The future of training is not training

Managing Director
People Alchemy Ltd
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It's not about training, it's about capability management, says Paul Matthews.

It’s that time of year when people think about what the future will bring. They wonder if what they are doing is going to have to change. They wonder if what they are doing is going to remain relevant in this new and rapidly changing world. Wouldn't it be nice if the world would just stop for long enough so we can get clarity on what is happening?

I am sure you know what a snow globe is. You may even have one. Shake a snow globe and the swirling snow inside the glass ball prevents you from seeing what is really there. Sometimes work, or indeed life, is like a continually shaken snow globe. It is hard to see what is really there behind the swirling snow of every day to do lists and incoming emails. It is only when you put the snow globe down long enough for the snow to settle that you can see.

So, just for a moment put your snow globe down and let it settle so you can focus on the real picture, and what is important about what you are doing as a trainer.

What I am about to say may seem a bit simplistic, or indeed even patronising. But what I have found in many conversations with many trainers in many organisations is that they simply are not thinking about this on a day-to-day basis, and that’s a mistake. Chances are this will not apply to you, because you are reading this article and therefore interested in new ideas on training and learning. So consider this a gentle reminder of what training is really about, and to remind you to remind your colleagues who aren't yet consistently thinking this way.

"Many people in training seldom stop to think why they are doing the training. The logistics and hassles of keeping the training department running are sufficient to fill up their days and obscure the real purpose."

So many people in training are focused on the training itself. The working day is about delivering training and when the training is done, their job is done. They focus on getting the people in the room, delivering as much content as they can while the people are in the room, and getting good scores on the happy sheets they hand out at the end of the training. Their reports to management are about the number of training hours delivered and how highly people rated the training on the day. Many people in training seldom stop to think why they are doing the training. The logistics and hassles of keeping the training department running are sufficient to fill up their days and, like the snow, obscure the real purpose.

Some years ago many training departments changed their name to learning and development, and the goal of learning as an output from training became the focus. And learning is good. It is a better outcome for training then a good score on a happy sheet, although it is harder to measure. And then people take the next step and talk about transferring that learning into the workplace. This is a phrase commonly used, but not so commonly thought through. However, the future of training is not just about learning, and creating employees who know a lot. We need to take the thinking further, so let's continue. If the outcome is to a shift that learning from the classroom into the workplace, what are we expecting to get as a result? Most people will answer along the lines that the employee will be able to do their job better. The key word in this response is ‘do’, because the outcome is really that the employee does things differently so that they get better results.

When someone can do a job well we have a word for that: ‘capability’. If you ask a senior executive which they would prefer; an employee who knows lots of things from attending lots of training courses, or an employee who is capable of doing their job, the answer will be capability, every time.

Now that your snow globe has fully settled it becomes obvious that the real outcome is creating capability. So just for a moment take off your hat that says Training Manager or Learning and Development Manager, and put on a hat that says Capability Manager. How does that feel? If you are responsible for managing the capability of the employees in your organisation, how would that change the way you think about what you do? And I don’t just mean capable as they leave the classroom. I mean capable at the time and at the place they are doing their job. Capable at the point of work.

Organisational success is dependent on capability, and you have just been promoted to Capability Manager for 2013 and beyond.

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and an expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, as well as management development and employee performance support. He is also the author of "Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times" (due to be published end of January 2013).  Paul blogs at 


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