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Training ≠ Development

March 30, 2017

According to an article in the October, 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review titled “Why Leadership Training Fails – and What to Do About It”, American companies spend $160 billion on employee training and education. Included in this figure are billions of dollars spent on leadership skills development. Yet, when asked if such programs have a lasting impact on long-term success, many CEO’s say “No”. Why are these programs so ineffective?

One contributing factor is a misunderstanding of the differences between “Training” and “Development”. Although functionally, Training & Development resides in a Human Resources function, “training” and “development” are not the same.

Training is transactional –

Development is transformational

Training is effective when you want to teach someone how to perform a specific task in a particular way. Training is the correct intervention if you want to teach someone how to do something. For example:

  • Operate a computer-controlled milling machine,
  • Apply a disciplined, problem-solving technique,
  • Deliver winning customer service,
  • Reconcile a bank statement, or
  • Interview a job applicant.

To achieve consistent quality in any endeavor it is necessary to replicate “best practices” by giving everyone a common set of skills. Through training, practice, and feedback consistency can be achieved. If, at some point, there is a need to improve or change the way tasks are performed, a new “best practice” is developed and retraining occurs.

The most effective method of training is through a monolog – instructor lead – with practice and feedback. Interactions occur to achieve clarity and understanding of the “best practice” methods.

In contrast, development is a process not an event. The purpose of development is to bring about systemic change, which by definition is strategic in nature.

Many corporations’ failed leadership programs are initiated by Human Resources out of a perceived need to change some organizational dynamic, e.g. more inter-functional collaboration, improving teamwork, performance management, or improved communications.  They are aimed at a specific need.

HR’s perceptions may be accurate based on quantifiable evidence from employee surveys and/or confidential interviews.  Top management may give the program support and financial backing. Unfortunately, training participants do not return to an environment that supports their new-found skills. Their executives have not changed. Chances are their executives are unfamiliar with the newly acquired skills, so there is no feedback, coaching or encouragement. Very quickly, participants return to the status-quo.

To have a lasting impact, leadership training interventions are part of a broader, compelling reason to change. Executive leadership is at the core of the change dialog. Transformational change is a top-down initiative. Senior team members who are committed to a strategic need for organizational change will accept their responsibility to be in front of the change. In this circumstance, leaders will set the example and be open to self-assessment, 360° feedback, consulting and coaching as they develop new skills along with others.

The authors describe a five-step process in organizational transformation that includes structured training as an element in the development process.

1.    The senior leadership team clarifies and defines strategic direction, values and guiding principles.

2.    Barriers to strategy execution are identified and addressed through organizational redesign (roles, responsibilities, and allocation of power/authority).

3.    Coaching and consultation help people become effective within the new design.

4.    Training is added as needed to address skill deficiencies.

5.    Metrics gauge changes in individual and organizational performance.

6.    Talent management decisions are made on the basis of the new standards.

Training to fix past issues –

Development to address future needs

Harvard Business Review, October 2016, pp 50-57