Selecting the T&D Staff - Training and Development

When T&D managers select people for their staffs, they should avoid some of the frequent traps. Traps to Avoid the good-worker trap is the most common. Because Henry was the best salesman on the force, they made him Sales Trainer in the Northwest Region. Because Eloise was a flawless teller, the bank promoted her to the role of On-the-Job Trainer. In a few years, Henry and Eloise will be the forgotten "professionals" in the T&D department. Somebody goofed. The selection process was faulty. Demonstrated excellence in one assigned task does not indicate potential excellence in another—especially when that other task is instruction.

Doing the task is one thing; teaching others to do it is dramatically different. When organizations fall into the "good-worker" trap, they usually lose a good worker and gain a bad trainer. The truth is that they also multiply the number of bad workers. Why? Because inept or de-motivating instruction produces new generations who cannot do the job properly, or who have lost interest in doing so.

The job knowledge trap is very similar and equally dangerous. It is a particularly common error in selecting trainers. Now, there is nothing wrong with knowing the subject, but since adult growth involves so much more than merely acquiring information, to study under a person who has nothing but subject matter expertise is a cloying and narrowing bore. (It would be unfair to call it an"experience," since sitting and listening is often the fate assigned to students of subject matter experts who pretend to teach.)

An intelligent way to use the resources of subject matter experts (SMEs) is to make them members of the design team for training programs. These SMEs are invaluable: They bring authenticity, reality, and thoroughness to the task analysis or course content. The SMEs contributions are extremely valuable; this technique avoids trying to make communicators out of people who, though highly knowledgeable, may not be articulate enough to explain what they know—much less help others learn it.

Replicating great teachers is a third trap. Here's how it works—to everyone's detriment.The T&D manager recalls with great affection and admiration some great instructor from a private past. Old Smith told great jokes, so the T&D Manager decides that a sense of humor is the key ingredient of successful instruction—and proceeds to develop a staff of comedians! Or Miss McGrath was so precise and careful. As a result, some T&D department is populated with an entire staff that thinks like accountants! The T&D manager remembers Professor Horne rand the way he told things "like they were." The result? Some T&D staff form a group of abrasive, rabble rousing malcontents; they undercut organizational goals and devastate the organizational image.

Why does this effort to draw analogies with great teachers work so badly? It isn't just that it results in a staff without variety. Another sad effect is that the T&D manager tends to mold the staff into the image of the revered"model." There is no organic growth for staff members.

The fallacy is the one-dimensional nature of the selection and development process. There is no argument about the value of a sense of humor, or care, or precision,or "telling it like it is." But none of these qualities in itself is a sufficient foundation for effective performance as a T&D specialist. The T&D Manager must look for several dimensions when populating the T&D staff.

Trap number four is wants out—not in candidates. This merely means that some people take T&D assignments not because they want T&D assignments but because they want out of the positions they're in.
This is an especially dangerous trap because it's easy for such applicants to demonstrate great enthusiasm for the training function. They have read (or can easily imagine) all the standard, exciting things to say about how important it is to train and develop others. They grow misty-eyed about the inspiration created by great teachers. Such testimonials are delusive, sweet songs to the ears ofT&D managers. But when they select the singers of such sweet songs, they end up with a staff of temporary cheerleaders. That enthusiasm lasts just as long as their new responsibilities dazzle the new T&D specialists.

As soon as they tire of it, they start looking. Once again they want out! The narrow-role trap victimizes those who select a candidate who will excel greatly in just one role or very few of the many necessary skills. Such people may have little skill or interest in other facets of the total T&D spectrum. Desire to perform, or competency in just a very areas few raises several potential problems.

First,the job may quickly become impoverished, focusing on such narrow tasks that the occupant becomes bored and disenchanted with the entire T&D process. Second, the T&D manager is unable to achieve the necessary conceptualization the staff. If a sudden crisis or a new development requires a consultant's services,the "narrow-role" T&D specialist may be unqualified or uninterested. T&D managers are wise to select people who can grow with the department and into more than one of the four roles that must be fulfilled by someone on the T&D staff.

The personality trap is the sixth and final pitfall. It is a two-dimensional snare:

  1. the traits are hard to identify, and
  2. they distract us from looking for identified skills.

We say we seek a person with "a good personality," whatever that means.We often mean gregarious, extroverted, pleasant, all nice traits. But these traits don't reflect specific, demonstrated competencies. For example, consider these commonly sought characteristics: warmth, indirectness, cognitive organization, and enthusiasm. When we really examine those "traits,"they translate into behaviors rather than personality qualities. "Warmth"boils down to establishing two-way communication and expressing concern for the learners and the learning process.

"Indirectness"involves skill in getting at things obliquely. It means not supplying answers,but answering questions with questions. It means referring the question back to the asker. It means using other learners as a resource for the answers and for the learning.

