The Major Issues Training and Development Professionals Address

Excerpt from Chapter 2: About the Work: Training Products and Services from “An Overview of Training and Development: Why Training Matters” by Saul Carliner and Margaret Driscoll (Lakewood Media, 2019).

Training and Development professionals are problem solvers. The primary types of problems they solve are those related to workers performing their jobs effectively.  

Consider workers in a particular call center, who have earned a reputation for treating customers abruptly, leading some to believe these workers are rude and others to believe the workers are incompetent. Training and Development professionals help the call center workers develop skills in addressing customers, so callers feel they are being treated politely and their questions are being answered accurately and clearly on the first call. As a result, the call center workers appear to be competent and professional to the people with whom they interact.  

Consider the engineers in a large engineering firm who will be switching to a new project management system. As part of the switch, these workers will become involved in writing proposals for future engineering contracts. Most of these engineers have no previous experience with writing contacts. They don’t even like writing. Training and Development professionals teach the engineers how to use the new project management system, as well as skills for efficiently and effectively writing proposals so that writing is a more comfortable task for the engineers.  

Also consider the large government agency that faces a looming crisis in the next year, when 60 percent of its senior leaders become eligible to retire. Senior leadership of the agency admits they do not have enough people prepared to replace leaders should they retire. Training and Development professionals work with management to prepare for this transition by capturing the knowledge and experience of the senior leaders, and preparing middle managers for senior roles. 

These are examples of the types of problems for which organizations seek the assistance of Training and Development professionals: when workers do not perform their jobs as expected, when the organization is launching a change to a system, when a work process affects the way workers perform their jobs, and when future leaders need to be prepared. In all of these situations, workers need new or additional skills to effectively perform their jobs. 

In the case of the call center, workers need to improve their telephone technique and become more skilled at answering the questions from callers. In the case of the new engineering system, workers need to adapt their project management skills for the new system and to develop skills for generating proposals for large engineering projects. In the case of the government agency, senior leaders need to identify middle managers with leadership potential and prepare them to assume the leadership of the organization. 

To address problems such as these, Training and Development professionals prepare and deliver instructional programs that develop the sought-after skills and knowledge. In many cases, Training and Development professionals also prepare related resources to help the learners apply the skills on the job. These professionals also might prepare job aids—such as “cheat sheets” that remind learners of procedures taught in class and templates that guide workers through a process. In other cases, these professionals prepare materials to help managers and senior workers assess and coach learners as the learners attempt to apply skills on the job.

In some instances, however, the poor work performance does not result from a lack of skills and knowledge, so no instructional program is likely to be effective. That’s because workers already have the skills and knowledge they need; they just don’t apply it. To make sure instructional programs are more likely to succeed, Training and Development professionals first try to determine the true cause of a performance problem and recommend a solution that addresses the true cause. A problem caused by a lack of skills and knowledge results in a recommendation of instruction. Situations in which workers already have the necessary skills and knowledge, but are still failing to perform their jobs properly, result in recommendations of something other than training. 

As an example, consider again the first case presented in this chapter: the abrupt call center workers. Although these workers might appear to lack customer service skills and the knowledge needed to answer common questions, because they have passed basic customer service training, these workers probably do have these skills and knowledge. Their abruptness with customers probably stems from some other cause. If the call center is like most other call centers, the employer measures the length of the call and the number of calls handled by a call center representative. Assessed on the number of calls answered and penalized when calls last longer than average, workers consciously limit the length of phone calls, even if the conversation is not finished. So workers appear to lack customer service skills, because they are being abrupt with customers. But the problem is not their customer service skills; the problem is the measurement of performance. Training is not likely to improve the situation, but changing the measurement of workers’ performance will. 

Identifying the causes of these “performance problems” and determining whether they stem from a lack of skills and knowledge or some other cause is part of the problem-solving repertoire of Training and Development professionals. 

Excerpt from Chapter 2: About the Work: Training Products and Services from “An Overview of Training and Development: Why Training Matters” by Saul Carliner and Margaret Driscoll (Lakewood Media, 2019). For more information, click here.

Margaret Driscoll and Saul Carliner are co-authors of “An Overview of Training and Development”and“Advanced Web-Based Training Strategies: Unlocking Instructionally Sound Online Learning,” and internationally recognized as authors, keynote speakers, and experts in training, performance improvement, and related work. Theirs is an international, industry-academe partnership: Driscoll is a training executive who delivers outstanding results for Fortune 500 clients; Carliner is a professor of Educational Technology at Concordia University in Montreal and director of Research at Lakewood Media Group.    

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