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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Strategic Nature of Training and the Transactional Mindset of HR

A number of instances brought me to writing this post. As a training consultant based in the Philippines, I often deal with HR/Training Managers who are looking to fill a request from the line or are securing training providers to facilitate courses as identified in their Training Needs Analysis (TNA) survey.

This is my observation; more often than not, HR/Training Departments are  playing the role of order takers/fulfillers rather than strategic partners when delivering training programs to the line. I imagine the dialogue to sound like this:

Line Manager: I need so and so training for my staff, please find me a good facilitator...
HR/Training Manager: Ok...(after sometime) Here are the choices...
Line Manager: I want to talk to this one...
HR/Training Manager: Ok...
Line Manager: I'm ok with the training provider let's schedule the program/send participants....
HR/Training Manager: Ok...


What's wrong with this scenario? Nothing if HR is only after satisfying a request. If HR is to play a more active role in ensuring return on training investment, then this is definitely not enough.

What should HR/Training Department do then? Several things. First, it  should set the norm for planning training to ensure that there's alignment between training initiatives and strategic direction. HR should then teach managers to communicate expectations prior to sending people to training. Lastly, HR should make both training providers and Line Managers accountable for setting up follow through strategies. Lastly, HR/Training should evaluate the effectiveness of its training strategies in improving performance and make improvements as necessary.

Sometimes I wish I'm talking to business owners when I propose programs that are ready to respond to HR/Training Department's strategic role. That's because I sometimes feel that some  HR representatives are not motivated to take on this role without the prodding of top executives. There are also times when HR wants it but do not have the reputation to play the strategic partner role in the organization, hence the failure to make impactful contribution on employees' learning and performance. Because of lack of interest in ensuring positive training impact on performance, I suspect that some HR/training managers are scared of holistic training solutions and prefer programs that are cheap and does not require so much from HR or the Line Managers. The measure of success is "done/not done" rather than application of learning in the workplace. This to me is indeed the sad state of affairs in many HR/training departments of many companies.

Training should be part of the strategy in enabling people to contribute  to organizational success. It becomes a wasted effort when not much thought is given in ensuring that learning is applied after the training. HR or the Training Department must think strategically and become a major "influencer" in making the company's training strategy work. There is a need for the other managers in the organization to afford HR enough respect to listen to what they have to say about this and consider their recommendations.

I believe that HR will become a strategic partner in the organization when it decides to act like one. That is by listening with the intent to understand the situation, by coming up with strategic solutions and partnering with management in fine tuning those solutions. That is so much different from just taking orders.

If you are with HR and you feel you need help build that strategic partnership with your line managers, I can help. Please see my proposed program here. Increase your value in the organization by shedding off that transactional mindset and take on a more strategic role. Let us help you make it happen.

3 comments:

  1. The dialogue illustrates the lack of initiative, indeed. Another concept some companies lack is the technological aid available to them like cost effective training solutions that eliminates some of the headaches that come with face to face training.

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  2. Fellow Training Consultant Jun Dulay shared this comment:

    It's really unfortunate that the local training community has not yet gone beyond order-taking. Having been a manager in operations and in corporate technical services, I am quite familiar with the scenario. I remember receiving a list of available courses (mostly external) and being asked to pick the ones my staff would most likely need. This survey was supposedly part of "training needs analysis." I have thought about this long and hard. I came to the conclusion that this is how it is done because, in the first place, this was what they were taught to do. And I think this is pervasive within the training community.

    I believe in doing a training needs analysis but conducting a survey is hardly the best approach because:
    1. It presupposes that the respondent has done an exhaustive study of his own or his unit's training needs which I think is a big assumption. How many people have exactly analyzed their jobs and determined what their needs are to perform to par in relation to organizational directions and objectives?
    2. It presupposes that the survey questions are sufficient to cover in depth the needs of a population with different areas of interests and functions. This is most apparent when dealing with technical aspects of various specific jobs. Even situations can differ between people in operations, in offices and in sales.
    3. It emphasizes statistics rather than a down-to-earth analysis of training needs. It is only applicable only after a thorough analysis based on organizational directions, performance targets, individual and organizational competencies, etc.

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  3. Continuation of prior comment by Jun Dulay:

    Let's make it more explicit. Many organizations have defined their vision and mission and the business strategies to attain them. The long-term approach is then defined in more detail in terms of annual programs and targets. These are then translated into departmental programs and targets so that the total organizational targets are met. For example, if the company plans to increase market share by ___%, then the various departments will define their programs to meet this target. Sales will aim for __ % increase in sales in certain product lines or customers. Operations will reduce cost by __% to support the sales target. Procurement will improve raw material cost by __%. And so forth. With these, individuals will then define their annual specific objectives to support the departmental objectives. From here, the managers and their staff can then discuss their approaches and their needs to attain the targets. Remember that classroom training is not the only approach to meet needs. Many will most probably need training in job-specific areas, mentoring, group learning and other means. These will hold from managers down to the last person in the shop-floor. After all of these activities are done, then the Training Department can go around and analyze/summarize all the data. And design learning interventions not only based on classroom training but more of workplace learning. This is one way that training needs are aligned with organizational objectives and evaluation of training impact is clearly based on ROI. In short, incorporate training into the work itself and do classroom training as simply a part of the total learning approach. That means involving all levels in the learning process. In fact, one useful classroom training is trainers' training especially for managers and subject matter experts. But this is one whole topic by itself which can be discussed later.

    Can trainers do the above activity? WHY NOT? But first, there must be a change in mindset: from simply classroom dispensers of courses to Workplace Learning and Performance professionals. That means getting close to the customers - making every effort to understand their work, the organization's objectives and culture - and being updated in new learning concepts. For example, the above approach I mentioned was not a result of any classroom training but was arrived at after being exposed to business and operations management, classroom teaching and simply loving the task of developing people.

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