Level 4, forever out of reach

Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them," e.g. if you think only in training terms, you'll never attain Level 4.

Other Einstein thoughts relevant to Training ROI:

  • Imagination is more important than knowledge.
  • A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.
  • Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.
  • People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.
  • Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
  • The road to perdition has ever been accompanied by lip service to an ideal.
  • There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge but can never prove how it got there.

Which brings me to a posting on ROInet by one Phil Rutherford, who wrote me, "Please feel free to re-post my mental wanderings. A lot of my current thinking is actually coming out of my PhD research coupled with nearly a decade of experience trying to get management more interested in the domain that trainers for so long have claimed for their own, but which is clearly belonging to managers. "

Take it away, Phil.

From: "Phil Rutherford" Date: Fri Aug 1, 2003 Subject: Re: [ROInet]

...I for one share your frustrations and hope I'm not being too bold in offering what I've found to be one solution.

You talk about the problem of transference between training and on-the-job performance, and this is something that I grappled with for many years until I realized that by training alone I didn't have a hope in Hades of influencing what they would do when they got back to work. The truth is that training was actually only a very minor part of my wider responsibility when it comes to bringing about change in the workplace, and done wrongly it actually worked against change. But more on that shortly.

In my opinion the heart of the problem with transferability centers on the fact that much of the training is not based on what the people need to be able to do on the job. In simple terms, what I have found is that trainers generally spend a great deal of time concentrating on what they are going to provide, and use this as the basis upon which their effectiveness is measured, and overlook what the customer wants to buy and what they will, at the end of the day, actually measure the trainer's effectiveness by.

For example, in a stationery store I might sell someone a pen but what the client is actually buying is a means for communicating. I can wax lyrical all day about the beauty of the pen but if all they need to buy is something to scribble their lotto numbers out with then I'm wasting my time. When it comes to measuring how effective I am at my job, or how well I'm meeting the client's needs, if I'm trying to justify my position by the beauty of my pens when in fact I'm being measured, by others, for how well I'm providing them with the means to communicate then we are never going to have an agreement on how well I'm doing. In fact, if the store is more akin to a supermarket then a specialty store, and customers can walk around picking out what they want and taking it to the cash register (exactly the way some training centers are run) then some are actually going to question whether or not I'm needed at all if all I can use to measure my effectiveness is the beauty of my pens.

In this day and age most people already know how to write and can do so using anything from a gold-plated Parker pen to a stick dipped in ground-up clay. So, rather than concentrating on trying to get people to write using our preferred writing tool we should move a bit further along the continuum and find out what they need to write and what they would need to do if what they wrote was wrong. Here we are moving into the world of what they intend to do with the skills/tools rather than the skills/tools themselves. Anyone can provide the skills/tools (sorry folks - the world is full of trainers/stationery store attendants), but not everyone can work at the next step in the continuum and help people apply them.

By way of example, I would venture to suggest that one of the main problems you had with your particular leadership program in SA (and it is fairly clear which one you're talking about) is that it is almost entirely theory based and trainer driven (ie, pedagogical). This fact that has been more than done to death on other lists so there's not much to be gained in denying this. Sure, it has been around for a while and has some very special videos, wallcharts and handouts, and is in fact a trainer's dream when it comes to running a nice little training program, but very little of it is based on what actually occurs in the workplace What you needed was a more practical and reality based model such as John Adair's Functional Approach which has been shown to work simply because it doesn't rely on theory. More importantly, such an approach actually relates to what happens in the workplace when people apply their leadership skills.

I'm not talking simply about coaching and mentoring here. I am, in fact, still wearing my trainer's hat. What I'm talking about is not teaching people what we want them to learn (usually 'cos it is easy for us) but teaching them how to learn for themselves what it is that they need to know, the issues they will face when learning what it is that they need to know, and how to overcome them. By teaching them to be more independent and effective on the job we are actually working alongside them at a point when our effectiveness is much clearer.

What helped for me was to separate training and learning. Training and learning in the training room happened when I told/showed people what to do and they learned to do it (the way I told/showed it). While I could successfully run a barrage of tests that proved they knew how to do 'it' in the training room, the real problem was they still needed to learn how to do 'it' back in the workplace. And so often I (and, I dare say, we) left them alone to figure this out for themselves.

Your mention of Skinner and the relationship between training and behaviorism reminded me of the research I've been conducting over the past ten years. I'm in my final year of a PhD and would like to share a couple of paragraphs from my thesis that demonstrate where my thinking now is:

"Most commentators (such as Somerville 2000:35, Smith 1998:143-147, Bowden & Masters 1993:20, Bowden undated:3, Merriam & Caffarella 1991:128, Bass & Ryterband 1979:46, Galloway 1976:80) agree that competency-based training is drawn predominantly from the behaviorist field and, when used to support off-the-job training and individual development it leans very heavily towards the behaviorist traditions. Such traditions include the classical or stimulus-response theories of Watson and Pavlov and the concept of instrumental or operant conditioning of Thorndike and Skinner.

On the other hand, there is considerable evidence (see for example Brantley 2000 and Brown 1998) that the application of competency-based training on-the-job and in the pursuit of work-related objectives is more closely aligned to the cognitive and developmental perspectives of Piaget and Dewey, the cultural and interactional aspects of Vigotsky and Bruner, and the mental models and schema of modern management systems theorists such as Senge and de Geus.

Other theories, according to Stacey (2001:41), go even further and suggest that such an approach centers on a constructivist teleology (i.e., knowledge as a cause of learning rather than as a result) in which knowledge and meaning are constructed and continually grow from the social interactions that take place at work. This, according to the theorists, is how learning occurs on the job and organizations grow as a result of it."

When we link pedagogical behaviorism to training we're generally talking about training that is aimed at achieving learning or training objectives (and usually off-the-job) and not organizational objectives. This is the training/learning that we (the trainers) drive. On the other hand, when we look at achieving organizational objectives (and this has got to include having people apply new skills and knowledge in order to develop and grow with the job) then we have got to think about workplace andragogy, in other words learning that is driven by the trainees - in the workplace and in line with their workplace needs.

I would suggest that much of your frustration comes from concentrating too much on the behaviorist approach to training rather than the constructivist approach to learning. After all, ROI is not so much about how well you have trained but about how well people have learned and, more importantly, do on the job.

Finally, we say that people don't apply any newfound skills and knowledge on their return to work because their attitude is wrong or because of a whole host of other reasons, and it is because of these reasons that we can't prove how effective we've been. I agree with your sentiments on accountability, but to me your example was a little like telling a parent telling a child that "We've spent $1000 on your teeth and here you are eating candy!" What I say is that we have been providing a service for people that they don't always need because we are concentrating on how to make our lives easier and not theirs. The problem is, they are the one's who measure our effectiveness so if we're not meeting their needs then it will be that much harder for them to accept that we can have any impact on them at all. (Yes, I agree with your suggestion that staff can provide evidence of the manager's competence. We just need to get right the criteria by which such competence is measured.)

Just a few thoughts.


Phil Rutherford

Posted by Jay Cross at August 18, 2003 11:49 PM | TrackBack

Jay, I think Einstein's quote about chopping wood is one of the reasons people love blogging so much...you can almost hear the satisfying crack when you hit the "Rebuild all Files" button in Movable Type,

Posted by: Sandeep Sood at August 19, 2003 02:24 PM

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