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Corporate training: from theory to practice

It is possible to give up expenses for personnel development, but it will not nullify the training process in your company. It will become implicit and elusive, and if you don’t know something about it, it means you’re not managing it. And why do you need something in your company that you don’t control? Wouldn’t it be better to make it work for yourself and build a training system?

Corporate training

Since the beginning of the crisis, we have seen the same picture in almost all companies: the reduction of costs associated with staff training, the refusal to conduct external training, the dismissal of employees involved in organizing training. And although all these actions have a negative coloring, in principle we understand them: you have to save to survive.

Thus, as a rule, the situation looks like this. On the one hand, despite crisis and arisen problems, the company lives and plans to live further, and it means to be interesting to the client, to hold the positions and to develop. On the other hand, almost everywhere among the first items of expenses to be reduced were expenses for personnel training and development. And often it was reduced to zero.

So, it turns out that the company will not develop its personnel and simply maintain the necessary level of competence?

As a result, there is an impression that the decision to completely abandon training expenses is in some contradiction with real life and goals of the organization.

However, this impression is very often misleading. The conclusion that is obvious in this case: the organization has simply “cut off” the training, without which it can do.

Of course, it is possible to say that “leaders somewhere have acted shortsighted”, “they do not understand the importance …”. Nevertheless, the majority of managers, making a decision on reduction of expenses and choosing for this purpose the article “personnel training”, not without a reason believed that without this training we will live. (The question of the accuracy of such evaluation is beyond the scope of this article).

As with all this the companies continue to live and act, at least, there is an assumption that somewhere there is some staff training left (it couldn’t help staying!) even with a zero budget and dismissal of a training specialist. Only somehow it is implicit: it seems to be not, but it seems to be. And if we do not realize something, it means we do not manage it.

This situation raises a number of questions, the answers to which are important for us if we want to manage the development of personnel and, as a result, the development of the company.

What kind of training do we need and what should not be refused in any case if we set well-defined goals in business? What and in what form is important to preserve and develop? And what is this training, which still exists in the organization in any case, but which we do not manage well? And how do we manage it?

Looking for answers to these questions, after getting to know the opinions of experts in the field, after trying to put ideas and concepts directly into practice, there were some considerations that I wanted to share with you.

And the first thought is completely unoriginal, but it is no less true and important: the organization does not need training as such, but its results. And to make training effective it is possible only with a system approach.

I think, all had to observe more than once how quickly there is a euphoria after wonderfully spent training. Positive changes in business (that for what training actually is spent) is a result not of training, not a seminar, it can be only result of system work.

Beautiful (and correct!) words about the system approach to staff training today have heard everything, and I think more than once. And it is unlikely that any of the managers will seriously object to the principles of this approach. All that remains is to agree (and first of all, with the manager) on what exactly we mean by a systematic approach to training. What this will mean in practice, and what we have to do to implement this approach in the company.

I want to take a little excursion into my own past. There was a moment when for the first time I was able to make a real plan of training events for a year in the company. The plan was broken down into categories of personnel, and all the main categories were presented. The training topics were planned on the basis of a needs assessment, which, of course, was only expert, but at that stage quite accurate. In addition, dates, providers and, most importantly, a budget that was quite adequate to the tasks (for the first time!) were determined. I was proud of myself, and it seemed to me that this was the personnel training system.

Of course, now it can only cause a professional to smile.

Since then, a lot has changed in my perception of the training system. What, in my opinion, does it make sense to include in this concept today, if there is a task of its practical embodiment?

The first step in this direction is to define the concept of a systematic approach to learning.

And as a basic one, I propose to take the wording suggested by Gerald Cole: “A systemic approach to learning and development involves the logical alignment of the beginning of an activity with the identification of policies and the resources to support it, followed by an assessment of the need for learning. This is followed by learning itself, followed by an assessment of results”.

What attracts the most in this dry definition is a thorough understanding of reality: “…the logical alignment of starting activities with the identification of policies and resources…”. This is the case. A situation where policies are first fully developed and approved (but little or nothing is done) and then real work begins is hardly like our reality.

Taking D. Cole’s vision as a basis, we can define the next steps in the development of the learning system in the organization:

  • the development of a learning policy that guides organizational action, both to the right extent and in the right direction of learning and development;
  • defining the responsibilities of those responsible for implementing the policy;
  • establishing the structure of learning positions and procedures, and allocating material resources for learning;
  • clear responsibilities for all those responsible for policy implementation, including training professionals, from the assessment of learning needs to the evaluation of training conducted.

The basic cycle of systemic learning is as follows:

The second step in our understanding of the systemic approach to learning is to determine what the principles of this approach will translate into practice.

What will we have to do in the company to implement this approach?

The topic of our conversation is internal corporate training, i.e. training that takes place in one format or another, but in an organization. Moving along the basic cycle of system learning, we will be in an organization where all elements are interconnected.

There are different definitions and interpretations of the term “organization”. In any case, we understand the word “organization” to mean a systemic phenomenon, the main constituent elements of which are, for example: goals, structure, personnel, production processes and technologies, organizational culture or, in other words, the system of organizational values.

When we consider an organization as a system, it makes sense to talk about organizational development, a component of which is training. The task of a systemic approach to learning is to ensure organizational development as a whole.

In the life of the company, when the task of achieving certain goals (of any scale and for any period of time) is set, the Development Program is formed. The name in this case is conditional, it may be a strategy, business plan, work plan, etc. It is a complex document containing the main objectives of development, the main points of the application (work directions), the main methods, resources, etc.

