Development ≠ Training

Photo Credit: John Wardell (Netinho) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: John Wardell (Netinho) via Compfight cc

I ran a contentjam session last week for a group of local government LD people. There was some brilliant output, but as I was talking through what we do I still found some ‘old fashioned’ thinking. My favourite is to ask who has management induction training for new to the organisation managers; these people have been recruited as a manager and we stick them in a classroom for anything up to 5 days to train them to manage ‘our’ way.


Because we’re LD and we can provide lots of stuff?

There’s been two articles recently that have brought this issue to the front of my thinking again. First up was this neat piece by Jane Hart about the connected LD department. I mentioned it at the #contentjam session and the LD people there all ‘got’ the notion of provision and packaging as a default position for LD.

Although I like the categorisation into 3 forms of support, I’m not convinced by using the term scaffolding. My fear is that the scaffolding can be used to shape the outcome and there needs to be clear distinction as to how far the LD team are responsible for this shaping. This is where LD need to talk in terms of business and work as a partner to, not a driver of, the desired outcome

We’ve got a long way to go though – have a read through this article on the Business Insider website. It was tweeted @gerdriesen and I noticed a glaring error straight away. The piece is referencing a report in the Harvard Business Review about:

the most common area of weakness among poorly-rated senior managers was a failure to develop others

It’s an interesting piece of research that looks at 16 core attributes of leaders. Surprisingly (or some might say unsurprisingly) the worst rated attribute across a sample of 500+ was ‘developing others’. The error on the Business Insider article? Why is it called:

The Least Effective Bosses Don’t Bother To Train People

I don’t recall seeing ‘training’ in the HBR piece yet it’s turned into training by the BI journalist. Is that the perception that is created by the phrase ‘leaders don’t develop others’?

How do we market LD? Are we marketing as provision? Are we marketing as adding to the workflow (as very well put by Charles Jennings here)?

  • If we continue to pronounce how we have ‘new’ and ‘brilliant’ content we will disappear
  • If someone markets solutions from within workflow we will disappear
  • If we can’t talk in terms of business we will disappear
  • If we can’t focus on outcomes rather than outputs, we will disappear.

Agree? Tell me why (or why not) via the comments.

7 thoughts on “Development ≠ Training

  1. Thanks for the article Andrew. Good point about the scaffolding. I had to go back and read Jane’s original article and she talks about assisting the business create the framework and the right conditions of learning. I think Clive Shepherd using the term, “learning architect” – funny that the terms have some kind of “building” connotation around them.

    However I understand what you’re trying to say around shaping the outcome – otherwise, we’re just doing exactly what we’ve been doing! I read Jane’s article as supporting the business in terms of work – speaking in terms of the business and creating solutions that close performance gaps in line with their business conditions, constraints and environment.

    Too often as L&D we just don’t provide solutions that make sense for the business. One glaring example is working in a business that cannot commit people to attend full day courses and yet we continue to persist with facilitator-led solutions that are lengthy. No wonder we have ‘no shows’ or people leaving classrooms to attend more pressing business tasks. When we continue to provide solutions like this without taking into account the people we’re supposed to assist, no wonder we get a bad name.

    We’ve got a long way ahead of us…


  2. Thanks Helen. The use of building terms is helpful in one way because it’s a context we understand. Unfortunately I think it means we think in terms of construct which leads, regretfully, to building ‘stuff’.


  3. It really does seem like development and training are commonly conflated. I see this in my organization and it’s exasperating.

    There are two things I see at the root of the problem:

    1) Training seems to be an easy, neatly packaged answer to practically any problem involving humans. Dearth of information? Train to solve it. Dearth of motivation? Solve that with training too. Lack a clear pathway between tasks and business outcomes? Help people see the way with a training session. This is an easy service to provide, wipe our hands, and walk away with the illusion that we’ve done something, even if what we’ve done is nothing.

    2) Training is an L&D centric function and it’s wrong-headed. The “train it” perspective assumes that people can’t learn anything without our help. This results in a futile one to many push on the terms of the service provider. We end up doing things TO people and not FOR people. By setting up factories that treat everyone exactly the same, we make things convenient for ourselves. Also convenient for us is the measure of how much we “dose our patients”.

    I explain these problems to leadership with a couple of diagrams. One is a large triangle with a wide base. At the top of the triangle, I highlight a really tiny area that represents L&D and other HQ / policy functions. I say, “So we’re trying to push enlightenment to the rest of the triangle? Do you know how insane and futile that seems?”. I follow that with a description of what fills the rest of the triangle. It’s filled with people. People in a soup of culture. And at the bottom side of the triangle are the missions of the organization. WE aren’t doing the missions. THEY are. So how do we help them connect with the stuff that makes their jobs easier? How can we remove barriers? How can we ensure we don’t make ourselves a barrier?

    I read something interesting the other day and have integrated it into my vernacular. Culture, people, process, technology — in that order. We tend to want to inflate technology and process to influence and override behaviors. The perspective that culture rules all introduces an interesting dynamic. Like all complex systems, the answer is never as easy as we’d like it to be. Training = answer, not likely.

    The training=answer default is common. As humans raised in a factory system of education, we really don’t know any better. Until we stand up and champion an alternate vision, magazine articles will continue to conflate training and development. Encouragement and guidance have a place in training. Training has no business inserting itself as the primary strategy for development.

    Wicked problem, that.


  4. Thanks Steve – did you see this piece I did last year looking at Strategy, Structure, Systems, Skills, Culture?

    I don’t believe you can start with cultural change; there’s no traction to change any other part if it’s a cultural issue alone. It’s easier to identify which of the 4 S to start with and understand how it will impact on the remaining S AND Culture.

    There’s a piece out of this on adaptive vs technical change that I’ll do next week now – thanks.


    1. I don’t think it’s starting with a cultural change or even trying to tackle culture, more making culture a consideration for strategy. We’ve seen several technology implementations fail because they didn’t consider the cultural aversion to the implementation. A group of folks that don’t believe in the value of a product or solution can and will scuttle an implementation.


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