As Consultants to the Organization - Training and Development

In their role as consultants to the organization, T&D managers help managers of "client" departments solve human performance problems. That isn't always easy. For one thing, when people have problems, the real nature of the problems is often hard to identify. It is absorbed inside the people who aren't performing properly. For another thing, the manager whose department is distressed doesn't always find it easy to admit that a problem exists. Such admissions can be very threatening. Thus the consultative skills of the T&Manager involve knowing what questions to ask, when to ask them, and how to create an environment in which facts—including the facts of feelings—become the basis of decisions. This implies that the clients' feelings must be expressed and facilitated, must be a part of the consultant's probe and part of the decision. That is correct. After all, feelings are a part of the reality of the whole performance problem being probed.

If the problem is properly identified, the T&D manager may need to bow out of the problem-solving process. Why? Well, the problem may not stem from human behavior at all. To precisely the degree that T&D managers have high credibility, they will be asked to solve all kinds of problems. But if sales have slumped because products are no longer competitive, or if manufacturing levels are low because one plant was lost in a flood, the T&D manager is not the person best qualified to help solve the problem. T&D managers are useful in solving human performance problems. When they go beyond that, they are exceeding their expertise and their charter.

This does not mean that T&D managers bow out of problems when training is not the solution—only when the problem doesn't stem from human Function and Role of T&D Managers 27 performance. Most organizations expect a full range of human performance improvement services from the T&D department.

Performance problems—all of them!—are the legitimate and obligatory concern of the T&D manager, but not all human performance problems can be solved by training. We have already noted that when people know how to do their jobs, but aren't doing them, then training is not a useful solution. After all, there is no sense in sending workers to class to learn what they already know! If they aren't doing what they know how to do, then there must be some cause. T&D managers help management discover that cause—and for working with managers to identify,design, develop, and implement effective solutions.

Managers in client departments are frequently inclined to think that training is what their people need. The T&D manager is responsible for helping them see the fallacy in that viewpoint; the T&D manager is ultimately responsible for distinguishing training from non training needs. As they watch T&D managers make this analysis, line managers can grow in their insight about how training contributes toward people's contribution to organization goals.

If training won't work, what will? Consider motivation as well as ability. One possibility to explore is changing the consequences for satisfactory performance. Many times employees cease to do their work the "right way" because there is no positive consequence for doing so. Sometimes,doing the job properly is actually punished by the system. In one company,salespeople who exceeded quotas (in other words, the overachievers!) actually had their territory divided among new salespersons. Customer service representatives who take the time to do thorough jobs may be abused verbally by irritated customers— or even by supervisors who "chew" them for keeping people waiting!

All the training in the world won't produce behavior that perfectly fits the realities of the workplace. Discovering these inconsistencies between goals and reward sis the common task of the T&D specialist and the manager who has the problem in the performance of subordinates. It is one facet of the consulting function of the T&D department.

Another consideration is the establishment of proper feedback systems. To the degree that workers receive continuous quantitative feedback about their achievements,they will tend to maintain acceptable performance levels. This is very different from management's saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant!"Admittedly, that is a desirable behavior by managers and supervisors— but the feedback that consistently motivates and maintains performance is likely to be a simple numerical tally by the workers themselves.

If workers have specific checkpoints about the quality, and are allowed to count their accomplishments, the quality can be monitored along with the quantity.Thus feedback becomes a motivator, a monitor, and a controller all at once. Installing effective feedback mechanisms has become part of the technology of the T&D staff, an important tool in solving performance problems. It is yet another "solution" the T&D manager may offer to managers of employees who aren't performing their tasks properly.

At other times, jobs don't get done because they are basically"undoable." That can happen when jobs are too complex or too simple.The trend toward specialization and work simplification has proved to be a mixed blessing. On the positive side, it has eliminated some tasks that were superhuman in their expectations.

Some work was so complex, varied, or exacting that one person alone could not be expected to master the entire technology—much less to apply it hourly! Other work was so taxing to the body that no physique could bear the strain. Some tasks required discriminations so fine that neither the eye nor the mind of the worker could perform them correctly or continuously. Work simplification has helped eliminate such excesses, but it has brought with it a trend toward specialization that has also endangered some jobs. It has so oversimplified them that they've become stupid and degrading to the performer.

