After working in various industries, in various capacities, at companies of all sizes and shapes for more than 45 years, something is still a mystery to me: why training programs stick?
I may be the most over-trained individual you'll ever meet. My career started about the same time as Tom Peters and Bob Waterman published In Search of Excellence, a book that spawned an entire industry of corporate improvement initiatives that lives on today.
I took every course my employers offered—some of them multiple times. I just could not get enough of getting better.
Part of that was ingrained because I was an athlete, a teacher, and a coach. I was used to going to practice every day, and even when I put on a suit and tie and nice shoes, I still wanted that edge that comes from daily practice.
I wanted, desperately, to learn. To sell better, to write better, to manage better, to think better.
And it wasn't about money because I never made much. Learning was good enough. Being good enough was good enough for me.
The problem is that training and development are human enterprises and in that nature are inherently flawed, misguided, mismanaged, and wasteful. Human capital, then, is still the most mismanaged asset in the world of work.
I think I know why.
Employee skills by themselves are not enough to create companies that operate on all cylinders all the time.
Everyone has worked in organizations that have had so much dysfunction going on that we couldn't overcome it well enough to keep the place moving forward. So, I have concluded that the work environment—the culture—is as much a part of the answer as the training and development programs that are in place.
There are numerous concepts that seem obvious precursors to high employee satisfaction and performance, such as teamwork, profit-sharing, participative decision-making, autonomy, and sound job design.
We're also pretty sure that well-managed companies attract good people who, because they work at a cool place, tend to get close to their potential, and the cycle perpetuates itself as long as the managers who built the environment stick around.
It's circular. And it's difficult. And, often, it is unsustainable. And good training isn't always the answer. But you can "beat the system" when you have these things going for you:
- Sound Leadership Practices: Clear and open communication, top to bottom and back to the top. Senior management seeks input from everybody. People get recognized when they do good work, and they get let go, gently, when they don't, especially at the top.
- Employee Engagement: People have the time and support to do their jobs well. There are respected mechanisms in place for constant feedback. People fit their jobs and their jobs fit their skills.
- Equal Access to Knowledge: What most leaders don’t understand is that almost all the answers about how to do things better are already embedded in their companies. They just don't know how to dig them up. Find ways for employees to share what they know with each other, and you will see quantum leaps of performance.
- An Optimized Workforce: A fancy term for everybody holding everybody else accountable for what they are supposed to do. Hiring decisions are balanced between what the recruit can do and how well he or she will carry on the values of the firm. A good "player" can poison a good team in a few minutes, if tolerated.
When you are lacking in any of these vital areas, you are doomed to failure sooner or later. Though, on paper, all this does not sound that difficult to do.
Keep this in mind when you decide that the only difference between your company and sustainable success is a good training program. You may be wrong.