Courageous Training: Bold Actions for Business Results

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If trainers want to truly make an impact on organizations, what they need is a new mindset, not a new technique. Drawing on examples from major companies and their own years of experience, the authors inspire trainers to have the courage to break away from the usual ways of doing things and identify what is really needed and what really works.

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1 Introduction: The Hole We’re In and How We Can Stop Digging

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The first rule for being in a hole that you can’t climb out of: Stop digging!

DENIS HEALEY, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer

What if training really had to work? What if your organization was “betting the business” on a new strategic venture, the success of which depended largely on training? Could you guarantee that the training would absolutely, positively work to drive performance and to create business impact? The odds would be against you. The reality is that training fails to work far more often than it works. If you put a hundred 2employees through the typical corporate training program, chances are that less than 20% will end up using what they learned in ways that will lead to improved job performance. The vast majority of trainees will fail to improve their performance, even if they tried to utilize the training. They will encounter a combination of obstacles, including indifferent bosses, crushing time pressures, lack of incentives to change, peer pressure, or some other problem that will extinguish their motivation.

 

2 What Is Courageous Training?

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We start this chapter with a brief but illustrative story about Courageous Training. We then dissect the story to highlight the key elements that characterize the Courageous Training model.

PAT WILLIS S LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT (L&D) DEPARTMENT, like the entire company, had fallen on hard times. Increased competition and other factors had slowed sales, and all budgets were under scrutiny. A wide-scale company downsizing had resulted in leaner staff operations, and overall training enrollments had dropped consistently for the past three years. Taking time for training, it seemed, was getting harder and harder to do.

So when Pat received a call from a Senior Vice President who directed the company’s global operations that important training demands were on the horizon, she hoped this was a sign that things were changing. Her budget had been under a lot of pressure; she already had to let one staff member of the training department go; and there were persistent rumors that the company was looking at outsourcing several operations completely. Training, she knew, could likely be one of them.

 

3 Pillar #1: Be a Business-Goal Bulldog

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First, a few words about bulldogs. According to the American Kennel Club, the ancestors of the lovable and droopy-jowled bulldog were selectively bred for baiting bulls centuries ago on the British Isles. In this cruel and deplorable form of entertainment, the original bulldog had to be very ferocious and so courageous as to be almost insensitive to pain. Fortunately this nasty form of “sport” was outlawed in 1835 in Britain. Since that time the bulldog has been known for being “equable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive) with a general appearance and attitude that suggest great stability, vigor, strength and dignity” (American Kennel Club 2007).

We chose the bulldog metaphor for Pillar #1 because we admire the bulldog’s qualities of tenacity, strength, and courage. We also admire that they are not afraid to go after big things. We admire the Courageous Training leaders we have known for 34their similar traits. Though hardly any of them have droopy jowls, all of these leaders clamp their thinking jaws onto the business needs and goals that underlie the requests they receive; they refuse to let their conceptual grip be shaken loose despite the frantic organizational flurry in which they may become engaged. They refuse to limit their vision to narrowly defined training issues and needs but, instead, always see the larger picture of the business: its goals and its needs.

 

4 Pillar #2: Build Whole-Organization Responsibility for Training Impact

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LYNN AND SAL ARE BOTH NEW FINANCIAL ADVISORS working in two different regional offices. They have almost identical backgrounds: college degrees in economics, above average IQ, similar internship history, similar social upbringing, and similar financial planning education. They are smart, eager, and qualified. They also have the same problem: they are both really struggling to get appointments with prospects for their company’s services. The way their business works, new advisors spend a lot of their time making cold calls to lists of qualified leads from their office’s marketing manager and trying to get these prospects to come in for a get-acquainted appointment, which in turn might lead to developing their prospect into a client.

Once they have an appointment, these two advisors are good at selling; they have a similarly strong record for converting sales appointments into clients, in the top 20% for all advisors with their tenure. But they are both in the bottom 20% for getting appointments in the first place. This poor record of making appointments, despite their higher-than-average selling skills, puts both of them in the bottom 30% for sales performance—a problem for them, their careers, and their office managers.

 

5 Pillar #3: Win the Hearts and Minds of the Make-or-Break Partners

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Afew years back we were making a presentation to a group of Human Resources and Development (HRD) professionals at a conference about various issues we have described in this book: the low proportion of training that actually gets used by participants, the root causes of failure for training initiatives, the fact that senior managers and line managers must play a critical role if training is going to produce real business impact, and so forth. We remember vividly a gentleman from a company in Boston vigorously raising his hand and posing this challenge: “I believe everything you have said in your presentation. I think everyone in this room especially knows that we need line managers to support our training. You’re not telling us anything we don’t already know. But we’ve tried over and over to get them more involved and nothing works. What can we do differently?”

