The Training Trap


There is a hidden trap people fall into at your organisation.   Few are aware of the trap. It is so ingrained, most are blind to its existence. We’re ignorant of the part we play in sustaining it, and unaware of the damage it causes. I call it ‘the training trap’ – the false belief that training is the best way to develop knowledge and skills at work.

This collective blind spot begins in the school room.  As children, we are pushed through standard curricula in a depersonalised way. Our experience is based more on age than individual capability, interests or needs.  Schools mould us into passivity when it comes to learning in an institutional setting. This is how the training trap is born. As the mother of a teenager, I see schools continue to be teacher-centric. Students cultivate a mindset of waiting for the teacher to decide what to learn, when to learn it and how to learn.

Most of us unknowingly bring this same passive attitude to our careers. All over Australia and the globe, especially in corporations and government departments, people are waiting to be taught. Are your people waiting to be taught instead of empowered to learn and discover? Are you stuck in the training trap?

Yes, training has a place. It’s appropriate for novice skills, safety and essential compliance requirements. I’m not arguing against all training. But I am arguing against its indiscriminate use and substitution for real learning.  Research shows 70% of all training is wastage – quickly forgotten after the training event. If that doesn’t alarm you, this might. Your attitude to training is obstructing your company’s capacity to become competitive, adaptable and agile.

Do your managers place orders for training courses to ‘fix’ a wide range of issues?  Do the Learning and Development (L&D) team meet the orders, delivering training events or online courses? If this is the sum of how your people learn, it’s inadequate. It holds back your company, failing to unleash learning as a true force in your organisation.

Consider the cost of people waiting to be developed. Consider the value of allowing them to take action and develop themselves. Imagine the impact on your whole organisation when everyone has this permission.

Some companies don’t have to imagine, they’ve already begun. Their Citibank #BeMore program was created to ‘build leadership and manager capability, drive ethical and cultural change and empower employee-led development.’ Two areas of focus were Continuous Learning and Individual Development Plans. Citibank’s L&D shifted away from their traditional training role to support staff to learn more independently using the Three E’s of Experience, Exposure and Education.

Learning is a force to be unleashed and harnessed in your organisation. It has infinite potential to support you and your staff, and your work with business partners. In my recent work with Qantas I saw the excitement build for this change amongst staff, leaders and business stakeholders, as they opened their eyes, saw beyond the training trap and realised what was possible. Westpac is supporting their staff to develop ‘skills for life’ – portable skills that will be meaningful in any job role or organisation.  Their flexible approach allows people to ‘access the learning they need, when they need it, to the level they need it.’   These are companies leading the way, building a culture where learning is a critical part of everyday work.  It’s a lever to generate performance, innovation, transformation and competitiveness.

Learning happens when people do something differently and get better at their work.  Minds open, creativity flourishes, motivation and empowerment follow. People learn in realistic situations, in the midst of real challenges as they work, in their daily interactions with others. Waiting to be taught slows progress and impedes transformation. Your organisation can guide people to use learning as an important tool in your business. Learn to learn through trying new ways, experimenting to solve problems, observing and reflecting on what happened and how it could be improved. Become bolder when meeting challenges and collaborate courageously while looking for the opportunities that stretch and engage us.

Learning is in its infancy in those organisations struggling to maintain control. They lag behind more agile organisations who have let go and now share responsibility for learning. Phrases such as learning culture, social learning and self-directed learning have rightfully created excitement in recent years. Whatever the words, give your people the opportunity to understand the meaning and impact of these important concepts, and the skills to get on with learning every day.

I help organisations who want to escape the training trap.  Yes, it’s difficult. Letting go of control always is.  But if you want to address the extraordinary challenges your business faces, indeed the threats to your survival, you’ll need to learn how to harness the creativity and optimism of your people.

Michelle Ockers works with business leaders who believe in learning. She mentors L&D managers and runs workshops to help them, their teams and stakeholders become high impact business partners. Michelle welcomes contact from senior leaders who wish to harness learning and make it a key lever to achieve business results. Her recent clients include Qantas, where she has guided strategic transformation of L&D.

Image source: Shutterstock

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