"Cognitive organization" isn't the same as mastery of the subject, although it implies that. Rather, cognitive organization is skill in retrieving what is known in showing learners where they can find answers in establishing connections between several parts of the learning inquiry.

"Enthusiasm"comes closest to being a trait. Yet even it is defined as "energy for the learner and learning goals." It is clearly distinguished from cheerleading and showmanship. To understand the real problem encountered from falling into the personality trap,try to make a list of the traits you want in people who join your staff.

There's patience, intelligence, flexibility, pleasing appearance, sense of humor, sympathy,and empathy. It begins to sound like a recipe for divinity, doesn't it?
Far more to the point are things such as strong legs (to endure through the day)and questioning skills and the ability to count to ten when difficult students become abrasive.
The point is that these personality traits are hard to spot in other people,especially during the limited time available in interviews. Even if we have the aid of written tests, we are unable to match the candidates' inventories with the tasks they will be performing as T&D specialists. At least, we're notable to do so by examining traits. So what do we do instead?
Far better that we look for demonstrated abilities in the form of behaviors, which we can watch for when we interview candidates. What are those skills we seek?

Skills to Look For Wit hall that variety, and with continuous research adding depth to each competency,no one expects to hire a master of all—or probably even to develop one! Yet certain behavioral patterns provide a checklist to use when selecting people for any T&D staff.
These questions get at many of the competencies, with special focus on intellectual and relationship versatility, or counseling and feedback skills. It comes close to combining a search for traits, behaviors, and competencies all at once.
First,can they listen? They'll need to do a great deal of it, so it's good technique to give them a chance to listen while being interviewed. This doesn't mean that the interviewer does all the talking. The usual advice is correct: The candidate should do most of the talking. Most—but not all.

Since T&D specialists will need to listen for feelings as well as content, it's also a good idea to see how they handle certain emotional things as well as technical data and intellectual content. Check to see whether applicants pick up the little cues you give them about your feelings; find out how they handle process analysis by sharing some of your feelings about how the interview is going. Reflect upon what they have said, then check their responses to that reflection.

Double-check their listening by asking something that requires recall of facts you've already supplied. Find out whether they "pick up on" questions arising out of a topic you've only sketchily described.Next,do they probe for feelings? When they ask you about the work, do they inquire about the human responses associated with performing the tasks? Do they wonder about the qualms their students might feel at learning to do old things in new ways? Do they sense the feelings associated with acquiring brand new behaviors?Listening for feelings represents one essential skill; probing for them goes a step beyond (and ahead!) of mere listening. Beyond these, a third level of listening skill is needed.

Do they respond constructively to feelings? When you revealed something of your own emotions during the interview, how did the applicant react? Did the applicant change the subject? Blush? Awkward silence? Or did you get a further inquiry?Reflection? As Carl Rogers (1969) points out, the effective facilitator of learning will be as responsive to students' feelings as to their ideas.

Can they deal with conflict? For mature ideas to be examined in mature, dynamic ways,T&D specialists will need to handle conflict. When consulting, they will face sharp differences about the nature, causes, and impact of performance problems.As designers, they will experience conflict about the appropriateness of method, or about the receiving department's readiness for certain learning methodology. Instructors face sharp disagreement about theories, policies, and procedures. Administrators resolve conflict on their staff and they resolve conflicts with and between client-managers.
Can they change their opinions? Somewhere between total lack of conviction and plain stubbornness is the degree of flexibility needed in effective T&Specialists.

Perhaps it boils down to this for consultants, designers, and instructors:
Does new evidence produce an amendment in their original opinions? For administrators this is a major mental skill. Without it, there is no evidence that the T&D specialist can grow. If T&D specialists cannot grow, they will have great difficulty in stimulating growth in others. This issue of mental flexibility ("intellectual versatility" in the ASTD Competency Study) again raises the issue of how important subject knowledge is to the instructor's role. The credibility of the instructor is important if the objective of the training is to expand the experience of the learner.

It must therefore be apparent that the instructor is more concerned with mental processes than with mental inventory. It must also be apparent that if instructors are selected just because they know the subject they will teach, the training program is headed for trouble. To be master or mistress of a technology is a comforting position—but that very comfort can be the source of failure in the dynamics of the classroom, or when the technology changes. Thus the importance of selecting instructors who can evaluate information and who can change their minds when new information requires new opinions.

Do they ask a lot of questions? Questioning skills are important in the repertory of people performing all of the four T&D roles. A propensity to use questions can reveal itself during the interview. Later on, as part of their upgrading,the T&D manager can see that they learn the proper use of open, directive,and reflective types of questions. At the selection stages, one just wants to measure their comfort with the interrogative mode. As good T&D specialists,they'll be there a lot.