His comments summed up the challenge pretty well: even if we as HRD professionals are aware of the troubling state of training’s low impact, it is very difficult to get anyone outside of the training function to take the message to heart and actually do something to make a difference. But the reality remains: getting results from training is a whole-organization responsibility. Unless we get concrete and focused actions from the make-or-break players in the process, training is doomed to continue its pattern of marginal results, and the spiral of low expectations leading to mediocre results will gain speed. In this chapter we provide strategies and tools that Courageous Training leaders can employ to gain the constructive involvement of key stakeholders.

 

6 Pillar #4: Tell It Like It Is with Truthful Measurement and Evaluation

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There’s an old but still poignant story that goes like this: A young newly wed couple was preparing a large ham to roast for Sunday dinner. As the wife was putting the seasoned ham into the pan for baking, the husband asked: “Aren’t you going to cut the end off it?” The wife asked him what he meant and why she should do that. The husband replied that cutting off the end from the ham was the way he had always seen his mother cook hams. Her cooking confidence now shaken, the wife called the husband’s mother to query her about this ham-lopping practice. The mother replied that she had learned this from her mother but couldn’t recall ever knowing the reason. The new bride then called her mother-in-law’s mother, who verified the legitimacy of the practice and said she learned this from her mother; although she continued to cut the end off 94to this day, she also couldn’t say with certainty the reason for this practice. Fortunately, though very old, the grandmother (the bride’s husband’s great-grandmother) was still alive, well, and surprisingly lucid. A call to her cleared up the origin of the ham-trimming ritual. In an age-quaked voice, the grandmother explained that she had regularly roasted a ham for her family’s Sunday dinner. She went on to explain that they had a very large family and so she had to purchase a large ham to feed everyone. Because the ham was always so large, it wouldn’t fit in her only roasting pan. And a larger roasting pan wouldn’t have fit in her small oven. Therefore, she did indeed trim the end off—so it would fit.

 

7 The Courageous Training Code: Seven Ways to Strengthen Your Leadership Backbone

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Courageous Training leaders see themselves as leaders, not administrators, of a training function, though training itself is part of what they do. They also do not see themselves as training vendors, though they do supply training and may bring in training companies to help provide high-quality programs. They do not see themselves as coordinators or brokers of training services, though they do help link people and organizational units with the learning and performance services they need.

Above all, they see themselves as leaders, with responsibilities to the business and the people in it to ensure effective performance and worthwhile results—not just training results but 118business results. Like other leaders in the organization, they are stewards of precious resources, and it is their duty to see that these resources are leveraged into the greatest value possible. Like other leaders in the organization, they have a responsibility to establish and inculcate a vision, to articulate a strategy, to set priorities and goals that reflect the strategy, to ensure effective execution of strategy, and to develop others’ skills and talents so that they are maximally successful.

 

8 Introducing Four Courageous Training Leaders

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The path from business-as-usual training to training that makes a worthwhile difference to the business is a long, uphill, and rocky road. We are honored to work with many training leaders from our user group who have forgone the opportunities to exit for an easier route and have achieved some remarkable results for their organizations and the employees in them.

Four of these bold leaders tell their stories in the following chapters. We wish that length limitations could have permitted us to include more such stories, as it was difficult to cull only four from the potential pool of Courageous Training profiles. But the four we chose represent an excellent range of industries, approaches, and challenges faced.

All of the authors who wrote case examples refer to a similar set of methods and tools with which readers may not be familiar, because they are part of proprietary training approach 134called the Advantage Way system. Each of the four authors is a member of the Advantage Way User Group, sponsored by Advantage Performance Group (APG). The Advantage Way system is APGs proprietary version of High Impact Learning (HIL)—the conceptual framework, methods, and tools developed initially by Robert O. Brinkerhoff (see Brinkerhoff and Apking 2001) and continuously upgraded and refined. The system helps training leaders plan and design learning interventions that are guaranteed to help participants achieve increased business impact. The Resources section at the end of this book provides an explanation of the tools and terms referred to in the four case examples. Brief summaries of each of these four stories follow below, highlighting the type of industry in which each courageous leader works and, more importantly, the principal sort of challenge each leader faced that demanded bold action.

 

9 Case Example #1: Diary of a CLO

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It’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep. At 9 a.m. tomorrow morning we are presenting the results from our first year of the Center for Leadership to our CEO and the senior leadership team. Continued funding for the program is decided by our Board of Directors based largely on the recommendation from the senior team. Is our story compelling enough to warrant continued funding?

