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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Education vs. Training

There are two thankless sub disciplines in HR and I've done both of them: Training and Executive Compensation. You can never satisfy the majority of your stakeholders and some days you don't feel that you satisfied any of them. I don't manage executive comp at Thomas Nelson (the Board does that) so I'm spared that cross to bear. With training I have indecision. On the one hand we need it and I am duty-bound to advocate for it, knowing that if I get a budget I'll have the thankless job of delivering a product that at best will get mixed reviews. It is my most severe instance of, "Lord, how do I pray?" at budget time.

Part of our training regimen is that every three years we train or retrain all supervisors of two or more people. We use various forms of feedback to determine the content. We get requests of those who do the job and feel they need more training, requests of employees who say their supervisor needs certain training, and we observe problems from our seats in HR and see what skill problems cause people problems.

So this month we started delivering supervisory training (not leadership training; that's different) to all supervisors, rank of VP and below, who supervise two or more people. The training is right down the hall from my office and I roam the hallways on breaks to get feedback. Some feedback comes to me via email and drop-ins to the office. The wide variety of opinions from "fabulous" to "total waste of time" make you wonder if these folks were in the same room with the same instructor. It reminds me of some truths about training that everyone should keep in mind.

1. You get out of it what you expect - I've had people who had this same information in NLU hear it again as members of the leadership team and still think its "good stuff." These tend to be people whose supervisors were "thrifty" and disinclined to invest in their training. They approach these sessions like water in the desert and we could probably present to them the recipe for dog food and they'd love it. Conversely, Mr. Starbucks who comes in an hour late and instantly begins checking email roundly pronounces it inferior.

2. Training is Vocation, Not Education - Training topics range from making pivot tables in Excel to the supervisor's roll in tracking hours worked. My friends and colleagues with advanced degrees from prestigious institutions sometimes take training as an insult. After all, what can a training class tell them that Presumptuous U hasn't already imparted? Plainly stated, I've had colleagues and supervisors who were both educated and uneducated. My experience has been that education is no leading indicator of a person's ability to organize, instruct, think creatively or implement strategy. To specifically reference our current supervisory training, if education made for good supervisors we'd all go straight to management right out of college.

3. Come Humble- To be trained requires that you not come into the room knowing it all. There is a vulnerability that is required to accept information from someone else in front of your colleagues. If you're too proud, or too afraid, to ask questions you won't get much out of your time in the seminar.

I know of what I speak. I am currently going through continuing education over the course of several weekends. Except for a couple of hot-shot attorneys I am further in my career and outrank everyone in the room. I'm learning a ton because I (1) expected to learn, (2) took this as an opportunity to pick up new skills and (3) came in with questions rather than answers.

On my way home from the first weekend I made a mental evaluation of the material and found that I knew half or more of the information presented. It was my willingness to suspend where I was in my career and come thirsty to the training that allowed me to absorb the half I didn't know. Approach training in that spirit and you'll seldom be disappointed.


Michael Hyatt said...

As you point out, Jim, what we bring to it is so important. This is a good reminder to me. You can always learn something if you are humble and hungry. Great job—as usual. said...

Great stuff, per usual, Jim.

What you've noted as true about attending trainings is, I've observed, also true about attending church. Hmmmm....