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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learning After a Certain Age

The Guru has had writer’s block the last few weeks. Perhaps it is the time of year, the excitement of a new year has faded as we return to more normal routines after the holidays.  But I think it is more than that.  Lately, I have been on quite a thought of how we, as adults, change or do not change professionally as we age.   Can an old dog learn new tricks?  Old being the over 40 age protected class that I find myself in too.

What if, as your leader, I submitted to you that you must attend a workshop on subject X?  I emphasize the must because you have no choice in the matter.  It’s not that you will be tested on the behavior after class, but I need you to go because you are not doing something well, or I need you to be better at something that you are already doing.   I have not expressed it to you exactly as such, but that is my motivation of signing you up, or in other words ponying up the money, for the class.

What would your reaction be? 

If I had to guess, if it is not something that will keep you out of trouble, by trouble I mean legal or ethical bad stuff, yes fancy HR term, or something you are interested in, or something that will make your job easier (even though I have seen participants resist this as well), then you will go because you are required.  But you will spend most of your time thinking about what you are missing back at the ranch.  

You will go because I said you had to go, but your engagement with the material or the openness that maybe there is something that could help improve your performance, will be small. 

So what is the ROI when this happens?  Of course, almost 0. 

As a learning professional, I see this happen a lot.  I also think it is why training departments usually have bad reputations.   It is not that a training event is poorly designed or delivered in or itself, as I have rarely seen a poor facilitator or developed class once a certain level of professionalism is reached.  It is the value added component is completely lost on the participants, especially those of seasoned managers, directors, or above levels.

I certainly understand the point of view and have found myself in classes saying, “Hey, I have heard this before.”   But I almost always hear something new or a new idea that makes it stick better in my head.  I ask myself too, was it a waste of my time to get those one or two ideas?  The answer is yes if I did not change my actions afterwards.

The Point

The point is we seem to expect different outcomes of the people we send to mandatory training than we do of ourselves when we attend mandatory training.   If leaders tell a team member they are registered to go, then we expect change, regardless if the person wanted to attend or not.  

I would argue we rarely expect that same change out of ourselves.   We rationalize that we somehow already know this information, that we are doing X behavior well – even though we have no metric to prove it one way or the other, or that we are so busy getting through the business of the day that we have no time.  Our time is important.   Now when our time became more important than our employees, I will leave that for later.  We have been profiled, assessed, educated, but do we change?

The Customer Service Guru’s Solution for Leaders  

When you are sent to training, someone wants a ROI from you.  Your challenge is to find out what it is.   Training is an expensive business, so no one would approve the dollars spent without expecting something from you. 

Sometimes the improvement is quantitative, such as employee surveys, turnover rates, reduced mistakes in dollars lost on projects.  I think sometimes the score is emphasized so much that we miss the bigger picture.  The score is a measure of something that we are doing.   The score is never as important as the behavior it measures, and that is what should be driving us to do better or get better at whatever it is.

Many times it is something more qualitative, which is more difficult to understand because we live in a business world driven by metrics.  For example, team members are not getting along well and your job is to improve those relationships.   That is a murky, but very real, objective.

As a leader, you set the example for your team by your actions. Let them know that you respect the training and development function.  Let them know what behaviors you are attempting to change or enhance.  Let them know that training is not something to simply check off, but an opportunity to truly improve performance.

Also, when you send anyone to training, mandatory or developmental, explain thoroughly why they are going and what you expect when they return from class.  As an HR partner, my job will be more valuable to everyone if my participants come in with clear expectations from their leader, not just objectives I present on a power point.  Make it personal!  They see me for a few hours, but they see you every day.  Trust me, they will be more inclined to make you happy than me.

I have seen individuals make very significant change, personally and professionally. It almost always starts from a seed planted in that individual.   It is either a seed they planted in themselves, or an idea someone put in them.  As a leader, be the person to plant the seed of change in your employees.   Find that seed too in yourself the next time you are required to attend training.

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