Every few years trainers decide they aren't. Trainers, that is. They are educators. How exactly this rebranding urge arises spontaneously from the great collective unconscious of the body Trainerous North Americanus is beyond my meager ability to speculate, but it does.
As crocuses herald spring, the obvious symptom of a pending revival of this decades-old "trainer vs. educator" debate is the rejection of behavior change as an important measure of training efficacy. So I knew the game was once again afoot when I recently heard a well-known, highly respected professor of our craft declare, "I don't teach behavioral objectives anymore. Most of the behavior involved in contemporary jobs is trivial. The important things take place in the mind."
Even one of my colleagues here at Training was, apparently, seduced by that siren song and went so far as to declare behavior change to be not only irrelevant, but vaguely immoral as well when he quoted Steven Pinker: "But we cannot pretend that we can reshape behavior without infringing in some way on other people's freedom and happiness" (Apropos, May).
And the absolute clearest harbinger is when you start hearing phrases like, "Dogs are trained. People are educated. And after all, we do work with people, do we not?"
The ideal of training as a lofty endeavor in which a wise, knowing person enlightens the mind and elevates the spirit of a dimly sapient supplicant is seductive. Many of us harbor at least some small hope that we are bringing something of value to others' lives; that we are in some small way, at least junior-grade Truth Bringers. "Take and learn. This is the body of knowledge I giveth to thee. Arise and go forth enlightened," we say.
The fact that they sit and we stand, at least in the classroom version of what we do, adds momentum to the notion. They're sitting right there, taking notes, staying awake—for the most part—and nodding their heads. We are then, are we not, direct legates of Socrates? Vain perhaps, but mostly harmless.
It is the next step in that logic chain, the one that reads, "They shall know our truth, and that is sufficient to set their performance," that is the dangerous delusion. To assume that knowing and the ability to do are synonymous or so closely aligned that the differences are trivial is to completely misunderstand the subtleties of knowing and the elusive natures of learning and performance.
I have two humble examples. One of the most maddening things you and I experience as consumers is poor service from a call center. Carl Binder of Binder-Rhea Associates, Santa Rosa, Calif., has demonstrated time and again that customer service reps, drilled in detail on locating information, speaking precisely with customers and problem solving are seen as bright, efficient and caring representatives of the organization. All that without vague lectures about a customer-centered attitude and the sublime joys of serving one's fellow man.
Gail Boylan, former chief nursing officer of Baptist Health Care, Pensacola, Fla., now with the Studor Group, was never a believer in scripting—giving trainees word-for-word recitations to use in face-to-face conversations with patients.
That was until she made a field trip to a sister institution in Chicago and discovered that instructing aides and nurses, even janitors, to say "Is there anything else I can do while I'm here? I have time to help you," decreased patient calls to nursing stations by 40 percent. Today, Boylan is as strong a believer in interpersonal precision as she is in, say, intravenous accuracy.
Trivial, inconsequential examples? Not to the 2.5 million people who go to work everyday in North American call centers. Nor to the 6 million doctors, nurses, pharmacists and technicians who labor to keep us alive and well.
What we do, cousins, is help people master the details and develop the precision of their chosen art, craft or profession; to build a fluid behavioral repertoire of skills that ultimately expresses their notions, ideas and concepts. Without that precise behavioral repertoire, there can be no expression of mind.
Ron Zemke is a senior editor of Training. firstname.lastname@example.org