Of the top motivational forces in the workplace at least six can be either directly or indirectly attributed to staff development – job satisfaction, recognition, empowerment, personal development, promotional prospects and the relationship with one’s manager. Given this, it would be reasonable to expect that staff development was pretty high on the agenda for most managers – but is it?
On the scale of importance versus urgency, it would be fair to say that staff development normally ranks as highly important but very rarely urgent. This is but one reason perhaps why staff development doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves. As such, the solution for many managers is merely to seek out relevant training courses that fall within their budget and place an appropriate tick in the development box – particularly when it comes to completing the forms for the staff performance and development review meetings. Job done – I think not.
If we consider what is required for people to become competent in a particular discipline, it can be broadly broken down into three areas – knowledge, skills and practical application. Effective knowledge transfer means that the staff member understands what needs to be done, how it should be done and why they are doing it. The relevant skills either need to be developed from scratch or alternatively, can be transferred from an existing discipline in which the staff member is already competent. There are very few opportunities for applying the knowledge and skills in practical situations other than on the job.
At best, a traditional training course will deliver knowledge and skills. More often than not though, a traditional training course will deliver primarily knowledge with perhaps the odd role play or skills practice thrown in for good measure. Given this, how can a member of staff become fully competent by merely attending a training course? The reality is that they will only become fully competent if they return from the training course and practice what they have learned. This assumes that they have absorbed all the relevant knowledge from the training course and moreover, are given opportunities to apply this learning in practical situations. Better still, they will receive some coaching and feedback interventions from their manager or an experienced member of the team to ensure that the learning and development moves them efficiently towards a high level of competence.
The astute manager will not only realise the need for a proactive coaching approach to be combined with sending staff on training courses but rather, there are probably more cost efficient methods of the initial knowledge transfer such as e-learning, books, articles, shadowing others, industry seminars and even internal procedure documentation. I must emphasise though that using some of these alternative methods of knowledge transfer still require proactive coaching if the individual is to become fully competent.
Experience tells me that there are many instances where a training course is used as a substitute to coaching – after all let’s face facts, knowledge transfer and skills development can just as easily come from the coach as it can from an external training provider. Sure, a training course can give the impression that the manager is serious about their staff’s development and it can also make them feel valued but unless it is combined with post course coaching, it is somewhat hit and miss whether the individual will be able to apply what they have learned and become competent. But then of course we come full circle – many managers simply do not have enough time to coach their staff as they would like.
Is there a better alternative?
When I set up the Experiential Learning Centre it was just such an alternative that I sought to achieve. Prior to attending one of our experiential events, the initial knowledge component is delivered via e-learning. While we do spend some time at each of our events reinforcing this knowledge transfer, the majority of the time on our courses is spent with delegates actually doing rather than being taught. We have developed a range of high quality simulations and activities for each programme that enable delegates to experience the relevant business skills in an applied situation.
This is supplemented by expert facilitation and timely coaching interventions. And I do not use the word ‘expert’ lightly here. All of our facilitators are experts in the disciplines of the programmes they run. This means that they can provide effective demonstrations, make the right observations, ask key questions and engage in powerful coaching interventions. Moreover, each of our programmes include an analysis of delegates’ strengths and weaknesses and conclude with a detailed action planning sessions so that delegates are fully equipped to transfer their learning upon returning to work.
It would be remiss of me to claim that delegates will not benefit from additional post course coaching and proactive involvement from their manager. However, less time is required as staff members have invariably progressed further along the learning curve than virtually any other method of learning as they have already gained the relevant knowledge, developed many of the required skills and begun to apply what they have learned.
Therein lies the power of experiential learning.
Simon Cooper is Chief Executive of the Experiential Learning Centre, based in the UK but operating worldwide. He is also the author of Brilliant Leader and architect of the unique and powerful experiential workshop, Brilliant Leadership.
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