Modern business, industry, and bureaucracy are infested with such jobs. They deprive the worker of a sense of variety, dignity, and accomplishment. Thus we hear terms such as "job design," "job enrichment," and "job engineering" as important solutions to human performance problems. Effectively designed or "engineered" jobs not only get the work done but also get it done in quantities and varieties that match the humanity of the employee. T&D managers perform more effectively if they can spot problems caused by jobs that are impossibly complex or simple and if they can help management reengineer positions so that workers find the work at least bearable—and, hopefully, challenging and fulfilling.

But there are other performance problems when the incumbents know how to perform the job (so that training isn't required or useful) and when the consequences are appropriate and feedback is provided and the job is well designed.

Still,tasks aren't being completed properly in the necessary quantities and the organization's, or unit's, goals are not being met. How can that happen? It often happens because the organization, or organizational unit, is itself confused about goals and objectives. The entire unit may need to be redirected and renewed. If personal tensions are high and trust levels are low; if decisions are slow or absent; if there is more energy expended on personal and subgroup goals than on the mission of the entire organization, then organization development (OD)seems appropriate. T&D managers who substitute training or feedback systems as a remedy in such situations inevitably end up with egg on their faces. They have, in effect, prescribed an aspirin as a cure for cancer!

Thus the consultant role of the T&D manager is not merely to find places where training is an appropriate remedy. Rather, it is to find all the performance problems,to analyze each, and to recommend an appropriate solution.

That solution may be any one, or a combination of training, contingency management,feedback systems, job engineering, or organization development. After the recommendation, the T&D manager is responsible for providing, assisting in carrying out, and evaluating whatever solution is adopted.

As consultants, therefore, T&D managers need to know how to ask questions— and what questions to ask.

Several types of questions immediately come to mind. When consultants want to uncover the feelings surrounding (and sometimes obscuring) a given situation, they want to use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions can't be answered with a yes or no, nor can they be answered with specific data such as "seventeen years" or "the first-line supervisor is responsible for that."Open questions are "How do you feel about it?" or "What do you think about this?" or "How would you describe that?" or"What is your analysis of the situation?"

When feelings are out in the open, the consultant is ready to ask some directive questions. These might be "How long has the problem been evident?" "Who has responsibility for?" "What is the published performance standard?" "Who sets that standard?" "What actual baselines are you now getting?" Of course, some questions should be avoided—loaded questions such as "Don't you think that?" or "Wouldn't you agree that?" Indeed, any question that starts with "But..." is probably a loaded question—one that will put the client on the defensive and obscure the real feelings and the real facts. With such unproductive loaded questions, the client ends up feeling more entrapped than consulted.

Once clients have revealed their feelings, and stated the facts as they see them,the consultant can summarize with reflective questions that achieve the desired basis for action. Reflective questions tend to sound something like "You feel,then, that?" "Is this how you see the situation?" These reflections provide two things: a double check that the consultant understands the problem from the client's viewpoint, and a probable expansion of the area of agreement. In their reflective summaries, T&D specialists, wearing their consultants hats, are careful to reflect back only what they did in fact hear from the client—and to include the feelings as well as the facts.

It is not easy to summarize the consultant activity of the T&D manager because it involves at least eleven of the fifteen roles identified in the ASTD competency study. Besides being Manager of Training and Development, this manager will probably also be Evaluator, Group Facilitator, Instructor, Marketer, Individual Development Counselor, Needs Analyst, Program Administrator, Strategist,Theoretician, and Transfer Agent (McLagan 1983,4).

The role requires skill in:

  • getting at real facts about performance problems;
  • uncovering and responding to feelings, which must also be listed among the facts of the problem;
  • matching appropriate, effective solutions to specific problems rather than invariably recommending a pet remedy such as training or OD or a pet method such as role-plays; and
  • locating specialists who have skill in training, feedback, contingency management,job engineering, and organization development.

Effective T&D managers are no longer solutions looking for a problem!They are true consultants for the performance problems in the organizations they serve.


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