We have collected what we feel is solid performance improvement and business impact information from our first graduating class to show we are on the right track. The senior team has been very supportive and involved in the program. They have 140placed a lot of trust in us and have invested significantly in this initiative. We certainly don’t want to let them or the organization down. Has the program delivered enough impact? The funding in the first year has allowed us to build the program from scratch and hire the people we need to support it over the long term. Did I pick up my suit from the cleaners?

Being the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been a dream come true. I really enjoyed the senior learning and organization development roles I had at Motorola, and being the CLO at American Express was a great experience. Moving into health care and coming to Children’s two years ago has been rewarding in countless ways. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is an organization that truly “gets it” when it comes to the importance of people and development. I’ll never forget my first interview with our CEO, James E. Tally, Ph.D., back in September of 2004. He asked that if I came onboard, would it be all right if he still called himself the Chief Learning Officer. I laughed and said I would have to think about it. Yeah, right. It didn’t take long after I joined the organization to understand these were not just words. His strong support of learning and desire to create “an adult schoolhouse” at Children’s had led him to create a CLO position long before it was fashionable in health care. This focus had earned Children’s recognition as a Training Top 100 learning organization for three straight years at the time I joined.

 

10 Case Example #2: The “So What?” Factor

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Most school districts are busy places. In a school district that has opened nine new schools every year for more than a decade, “busy” is an understatement. Such is the case in the Clark County School District (CCSD) in Las Vegas, Nevada, the fifth-largest district in the United States. The student population is fast surpassing 314,000. It employs more than 37,000 people, including 19,000 teachers, 11,000 support staff personnel, 1,300 administrators, 150 school police, and 6,000 substitute and temporary employees. The district has more than 160337 schools within its boundary of approximately 8,000 square miles.

In such a vast organization, with its environment of rapid growth and all of the challenges that causes, why would any one employee attempt to initiate a new approach to conceptualizing and managing training? The training delivery burdens alone were staggering. An equally perplexing question is how does any one employee go about implementing a massive organizational culture change in terms of the way people are trained in an organization this large?

 

11 Case Example #3: Raising Expectations for Concrete Results

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Some people love a parade. I love a challenge. Although, I can’t say that I dove in head first when the opportunity came across my desk to launch a Learning Center for the North American companies of Holcim Ltd. I’m not a corporate daredevil by any means. I prefer to take calculated risks. I had to be sure this was the right next step for me and for the company. Within Holcim North America, there are two independent companies operating side by side: Holcim (US) Inc. and 176St. Lawrence Cement Inc. in Canada. Both companies are leading suppliers of cement and related mineral components in their respective countries. Holcim (US) operates seventeen manufacturing plants and more than seventy distribution facilities, while St. Lawrence Cement is even larger and operates 100 different facilities in Canada. Together, the companies represent $2.5 billion in annual sales. The North American Learning Center (NALC) would be responsible for creating a learning culture across an enterprise of two separate companies serving almost 6,000 employees.

 

12 Case Example #4: From Training Delivery to Trusted Advisor

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Today, August 2007, Insight Enterprises (Insight) is striving to be an information technologies (IT) solutions provider that partners with our clients to enhance their business performance through innovative technology solutions. We have strong partnerships with clients in enterprise, small to medium business, and public sector markets. Currently, Insight has more than 4,500 employees worldwide and serves clients in more196 than 170 countries. When I started with Insight in April of 2000, our strategy was based on a transactional sales model, differentiating from competitors on the basis of low cost and high availability. As the industry landscape began to change dramatically due to the dot.com bust and other market factors, it became more and more evident that Insight’s value proposition of being the low-cost, high-availability provider was no longer a viable differentiator in the marketplace, but a mere requirement to remain competitive in our industry. The company’s senior leadership recognized the need for Insight to transform into a total IT solutions provider in order to create a different type and a higher level of value to our customers.

 

13 Getting Started on the Courageous Training Path

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Afew years ago one of us was touring the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza in Mexico. The largest pyramid there— Kukulkan—seems to grow out of the ground and soars above the jungle a remarkable 25 meters high (80 feet), about the height of an eight-story building. It is a common practice for tourists to climb to the top of the pyramid. There are 365 steps (one for each day of the year), each step very narrow in depth, but considerably higher in rise than the typical staircase. In addition to the architectural and engineering phenomena, one observes another more human phenomenon that occurs daily at the pyramids. People tend to climb the pyramids—all 25 meters of them—facing the rock, using all fours, as a child might go up a set of stairs for security. For many people, once they get to the top above the treetops and turn around and gaze out over the jungle, their fear of heights—perhaps even if they did not214 previously know it—kicks in with a jolt and they realize getting back down safely is a serious problem.

 

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