Inside Answers to Individual Training Needs - Training and Development

When the T&D department agrees that reasonable objectives have been clarified for a validated individual training need, it should first look within the organization to find solutions.

Take a typical case. A manager conies to you and says, "I have this training problem—and this seminar is just what we need." Now, that manager may be wrong on both points. Maybe there isn't a training need at all. Even if there were, the solution may be totally inappropriate. The manager may be totally mistaken! But that manager is supporting training—and should be reinforced for such support. Probing questions about the nature of the deficiency, the appropriateness of the proposed solution, and how the learning will be applied on the job are all in order.

Existing programs are the first place to check. Do the behavioral or learning goals for the need match or parallel those published for programs already in the curriculum of the organization? If there is a match, the obvious thing to do is to enroll the trainees in the next session of the existing program.

If that program has other, unrelated objectives, it may be possible to attend only certain modules of that program. An individual or small group "special session"might be arranged to solve the training need. If the established objectives vary only slightly, minor adaptations and tutoring by the regular instructors might be an inexpensive, quick, and effective way to respond.

Self-study programs are especially adaptable to individual needs. They are thus excellent answers to individual training needs. By omitting certain segments, or by combining several programs, T&D specialists can often"tailor make" highly specialized programs with minimum effort. Many commercial self-study programs need trimming and adapting to fit the peculiar needs of an organization anyway. A "visit" or field trip may be an adequate solution for simple training needs. Such visits can be productive—but they require careful planning. Generic visits ("just to look things over") are seldom useful—and quite often annoying to the hosts. They easily result in superficial or misleading learning's. A planning session before the visit is a "must." The trainee, the trainee's requesting manager,a T&D specialist, plus a "host" manager should establish a general objective and compile a list of questions that must be answered at each position visited. It helps to regard the visit as an "Easter-egg hunt"that will answer questions, complete flowcharts, fill in organizational charts,and/or annotate manuals. After the visit, a follow-up mechanism should make an evaluation: "How much is the new information or skill being used?""Did the visit pay off?" "Should others make the same visit?"

Special assignments within the organization may be the ideal way for individuals to acquire desired knowledge and skills.

This is particularly true when specialists need knowledge of practices in other departments to manage "hand-offs" smoothly or when middle/staff managers need insight into how other departments operate. Examples:

  • To develop empathy with departments they audit, auditors might work as regular employees for several months in other staff offices, local offices, or line plants.
  • Procedures writers might work in operations to know how previous work fares in the reality of the workplace and to improve future procedures.
  • Instructors might work for several months in departments they will relate to and for whom they may develop future programs.
  • "Ready-to-promote" employees might rotate through various sections to gain experience, perspective, and new networks.

Task-analysis for self-discipline sounds a bit punitive and pedantic, but it really is an effective way to overcome individual performance problems in employees who are deficient in just one characteristic of their work. Typical of these deficiencies of execution (they are usually DEs) is carelessness, lack of attention to detail, missing parts of assignments, lack of follow-through,or unilateral decision making.

Such personal problems can best be overcome if the trainee is acutely conscious of the problem—and aware that the temporary assignment will give maximum experience plenty of chances to apply a good level of performance.

Coaching or mentoring offers an important internal answer to many individual training needs. A coaching and mentoring program has many advantages:

  1. It can be individualized.
  2. It can ensure complete validity if the coach is the trainee's immediate superior.(That is the usual and ideal situation.) Since the "boss" is coaching,there can be no doubt about management's valuing the behaviors that are to grow out of the coaching.
  3. The close, one-on-one communication permits a dynamic feedback mechanism.
  4. The close, one-on-one communication permits a dynamic reappraisal of the learning objectives.
  5. Training responsibility is delegated to that point in the organization where it has the most immediate and direct payoff: the relationship between superior and subordinate.
  6. Manager/coaches tend to learn a great deal about the inventories of the individuals whom they coach—as well as about the entire process of motivation,directing, and communicating with subordinates.

There is, in addition, a subtler benefit from widespread use of coaching in an organization: Many managers become dynamically involved in the training process. Furthermore, managers who have served as coaches represent an empathic population for all T&D activities. As decision makers or requesters of T&Services, they know more "of the ropes" about learning—why it is important and how it works. They are certainly useful resources in meeting future individual training needs.

Mentoring is growing in popularity as an effective individual training strategy. Mentors provide opportunities for the growth of their portages by identifying situations that will enhance their knowledge and experience. Mentoring programs are also used to address equity issues by supporting the advancement of women and minorities. Mentoring programs are also a successful strategy for addressing external pressures on an organization (i.e., globalization, workforce composition, mergers, acquisitions, etc.). Formal mentors can provide job-specific training as well as techniques for coping with organizational culture and change issues. Because of the numerous and important benefits provided through the mentoring process, many Fortune 500 companies have developed and implemented formal programs for the orientation and socialization of new employees and to facilitate the rise of key employees. None of these programs from within the organization is complete without an ongoing planning an devaluating mechanism. That is another reason for the active involvement ofT&D specialists when any such solution is applied to an individual training need.

In every situation, the trainee, immediate superiors, "hosts"(if job rotation, special assignments, or visits are used), and a T&D specialist should:

  • Set goals
  • Define the activity
  • Describe the way in which the training content will be applied on the job
  • Establish criteria and a mechanism for evaluating the experience

This strategy implies creating a post program feedback form on which trainees tally and analyze their on-the-job applications of the new skill. Such feedback not only gives data for evaluation but helps maintain the new behavior as well!

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