Performance Improvement should not be training in isolation

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Mike Collins continues his series on evaluation and the New World Kirkpatrick Model.

Following my first article on what’s changed in evaluation, this is the second in the trilogy exploring the world of evaluation, and in particular the New World Kirkpatrick Model, exploring how it is providing new ways for L&D professionals to approach their work.

Building bridges with the business

One of the key principles of the New World Kirkpatrick Model is how to build a bridge between L&D and the businesses in which we operate – to make L&D a true performance improvement partner. 'Training' in many organisations all too often feels like it is ‘done to’ the business rather than ‘done with’ the business, with little or no support or follow up after the event. This may account for why many training interventions are ineffective, and don’t deliver the intended performance improvements.

Abdicating responsibility

In my experience, there isn’t nearly enough of a deep understanding by those involved in the delivery of the training as to what the performance improvements should be, or the strategy and commitment to how these improvements will be measured and demonstrated in a credible way. In my own L&D career I have experienced a 'them and us' mentality first hand – ‘them’ being operational areas such as sales, customer service, central functions, marketing, legal, finance, or the head office, and 'us' being learning and development.

Traditionally, L&D departments are seen as the custodians of learning and are accountable for the delivery of training across the whole organisation – with the operational business abdicating all responsibility. This abdication has provided a get-out clause for the business. This unwritten clause has, for such a long time, provided a barrier to effective workplace learning; so powerful that it enables organisations to keep L&D at arm’s length, creating colourful flipcharts and irrelevant power points in their ivory towers.

This get out clause is simple:

  • 'I wasn’t shown this in training'

  • 'I wasn’t told this in training'

  • 'We didn’t cover this in training'

Job done. These excuses completely absolve any responsibility and accountability for an individual taking action and doing something different; the blame lying solely at the door of the L&D department when something doesn’t happen or change as expected. Now there might be occasions when there is a case to answer, such as different trainers providing inconsistent messages, or the content / job aids provided that were not as in-depth as required. It could be a number of things linked to a lack of or a rushed learning needs analysis, and misunderstanding of what was required.

It could also be a lack of support following whatever learning intervention is delivered, leading to the knowledge, skills and required behaviour change failing to materialise and translate into the desired performance improvements. It may even be that the way in which the training with transfer into performance hasn’t even been discussed.

We need an end to the 'them and us' mentality

In the first article I described the need for L&D to sit at the heart of the business, and not become surplus to requirements and bypassed by the teams that we are supposedly there to support. This ‘them and us’ mentality is widespread across many organisations where learning is not seen as an important endeavour linked to performance improvements. Where training can be seen as an escape from work rather than something that is part of the workflow. If this isn’t the case for your organisation, then I can imagine you lambasting this article and going to read something else. However, if this rings even the slightest bit true for you, then read on to discover what needs to change in organisations, and in the mindset towards learning in general.

Has nothing changed in the last eight years?

Eight years ago, a survey at the World of Learning Conference (completed by 287 learning professionals) indicated that the top three barriers to knowledge retention are:

  • Lack of line manager buy-in (40% of respondents)
  • Lack of follow-up exercises (37%)
  • Lack of coaching and/or mentoring (25%)

What does lack of manager buy-in actually mean? Lack of awareness? Lack of support? Lack of commitment? Lack of time? The training isn’t linked to improving performance therefore isn’t important? I would argue that if the same survey were completed today, the results would likely be the same. The same issues that were cited in 2006 are still issues in many organisations today. Training in isolation doesn’t work – we know this – so why does it still happen?

The latest Towards Maturity research

The 2014 Towards Maturity benchmark report, released on the 6 November, also provides some valuable insights in to where L&D needs to be in terms of transforming training:

  • Only 32% of L&D professionals work with business leaders to identify what KPIs need to change

  • Involving stakeholders, practice and reflection are key to learning transfer

  • 79% of staff learn through manager support, yet only 33% of L&D leaders know how their staff learn at work

Clearly there is some work to do to enable this training transformation.

The key ingredient to make this happen is to align all L&D activity to tangible business needs. However, this alone is not enough. Workplace learning and improving performance is everyone’s responsibility. Furthermore, this new world collaboration needs to be deeper, and done in true partnership with our stakeholders.

So how can this happen more effectively?

L&D professionals at every level need to be seen as credible, authentic and understand the business in which they work. With the new CIPD Learning & Development qualifications being launched in Spring 2015 by DPG plc, there has never been a better time to get a formal credential to demonstrate your credibility and professionalism in our industry.

Every L&D professional should be able to answer this question

'How does my work translate into business improvement, and how does it support business objectives?'

If you can’t answer these questions, you should stop what you’re doing immediately, as it’s a waste of time, effort and valuable resources.

There also must be a recognition and acceptance that L&D alone cannot be solely responsible for performance changes which translate into results. L&D should be seen as catalysts or enablers of change and performance improvement; seen as specialists to help organisations work and learn more effectively. However, if we work in isolation, nothing will changeIn the 21st century, collaboration is the new currency, and this should see L&D sitting at the heart of the business working collaboratively with individuals at every level who take accountability and responsibility for their and their teams’ performance.

So what has this got to do with evaluation?

Everything. Evaluation sits at the heart of what L&D does and how we do it. It should shape every conversation and every meeting where learning and performance is being discussed. The New World Kirkpatrick Model provides the framework to move evaluation from an afterthought to part of an organisation’s DNA.

It’s a cultural shift from a training mentality to a performance improvement mentality. Training in isolation will not work. Yes, this is a hard shift to make, as it challenges how training is seen in many organisations.

It’s easy writing that L&D need to be catalysts for change, but this starts with our own approach and positioning in our organisations. By using the New World Kirkpatrick Model as an integrated process for L&D activity, this shift can and will happen. Developing relationships that are as much a partnership as anything else, at every level within our businesses, that focus on the right KPIs and performance outcomes (not happy sheets and knowledge checks) is key. It’s time to ditch the ‘them and us’ mentality for ever – training in isolation doesn’t work.

Are you ready and willing to enter 'The New World' of L&D?

Mike Collins is head of learning solutions at DPG

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