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Do We REALLY Train?

Moira Katz takes a look at why management continuously complains that personal growth in their managers is abysmally slow.

Last week I made the rounds of the bookstores, looking at management development books. Rows upon rows of them. Fat, thin; soft cover, hard cover; with or without illustrations; stand alone, one of a series; self study, classroom oriented; the multi-media offerings, video, tape, vcr discs, the variety is endless. I also spoke to management facilitators, trainers and consultants. The courses they offer are just as numerous: half day, one day, five day, two weeks; off the shelf, direct contact; self study; imported, local; custom designed ...

With all this information available, why does management continuously complain that personal growth in their managers is abysmally slow. In spite of training, they grumble, all areas still need improvement: productivity, morale, motivation, communication, workplace relationships ...

The solution must lie somewhere. But when you ask, every problem solver gives you a different answer: it’s the culture, it’s the mangers themselves, it’s the organisation that doesn’t support training, it’s the people who don’t want to change ...  There must be some truth in these answers, but I would like to add my penny’s worth.

It isn’t the knowledge that’s lacking. It’s the inability to turn knowledge into skills that transfer successfully from the classroom to the workplace.

In fact, it’s the lack of practice. In the world of work, its not what you know, its what you can do. Knowledge alone isn’t power. Being able to use that knowledge is power. Competence is power.

And competence comes with practice.

Sit down with a potential diver and explain to her how to perform a particular dive. She confirms she understands. Then ask her to go up to the one metre board and dive. It is most unlikely that her first dive will be better than a belly flop. Telling doesn’t work. Knowing about a skill is not the same as being skilful. So how does a diver learn? A diver practices time after time, again and again and again. And slowly she improves. First she learns to keep her head down, then to keep her legs together, then to point her toes ...  Her coach watches and mentors and trains and directs and drills and guides ...  Until one day, it all falls into place and the result looks effortless.

Or take the example of a sports team. Does the coach spend the day talking to the team, give them one short practice session and then send them out against the best? He wouldn’t be worthy of the name of coach if he did! Instead he works with the team and they spend most of the time practising various passes, doing back up exercises, working alone, in pairs, in threes, as a team, progressing from skill to skill.

But what happens to our manager? If he’s lucky he’ll try it out once, in the classroom, under ideal circumstances. Intellectually, he has been fed the right information, but in practice it’s awkward, and as he says, “I know what I’m supposed to be doing, but it just doesn’t feel quite right”—and of course it doesn’t. He hasn’t got the hang of it yet. He needs to practice it several dozen more times. (They say that a tennis player has to practice a single stroke at least 27 times in order to “groove” it in the mind and before trying it out in several different situations).

In the training room, a small percentage will catch on immediately. But this is the exception rather than the rule. The rest of the participants follow carefully and several struggle. At the end of the course they write up their action plans very conscientiously, inserting the new behaviours and “achieve by” dates.

But what happens when they return to the workplace? The effort to change is just too much. The training only covered the skill, not how to integrate the skill into everyday working habits, not how the skill would impact on other aspects of work or other people, or how to deal with these problems.

The heart of the matter is the training. Talking in the classroom willl not help participants to acquire skills. Talking should take up 10% of the time and training the other 90%. If talking is to be so limited, the talking and training must be directed at what participants really need to know to do their jobs better. An ideal place to start might be with the employees themselves. But that’s another article.

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