Training: Mandatory or Not?

If you’re going to be a learning organization, then training isn’t a function. It is your work.

By Dan Cooper, CEO, ej4.com

A large organization was talking about expanding its initial entry into e-learning and made a statement common among trainers: “We’re not ready yet to make our training mandatory.”

This usually means they have tried to require training in the past and received enormous push-back from learners and their managers. So they’re twitchy about the whole idea. Typical causes for the push-back include:

  • Everyone believes learners are totally absorbed by their everyday tasks, and no one has time to step back for regular training.
  • The content is not compelling enough to make learners wantto complete it.
  • The format is too boring and the programs are too long to provide an engaging learner experience.
  • Training is a stand-alone event. Leaders don’t support it and managers don’t coach to it.

The result is that mandatory training just makes everyone mad at the Training department. And learners fight back the only way they know how, by being passive-aggressive and not taking the training.

The Solution

The answer is two-fold, and it starts with a change in mindset:

1. You need to decide whether or not you are a “learning organization.” Now this phrase has been used so often it’s almost a cliché. Yet it truly is the key issue.

A seven-year old family member once told an elderly aunt that he wanted to quit school. He was stopped cold by this response, “So you want to be only as smart as a seven-year old for the rest of your life?”

It’s the same principle at work. If you’re going to be a learning organization, then training isn’t a function. It’s not an event. It doesn’t take you away from work. It’s a part of everyday work life.It isyour work.

If people aren’t willing to learn as part of their job, then you’re going to end up with a bunch of seven-year olds working for you.

This means that training ispart of the job description. It’s a key element in appraisals. Managers coach to assigned learning content. Courses get more advanced over time as overall competence standards are continually raised. It’s a “learn or lose” environment for workers where failure to improve means falling behind.

2. That’s all well and good, but the Training department has to do its part, too. Program quality has to improve.

It’s time to move beyond traditional training formats. Sitting and watching hundreds of PowerPoint slides being presented won’t cut it. Click-and-read, screen-flipping e-learning isn’t any better. These days everyone is a professional TV watcher, and they’re used to seeing quality content.

Programs have to be shorter. According to research on adult attention span, content has to be chunked up into 5- to 15-minute bites. That duration is perfect for weekly learning on a continuousbasis.

In general, it’s not about whether or not training should be mandatory. In a learning organization, completing training is simply expected.It’s like being on time—a condition of employment.

But to make that work, the Training department has to provide compelling content that helps leaners excel. And that content has to be engaging.

That’s the way to eliminate the entire question. Then training isn’t mandatory. It just is.

Dan Cooper is CEO of ej4.com. Fast 4ward your learning—find out more at http://www.ej4.com.

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