Thursday, 7 January 2016

Why I Don't Believe in Off-The-Shelf Training

Early in my career, I worked at the Business Development Bank. Its mandate is "to support Canadian entrepreneurship by providing financial and consulting services to small and medium-sized enterprises".

As Training and Development Manager, my role was to sell and deliver public and in-house business management training – strategic planning, marketing, communication skills, etc. – from a menu of twenty courses or so.  

Some people signed up for a series of courses, which gave me opportunities to ask them about how they were applying their new skills at their jobs. Although their intentions were good, most people didn't significantly change how they worked and therefore didn't gain the outcomes they had hoped for. 

I enrolled in a two-year adult education diploma program at St. Francis Xavier University to learn how to design and evaluate training programs. It gave me the knowledge and skills I needed to customize courses according to the needs of the individuals and organizations that purchased them. It also taught me how to build in transition exercises to help people take on new ways of working (change management).

Moving into the corporate world, I continued to design (or purchase) custom training programs. Measurement of outcomes was standard. Also, post-implementation plans were a must to ensure the new mindsets, actions and behaviours took root. 

This week, a client asked if I had something 'off-the-shelf' that I could deliver for them. I said no; all of my development sessions are custom designed because that is the best way to achieve outcomes. After our conversation, I wrote down the following reasons why I don't do off-the-shelf training:
  • People develop within the context of their environments – generic courses often don't address environment. I remember a time management program that recommended shutting your door to be more productive where participants didn't have offices (or doors)
  • 'One and done' training sessions rarely change mindsets, actions and behaviours (drivers of change) – they can build awareness and knowledge, yet rarely change actions or behaviours
  • Since exercises and examples are generic, they rarely are relevant to most participants – vanilla courses discuss vanilla scenarios
  • Off-the-shelf courses are more rigid with little flexibility to reallocate time given the interests and needs of the group
  • When managers don't participate in the design, they are less invested in reinforcing learning back on the job – leaders' commitment to support training outcomes is proportionate to the effort they invest in customizing the training
The next time you assess a training program, compare the design to the outcomes. The design that is customized for you is the one that will deliver the new mindsets, actions and behaviours that will stick.


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