Is there a high energy level as they communicate? As we have already noted, this is enthusiasm—not showmanship. It is certainly a vastly different thing from public speaking skills. In fact, platform skills can be counterproductive to effective instruction. Why? Ego and speaking skills can tempt the trainer to send signals rather than to indulge in the two-way communication needed to create learning and to test what learners are learning. Speaking skills tempt trainers to feel that the job has been done well if the lesson has been "said" well.The focus is on presentation rather than on learning.

High energy levels, however, are important to the T&D specialist for several reasons:

  • Days are long. The analysis of performance problems can mean arduous, taxing efforts that must be plowed through to completion— now. The analysis doesn't end just because the normal workday is over.
  • Leadership is hard work. It's physically taxing. At the end of counseling, instructing,or consulting, both the body and the spirit can easily be "all achin' and racked with pain."
  • Designing requires creativity—and creation (as many have noted) is part perspiration and part concentration. At any rate, it can be exhausting— and usually is.
  • Conference or class leadership requires more than normal vocal and physical outputs. The instructor will need energy in great quantities at moments when the group must be "centered" around a single concept, task, topic, or issue. Group and individual attentions must be redirected every now and then;it requires great concentration, more purposeful movement, and a louder voice.
  • Above all, the instructor is always "living the learning" of every person in the group. That demands fantastically high energy levels.

Can the candidates express themselves effectively? Verbal skills play a heavy parting success for all four of the T&D roles. This does not mean a big vocabulary or impeccable grammar. Rather, it means a vocabulary that responds to learners' vocabularies. It means a vocabulary that blends the concrete and the abstract so that concepts can become realities—and so immediate realities can lead to insights about principles. It means sentences that make sense the first time learners hear them. It means taking the trouble to communicate the transitions between ideas linking them, contrasting them, showing parallels. It means letting people know when you move up or down the ladder of abstraction on which words and ideas exist. It means checking for clarity and stimulating learners 'imagination—simultaneously.

Can the applicant reinforce? Be careful of this one. It certainly doesn't mean, "Are they agreeable?" Far from it. All one needs on the T&D staff is mollycoddle Pollyanna or an obsequious Caspar Milquetoast. However,the ability to give positive reinforcement is extremely important in probing,in resolving conflict, in teaching. Especially in teaching! Positive reinforcement is vitally helpful in aiding learners as they reach learning goals, particularly difficult learning goals. Effective instructors find the element that is correct or appropriate in each learner-response; then they reinforce that correct element positively. The ability to give this reinforcement can be observed during the initial interview; it can be strengthened as one of the first lessons in the further training of the T&D specialist.(That learning can begin during the interview if the T&D manager effectively reinforces worthwhile behaviors and responses from the candidate.)

There is a long list of things instructors need to do if they are to become growing and growth-creating members of the T&D staff. Let's look at that list, considering first those things needed for classroom instructors and later the list for those who will perform on-the-job training.

That's clearly an extensive list and a big order! All the lists shown here will belike that. Why? Because we want to show the full range of skills the T&D professional will use; and our use of the word "professional" doesn't apply to those who become "stranded" in the T&D Department.

Our professionals are those who can use a wide technology. The list shows the widest technology possible! To do their work well, single-person T&Departments will need to select carefully, searching out those skills that will be used most frequently—and balancing the self-development program so they prepare themselves to function in as many of the four T&D roles as possible.

As we know, there are at least four major roles to be filled in the T&Department. Before the decision is made to do any training, a great deal of performance analysis occurs by T&D staff people serving as consultants to the organization. What does their expertise include?

When we consider the skills required of the T&D manager, we are, of course, examining list that looks like the behaviors of any manager—plus some important special considerations. Our chart will examine just those special things; we will assume that all the other administrative and managerial skills are part of the inventory the T&D manager brings to the position—or acquires immediately after the first day on the job! (If that's a hasty assumption, then the typical Management
Then there's control of the situation. Perhaps this is nothing more than asking that candidates be themselves. A significant trend in adult education and training is the need for instructors to be real people, not actors impersonating plaster saints. This in no way implies that T&D specialists can be undisciplined, totally spontaneous creatures who lose their tempers or speak their minds whenever the spirit moves them to do so. But it does mean that they don't fall apart at the seams when their own humanity spills out. They are able to handle that; the yare in control of the situation.

One might argue that the T&D manager who finds these behaviors or skills in candidates has really measured the personality traits of those candidates. If so, so be it. The important thing is that looking for demonstrated skill in listening, questioning,reinforcing, communicating, and being congruent assures the T&D manager that candidates can do something that they already have in their inventory, some of the things they will have to do when they become T&D specialists.

Granted,the nature of the initial T&D assignments makes a difference. T&D Specialists who will analyze performance problems need somewhat different proficiencies from those who will instruct. Even within the instructor's role, we expect different skills from classroom instructors, conference leaders, and on-the-job trainers. But as already noted, the enriched T&D placement moves incumbents through more than one of the four T&D roles. Besides, there are some skills that are equally important to successful performance in every one of the roles.

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