Corporate training comes in three buckets: formal, self-study, and on-the-job. Experiential learning has long been proven the most effective adult learning strategy, but it is underutilized. Baby Boomers are a wealth of accumulated knowledge, but as more and more retire, the gap they leave behind continues to grow.
Employees rising up the ranks today might have strong credentials, but they often lack the practical, real world experience of their predecessors. Managers, as well as departing talent, need tools and opportunity to transfer knowledge to less seasoned members of an organization to build proper bench strength.
Signs of the Times
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, a wave of layoffs swept across corporate America. As organizations downsized, the average number of manager direct reports doubled and tripled, with some managers having as many as 16. Add the surge in retirements, and slashing of discretionary training budgets during tougher economic times, and organizations were left with a recipe for trouble.
IBM discovered employees wanted greater access to varied experiential learning during an open dialogue session with senior management. As a result, they started a program with about 1,400 opportunities, including stretch assignments, cross-unit projects, short- and long-term job rotations, and onsite job shadowing. The program received the Society for Human Resource Management's Innovative Business Solution Award for developing a solution that addressed a real organizational challenge.
The advantage of on-the-job training is it doesn't require additional funding. It's a matter of freeing executive time, and teaching them how to impart knowledge. Joining a sales call, attending a supplier meeting, or walking through a manufacturing plant with a direct report are good first steps, but managers must ensure they take full advantage of these training opportunities by sharing their observations and staying focused on teaching the business.
Competency gaps need to be identified and prioritized in terms of critical need. This could be customer penetration or negotiation skills for a sales force, strategic agility, or branding techniques for marketing groups.
Once learning objectives are established, knowledgeable (and cooperative) managers and peer facilitators need to be trained in effective adult training techniques. This can be accomplished by outside consultants or in-house staff. But prior to implementing formal on-the-job training, specific goals and objectives need to be identified and incorporated into the corporate development plan along with specific courses of action.
Over the course of a year, managers may focus on developing several targeted skills in employees. Direct reports get less face-time than in years past, so it's important to make this time productive.
The best results occur if 10 percent of the manager's week is dedicated to on-the-job training. The manager also needs to set aside preparation time, and be trained on how to teach others (often something easier said than effectively done).
On-the-job training also directly impacts employee satisfaction as dialogue increases and employees see managers taking a personal interest in them by investing time in their career development. In addition, there often is measureable improvement in other areas: greater employee retention and succession; better business results as employees leverage newly acquired skills; and stronger relationships and synergies across multiple lines in the organization.
But there also are potential pitfalls. Since time is precious in today's business environment, it is imperative on-the-job training programs not consume more time than expected. Previously unknown manager weaknesses also could bubble to the surface, which if handled properly, can be a blessing in disguise as there's an opportunity to correct it.
IBM reported as its biggest challenge finding time for experiential learning while balancing the pressures of deadlines, high utilization, sales quotas, and increased workload. The organization reportedly overcame this obstacle by first implementing on-the-job training with small, targeted populations, and demonstrating how the program can accommodate demanding work schedules.
Allowing an outside firm to research and structure a program, as well as train-the-trainers, can get you started quickly, and make your program more effective. On-the-job training is not only less expensive than formal training, but also more meaningful to those involved.
Richard Spoon is managing director of ArchPoint Consulting (www.archpointconsulting.com), a professional services firm that counsels corporations on sales, marketing, operational, and financial challenges. Richard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.