Business Skills Development Focus

Part 2: The evolution of training


Richard Lehnerdt

Part 2: The evolution of training

Most training providers and companies focus on event-based training as the primary leading vehicle of training delivery. Some companies have adapted a more holistic and blended approach, but most continue to struggle with a broad based adoption of business skills training and implementation into practice.  In order for companies to outperform the competition and maximise the ROI on training investment, leaders need to consider certain key issues before investing in business skills training.

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Modern training practices are more holistic than the traditional event-only approaches, but yet most organisations still struggle with a broad based business skills process and methodology, thus not achieving their required performance criteria. Even though business skills training has evolved it is still a difficult trait to measure. This has been achieved to some degree in leadership development, but even using the Kirkpatrick/Phillips Model, no one can convert these "soft" skills gains into monetary values. Attempting to put a value on on outcomes such as customer satisfaction, a less stressful work environment, and employee satisfaction can be extremely difficult, and the results may be of questionable value. Trying too hard to attach a business value may call into question the credibility of the entire evaluation effort.

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Studies show companies with top-tier leadership teams outperform other organisations by 19 percent. Yet only 15 percent of companies surveyed by Harvard Business Review said they had enough successors in the pipeline for key leadership positions.

Poor succession planning, including a failure to effectively identify and develop high-potential employees, comes at a high cost.

Consider these leadership development statistics from CEB Talent Management:
High-potential employees are twice as valuable to an organisation as other employees
55% will drop out of a leadership development program within five years due to being incorrectly identified
46% fail to meet objectives in new roles
Only 1 in 7 of a company's highest performers are actually high-potential employees

Key training issues for Business Skills Leadership

To maximise their return on skills training investments, organisational leaders and managers need to consider three key issues before investing in a skills training initiative, as illustrated below:

  • What roles are involved in our business model?
  • Which best-practice competencies are essential by role for high performance?
  • What types of vehicles provide the best on-going learning (and application) experience?

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In most companies, there are multiple overlapping roles in the overall business model. These areas may include marketing, sales and customer care, etc. It is important to consider the mix of roles/competencies in the business model in terms of the appropriate training and development approach
Best-practice competencies are a collection of skills required to perform a key task at a high proficiency level. Many high performing professionals have developed mastery in as many as 7-10 competency areas that may comprise as many as 20-30 specific skills. It is important to have a clear definition for each of these competencies (by role) as well as objective tools to assess your organisation’s proficiency levels at any point in time.

A third critical consideration is how the learning will actually take place – across time. A great deal has been written in recent years about formal versus informal learning and the necessity to consider both and the 70:20:10 model. If this perspective is refined, four distinct types of learning learning can be identified. Each of these types of training play an integral role in successful learning, retention, and application.

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Controlled learning events

Controlled learning experiences remain an essential part of any rigorous training regime. These “scheduled” training events can include:

  • Instructor-Led Training sessions (ILT)
  • Scheduled eLearning
  • Virtual Review and Coaching Sessions

Although much has been written about the demise of classroom instruction, most organisations still utilize some form of ILT in most of their training initiatives, specifically in South Africa where these will be required in terms of SDF claims and levies. Research by Aberdeen Group indicates that 83% of “best-in-class” organizations utilise ILT as a core sales training modality. Live training still offers the richest environment for instructor interaction, group collaboration, and classroom exercises.

While eLearning is considered an “on-demand” resource, it can still be layered into a “scheduled” training program as either a pre-requisite for classroom training, or as the primary concepts presentation approach. For learning new concepts that do not require high levels of group interaction, eLearning can be a very effective medium. 

Virtual “classroom” sessions are typically the least effective approach for teaching new concepts, but these interactive environments (such as WebEx Training Center) can provide an effective vehicle for review and coaching, by allowing collaboration across a geographically dispersed audience.

The key point is that no controlled training approach alone is the silver bullet – but the combination of these approaches can be extremely effective

On-Demand Learning

When the term “on-demand” is used with respect to learning, eLearning or mLearning is typically the first thing that comes to mind. In a well designed program, e/mLearning can be used as both a “scheduled” prerequisite for either ILT or virtual sessions, or as an on-demand resource for later review and reinforcement – depending on the design of the e/mLearning.
There are a number of other on-demand learning resources that can be effectively utilised to improve learning and retention, including:

  1. A centrally located knowledge repository for essential tools, “how to’s,” and best practices
  2. Online forums that are organized around key business competencies
  3. Recorded webinars that provide “refresher” material on specific business  and management skills 
  4. Videos and simulations that illustrate best practices (and not so good practices)

The combination of these on-demand learning resources can provide a form of just-in-time “self coaching” - allowing the individual delegate to explore and learn about essentially any skill or topic that they need improvement in. In addition, managers can easily direct individuals or their team to specific skill areas that are critical to performance.

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“Push” reinforcement

On-demand access to learning resources is an integral part of any comprehensive training program, but the ad hoc nature of these assets doesn’t address one highly critical aspect of sustainable learning – repetition! 

In the fast paced world of modern business, on- demand resources provide unlimited access and flexibility, but may not be utilised to their fullest potential because staff members can be pre-occupied with their daily activity. 

New forms of “push” technology can provide a steady stream of small learning “moments” that can significantly improve retention of specific material. In addition, this type of on- going reinforcement requires very small amounts of time on a weekly basis, and can be aligned carefully with prior training subject matter.

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On-the-job learning

A fourth type of training that is emerging in today’s workplace is on-the-job or “context-based” learning. Since nearly all organisations today utilise technology on a daily basis, it is possible to increasingly integrate learning material directly into the process of daily work flow. 

Essential how-to’s, tips and tools can be made directly accessible from a specific stage in the workflow process within the company's system. The key for this type of on-the-job integration is to have learning assets that are granular and specific to steps in the various work processes. This type of “instant advice” precludes the need to spend time searching for the right learning content, and helps to reinforce a new process or methodology on a continual basis.

While all of the training and learning vehicles described above can have a positive impact on business performance, they are most effective when they are thoughtfully incorporated into a well designed learning “program” that spans multiple months or potentially several years for highest levels of mastery.