A full part of the Development Programme is, in turn, the Training Programme. Only in this case communication of elements of organizational system among themselves can be considered.

Speaking in this case about Development, we mean by this change of parameters of the system increasing its efficiency. Then, if we speak about the organisation (organizational development), it will be change of parameters (elements) of the organisation as a whole, or its components, also being systems in turn.

Within the organization such systems can be:

  • organization as a whole;
  • division (department, functional area, etc.);
  • posts or groups engaged in a particular activity;
  • employee.

And examples of key parameters or elements of the system can be:

  • business processes (procedures, standards, work technologies);
  • employee competences;
  • corporate standards.

Then, accordingly, examples of influence on the listed parameters (or types of their changes) will be:

  • change, modernization of business processes;
  • formation of necessary corporate norms;
  • improvement of the competence level (first of all, through training of employees).

Thus, the Development Program, which was mentioned above, should contain definition of the main directions of Development, i.e. definition of the needs in change

  • business processes;
  • corporate standards;
  • employee competencies (Training Program).

And to determine the need to change these parameters (as, however, any other) – it means:

  • firstly, to know (as a result of monitoring, audit, analysis) the current level or the current state of the relevant parameter;
  • Secondly, to know and clearly formulate the desired level or the desired state of the relevant parameter.

It is important to understand the relationship between these parameters in different parts of the system (for example, in different functional divisions of the company).

Some implications of a systemic approach to learning

What has been said above are the main basic approaches that accompany system training in the company.

For a specialist, it is clear that the short lines describing the basic principles are a lot of work. But the work is necessary in order to make informed decisions in the process of development of the organization.

Training of the personnel which will be planned in such a way in exact connection with the purposes of the organization, with a clear understanding of today’s level and that level which is necessary (and for what purpose), such training by a simple stroke of the pen is not thrown out of the budget.

And on the other hand, I can confidently say (and I have seen it from my own experience): in case of actual implementation of such a system approach, considerable expenses for a large number of trainings, especially at the stage of system formation, will not be required. I will explain why.

In short, one of the main conclusions that you quickly come to in practice, following the above principles: to conduct training should not be more than you can “usefully digest. Everything above this is ineffective.

The system approach, when training is a part of organizational development, dictates the following: if as a result of training conducted for employees of a functional unit, system problems have been identified (with business processes, corporate standards, etc.), it is completely ineffective to conduct the next training for this unit, if these problems are not solved (at least they have not started to solve). However, to conduct training, of course, it is possible and not once, only it will not give the desired result. It is a waste of time and money.

The conclusion is trivial enough, it only remains to follow. And it means, firstly: as a result of each (any) training activity to formulate the program of post-training actions. And, what is very important, for all organizational elements related to the identified problems. And, secondly: to achieve the implementation of this program. It is quite simple. To cope with any training manager or personnel manager. Or can’t cope? And not any? (However, post-training, mandatory “pre-training” (!), as well as “roles and responsibilities of participants in the training process” – separate topics, we will not try to embrace the immensity.)

Corporate training

The second conclusion, which you quickly come to when you begin to implement the principles of a systematic approach to learning in the organization: one of the main sources (even generators) of “new knowledge” is the organization itself. This knowledge either already exists (in documents, regulations, instructions, in the heads of employees (!), finally), but very often does not work. Either “themselves come” into the organization as information from outside, but not processed and not used.

Before to put in the budget the carrying out of expensive external trainings, it is necessary to understand and learn to use already available knowledge as much as possible and effectively. If we return to the beginning of the article, this is exactly the training that always remains in the organization, even with a zero budget. Only very often we do not fully understand it, and it is not managed accordingly.

I want to make two reservations at once.

First: I am in no way against external training, you need to use all the tools and methods, only know how to use to the place. Ideal, of course, is a competent combination of internal and external sources. But at this stage, I am sure that it is very important for many organizations to look closely at their own resources. And not because of the crisis! It should be done regardless of the crisis. Without assimilating own already available knowledge, external knowledge is badly assimilated too.

And the second reservation: the organisation of system training on the basis, first of all, internal sources, certainly, allows to reduce expenses, but it all the same is not that activity which does not cost anything. Here organizational resources are needed. (Also a separate and important topic).

The third important aspect of a systematic approach to learning which must be paid attention to and which is very closely connected with the two previous ones is the role of the Manager in the learning system. The description of the specific roles of all participants in the functioning of the training system requires a separate discussion. All I want to say here is that the role of the Manager is essential. The top manager has his own role, the line manager has his own role.

Features of each organization, its structure and hierarchy, can impose their own imprint on the distribution of specific roles among the managers in the training process. However, we can say with certainty at once: if the corporate culture of an organization does not imply active participation of managers in the process of employee training, a systematic approach to personnel development in this organization will not be implemented. As they say, it is possible not to worry, it is better to do something else.

In conclusion, I would like to say that having defined for ourselves the basic principles of the system approach to training, we should start, as it was mentioned above, to develop a policy in the field of training and to define the structural support of training processes.

All this is also a very interesting and multifaceted topic: the direct construction of a corporate training building. These are the roles of the participants in the training process, the structure of their interaction, the evaluation of their training needs, the evaluation of the effectiveness of training, etc., etc., etc.

Along this path, we will shape policy and implement business processes that are consistent with the principles of the systems approach we have been talking about.

Personnel training and development should become not just an element of organizational practice or a type of activity of individual employees of the organization, but a full integral part of the development strategy of the organization and the entire existing organizational system.