Bring on The Training Revolution – Part I

by Helen Morris-Brown

Six months ago, I discovered a principle that has helped me. I’ve found it to be a useful tool both at home and at work, so I thought I’d share it with you. They call it Sturgeon’s Law.

It’s simple. Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap. It came about during the 1950s when Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction writer, was told by a critic that “90% of science fiction writing is crap”. He was exasperated. He replied, “But 90% of everything is crap!”

If Theodore was right, it means that 90% of everything – 90% of what you read on the internet, 90% of the self-help books on sale at the airport, 90% of what George Osborne says – is all, well, questionable, to say the least. So, yes, I think he was right.ninety percent of everything is crap

And that means, of course, that 90% of all learning and development solutions are rubbish, too. In other words, 90% of training materials – the e-learning software, psychometric tests, training equipment, training providers – are just not worth your money. So it’s down to you to identify the 10% that is worthy of your investment. It goes without saying that it will be different for all of us. But my experience of working with companies as a management trainer and consultant, particularly over the last ten years, has shown me that a huge quantity of time and money is being invested in training programmes which simply cannot work. And I don’t think that is acceptable.

It’s not just the consultants who are noticing this – business owners are starting to spot it too. As a consequence, both learning and development and HR professionals are under a huge amount of pressure to ensure that the money they invest in development leads to real, quantifiable change.  And I know how hard that is to get right, because you’re dealing with human behaviour. Everyone is different. Standardised, generic training doesn’t suit everybody, so you can’t guarantee results.

David Clutterbuck, from the European Council of Coaching and Mentoring, has observed that standardised courses do not lead to long-term change. His research shows that the learning from a two or three day coaching skills course lasts on average for – wait for it –  three days. Yes, that’s right, just three days. It’s a stark reminder that sheep-dip training courses result in little or no change in behaviour. They are not worth your money.

So, don’t believe companies when they tell you that they can guarantee results with the types of intervention in which individuals are trained without their team, away from the context of their organisation. The truth is that they can’t. And the reason it’s impossible to guarantee a difference in behaviour is that the change that is demanded of people in a short time is just too great. If we change one bit of the system, or one or two people in a team, it’s just too uncomfortable. The change doesn’t stick. It won’t stick. And no one can make it stick.

Even though training appears to be changing – with the increase in e-learning, webinars, access to the whole wide world at the touch of a button – it will never be enough, because it is still targeted at individuals. So, all that is happening is that, at best, people are improving a broken model. You need to change the whole team, the whole organisation, the whole culture, before you start to see changes. And you need to do it cheaply. That’s why we need a revolution. A revolution that involves a major change in the way we approach learning in organisations.  A revolution that will result in freedom from expensive training interventions that, for the most part, do not work.

So how’s it done? How do you change a whole team, a whole organisation? How do we get the whole company to transform the way it approaches learning and development so that people change the way they do things – not just for three days, or a week, or a month, but forever? And with little or no money?

Well, you have to look at things differently. That’s the biggest challenge. Innovation is hard. It means that we have to examine what we take for granted and question things that we think are obvious. The great problem for reform and transformation is the tyranny of common sense, the idea that “it can’t be done any other way, because that’s the way it’s done”.

So, when we look at reforming training, and transforming it, we won’t get anywhere by cloning a system. There are great courses out there – management and leadership qualifications, e-learning packages – but in order to see sustainable change in people, we have to customise the training to our own circumstances and personalise it to the people whom we are actually working with.

I know from my own experience that it is the way forward. It’s not about reshaping the old, it’s about creating a movement in training in which leaders develop their own solutions, with external support, based on a personalised agenda. It’s about pursuing and investing in the 10% that works, the 10% that results in sustainable change.

It might sound like your familiar bespoke training, but it’s much more than that. This is about ownership, empowerment and, ultimately, control. You develop your own solutions, with external support. You need to spend less time and money with us, your consultants, and look to standing on your own two feet.

So how can you revolutionise your approach to training? Well, you need to create the conditions under which people begin to flourish. In the second part of this post I’ll explain how you do that effectively without spending vast sums of money.

Part II will be posted on Monday 25th February 2013.

Helen is the founder and Director of Really Responsible Training. She is a facilitator, trainer and learning and development specialist with over twenty years’ experience. She holds an MSc in Occupational Psychology and is accredited to deliver management and leadership qualifications for ILM and CMI. Helen is an expert in designing breakthrough interventions for business leaders with the aim of inspiring positive change.

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