• September 2010

Easy Ways To Embrace Training + Development

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

Ancora imparo (I am still learning). — Michelangelo

Thank goodness for those employees who embrace self-improvement. Unfortunately, there are those who intellectually know the importance of staying on top of their game—but are reluctant to take the leap.

Here are some ways to get them looped in.

Helping Adult Learners Learn

“To be successful, managers must help develop employees. It free up managers to function less as problem-solvers and more as managers and leaders,” says Anne Hull of Hull Strategies, LLC. “Before training begins, discuss with the employee what each of you wants to learn from the training. Align the training objectives with both your department’s goals and the employee’s career goals. Identify specific ways in which you expect the employee to use his or her newly acquired skills on the job.”

As HR executives, we know that employees need a workplace where they can develop their professional and interpersonal skills.

“Adults who have been in the workplace for years learn differently than children, of course, and trainers need to understand adult learning theory to help trainees to build skills and realize their potential growth,” according to Lisa Haneberg, author of 10 Steps to Be a Successful Manager.

She offers the following insights into the workers you are planning to guide:

1. Adult learners need to feel the new information and skills directly link to and benefit their goals. They need to be enrolled with their hearts and minds to be engaged in the learning.

2. They respond well to real-world examples and applications. Be sure to have conversations with trainees about how the principles and practices relate to their realities.

3. Adult learners resist being forced to attend trainings. They want to come up with the ideas for learning and development on their own or have a list of options from which to choose. Trainers should refrain from prescribing training or development. Instead, have open conversations with trainees and ask questions that allow them to discover and determine their development options.

4. They may be defensive or feel attacked when training is recommended to them. Put your trainees in control, asking them to define their goals and the information or skills that would most help them reach their goals.

5. Adult learners are invested in their careers and successes. They may be reluctant to share their mistakes or weaknesses. Help trainees find the right learning environments and redefine success such that open discussions and learning evoke less fear and insecurity.

6. They must own their progress and welcome clear feedback along the way. Help trainees determine how well their development is progressing and encourage them to begin applying new skills right away.

7. Adult learners come to training or development sessions with years of previous experiences, opinions, and mind-sets. Ensure that they have the opportunity to share, acknowledge, and move beyond their biases. Concepts and practices that run counter to their usual ways of being will be accepted and applied slowly. Trainers should understand and allow time for this transition to occur.

8. Adult learners cannot be forced to learn; they must be coachable, and this is their choice. Help facilitate their progress through open and candid conversations focused on the goals they feel passionately about achieving.

Training: an ongoing process

Some training focuses on existing conditions and circumstances; other types focus on changing employees’ behaviors in performing their jobs. And some training deals more specifically with accommodating changes in the work environment.

For example, when new machines are introduced, new software is added to computer networks, new production methods become available, and/or new organizational procedures and systems are implemented, employees must be trained in the proper use of those procedures and systems.

Before any training is done, however, prepare a comprehensive needs assessment. First, identify what skills are needed. Next, assess your current staff against the level of those skills. There are many ways to create a training needs assessment. Certainly the manager, from his or her vantage point, can evaluate the employee’s strengths and areas for development based on actual work product and personal observations.

Leah Moran Rampy, Ph.D., reminds us that although managers’ views of employees’ development needs are important, they’re not comprehensive. Peers, direct reports, and customers can provide important feedback about a person’s skills, behavior, and attitude. A 360-degree feedback process—involving those who work “above,” “below,” and “with” the employee—can enrich the assessment and show how others perceive him or her.

Managers can obtain 360-degree feedback using published, standardized assessment tools; customized, organization-specific processes; or interviews by the manager, an HR professional, or an external coach/consultant. A cautionary note: If those providing feedback assume that the information will be used “against” the employee in any way, such as in a performance review, they often temper their answers. Most people don’t want to cause trouble for the employee.

Therefore, 360-degree feedback is most useful when respondents are offered anonymity and an HR professional or trained coach helps the employee interpret the feedback.

Changing employee behavior or encouraging training is more likely when this feedback is part of an overall development process that includes support from senior management to complete and sustain it. Used responsibly and thoughtfully, 360-degree feedback can provide insights to employees about how they are perceived and help target key opportunities for development.

The value of mentoring

“Demand for mentoring is growing, especially among younger employees,” explains Joanne Lozar Glenn, the author of Mentor Me. She says that as a manager you have another valuable tool for retaining employees—formal or informal mentoring—and believes employees want mentoring in two areas:

1. The skills they need to succeed on the job. Ongoing training and development should include your one-on-one coaching, based on your own experience.

2. The skills they need to build a satisfying career. Here, you serve as both a role model and a networker for your employees. Share your own struggles and successes. Invite employees to attend important meetings with you and then to attend future meetings in your place. Expose them to other successful professionals inside and outside your organization, and encourage them to discuss their own career development.

You can also inspire employees to mentor themselves by encouraging them to be their own best advocates in the workplace. Here’s how:

  • Teach employees to recognize and play to their strengths.
  • Help them address their own mistakes with a sense of humor, or at least with grace.
  • Challenge employees to increase creative control of their jobs, and take a proactive approach to performance reviews.
  • Help them build a portfolio that showcases their best work, and teach them the subtle arts of self-promotion.
  • Introduce them to a mentor other than yourself who can help them work through—in a short-term, highly focused encounter—issues such as handling career plateaus or transitions or navigating office politics.

For more information on evaluation and other details, check out Chapter 4 of my book, The Essential HR Handbook.


About Barbara Mitchell

Barbara is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known as an expert in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and not-for-profit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Barbara is a graduate of North Park University in Chicago, with a degree in history and political science. Contact Barbara by email.

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