Reason 4: Over-Reliance on Training to Close Capability Gaps
Training is an important component of L&D, but the point to emphasise is that it’s not sufficient on its own. As a rule, only around 10% of learning should come from a formal classroom setting. The rest needs to come through practical, on-the-job experience, supported by coaching and other forms of discussion.
L&D is most effective when it’s tied into the performance review process. A formal review with a manager once or twice per year is a great way to establish the current state of an individual’s capabilities, then develop a personal development plan to close the gaps, which should use a mix of learning types. If an individual and their leader are disciplined about completing the plan, and including a progress review in their next formal catch-up, the value of the program increases exponentially.
Bluefield’s Approach to Learning and Development
Based on our own learning over time, Bluefield have developed a five-step approach (below) to help clients design and deliver L&D programs that deliver value without wasting precious resources solving problems that don’t need solving.
The process is flexible, allowing it to be used for any sized scope from a single course to a long-term professional development program. We generally start by identifying the capabilities that a business needs to improve, and how they will translate to business value. Armed with this understanding, we can design the best possible solution to close these capability gaps. If a pre-existing course or program is suitable to close these gaps, it’s available for delivery (or customisation) straight away. If not, we can build a bespoke solution that delivers exactly what they need.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll share more of our own learnings on how to improve your L&D program to ensure it’s delivering the value you need.
In part two of this series, we’ll explore the learning needs analysis process, and how it helps a business clarify what they’re looking to achieve, and how this will translate to value.
Click here to learn about our Effective Maintenance Supervision program, delivered through the Bluefield Academy.