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By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
Identify three characteristics of a workplace that values learning.
Explain the five steps in establishing a training and learning mission.
Define the four essential elements of linking training to business goals.
List at least five ways to promote training within the workplace.
List at least two ways to promote training outside of the workplace.
So, you've taken on the job of being a champion of workplace learning. In this chapter, we help you think about workplace learning in a comprehensive way. We also give you the tips and tools you need to widely promote learning on the job and to set up the training your employees need to maximize that learning. We guide you through steps and processes to make learning happen without spending a lot of money and with a more informed and competent workforce following your leadership.
First, we help you carefully construct a learning mission statement and give you guidance in how best to promote training and learning both within the company and in the wider business community. Then, we help you sort out the factors for choosing which training supports your company's business goals. Next, we help you identify and initiate the important tasks of training, knowing that very often, nontrainers are pressed into service on the front lines of training. Finally, we provide the fundamentals in adopting the role and responsibilities of being a champion of workplace learning.
Jenn, The Office Manager
Jenn is the office manager in a growing business called The Physical Therapy Center. People know her as the one who figures out how to balance the needs of clients and staff with the needs of the business. Clients can find Jenn with her head bent over the computer intensely tracking insurance issues or assisting a therapist who is helping a client with balance exercises. Jenn is an enthusiastic manager with obvious commitment to her job—and she has a great infectious laugh that everybody loves and which endears her to clients of all ages and all conditions. Jenn can be trusted to keep the needs of the business and the needs of the clients foremost as she presses forward with the paperwork and treatment plans. Jenn is a natural "champion" of the work of the Center.
It's no surprise then, that Jenn has been asked to add staff training to her other responsibilities. It is obvious that the boss values her ability to push the business forward as well as to meet the highly individual needs of staff and clients. Jenn is the perfect person to lend her keen sense of business goals and human relations to this new part of her job description.
Characteristics of a Workplace that Values Learning
Begin the work of championing workplace with a clear understanding of the fundamentals. Workplaces that value learning demonstrate the following characteristics:
All levels and categories of employees have access to training opportunities.
Both formal and informal on-the-job learning are evident in the workplace.
Training that is offered is directly related to improving job knowledge and skills.
Let's look more closely at each of these characteristics.
All Employees Have Access to Training Opportunities
It is common for companies to fall into a trap of providing training opportunities only to certain groups or in certain content areas. A common problem, for example, might be that mid-level managers and supervisors get the most training hours devoted to them, or that product quality, product knowledge, and customer service get the least. ASTD's (American Society for Training and Development) 2004 State of the Industry Report suggests this situation (p. 13). The inertia of doing what's familiar can unwittingly construct walls of obstruction in the provision of training opportunities. When you look for elements of access, pay attention to the content areas as well as the to levels of employees who have been served. A workplace that values learning will have a record of providing training and learning opportunities across a broad spectrum of content and levels of employees. Remember that your job as a champion of workplace learning is to be everyone's—the workplace's—champion.
Both Formal and Informal On-the-Job Learning Are Evident
In gathering information about the nature of training and learning in your company, focus on the term learning so that you think in broad terms, not only in terms of classroom data. A workplace that values learning shows signs of learning occurring in all sorts of places—at work stations where two or three people are gathered solving a specific problem, in a customer's training room where one of your R&D professionals is explaining the new system they just bought from your company, in the executive office where a consultant from outside the company is coaching one of your vice-presidents in a one-to-one learning situation, at an administrative assistant's desk where a graphics specialist is showing her how to enhance Power Point™ presentations, at a team meeting where the team leader is using a flipchart to explain a new procedure for team accountability. Investigate which conferences which employees have attended recently and what they brought back from those conferences to improve their jobs. Focus on learning that makes a difference—learning that is effective and efficient. Think about the outcomes and the methods of teaching and learning that you discover on your search for evidence of a workplace that values learning.
Training Is Directly Related to Improving Job Knowledge and Skills
A workplace that values learning pares down training and informal learning opportunities to the essentials of what an employee needs to know in order to do the job well. Many companies have rushed into e-learning systems and off-the-shelf courses that are loaded with all sorts of interesting but unnecessary content. Many courses in current use at companies big and small are in need of streamlining, updating, and even eliminating. "Nice to know" is a guideline that doesn't work in today's workplace that values working smarter and faster. "Need to know" is the value statement. A champion of workplace learning offers training that is directly related to improving job knowledge and skills.
Use Exhibit 1-1 as a guide as you gather information about training and learning in your particular workplace. Champion your efforts from a position of strength and credibility.
Establishing a Training and Learning Mission
Being a champion of workplace learning means that you take every opportunity to advocate for learning in ways that fill the broadest possible spectrum. Like other champions, you'll be expected to fight for and support your cause: learning initiatives that deliver results. Your responsibilities may include speaking up for on-the-job classroom training and distributing communications about the benefits of training and the personal and organizational rewards of learning. You may get involved in selecting appropriate instructors and instructional design experts, in figuring out ways to recognize and reward outstanding results, and in keeping upper management informed and involved. In short, you're on a mission!
But missions have plusses and minuses. The excitement of being in charge of facilitating learning that improves individuals and makes a difference to the bottom line is a positive challenge to a new trainer; on the other hand, there's a lot to learn about facilitating many kinds of training in order to serve the needs of diverse employees. You need to think of your workplace as a collection of individuals with needs for learning about the company as well as about doing their own jobs better. Managers new to training roles and responsibilities can feel anxious and overwhelmed with the importance of the mission. We'll help you enlarge the positives and deal effectively with the negatives by giving you ideas and tools to work with as you spread your facilitation challenges throughout your company.
As a champion of workplace learning, you're faced with two immediate challenges. The first is to set a forward direction for training and learning by identifying processes already in place that currently support or that lead to workplace learning. Meeting this challenge head-on might lead you to find out whether all categories of employees have had the advantages of training and the career development that is related to learning more and learning better. Investigate which employee groups have been getting training: look at the practices currently in place regarding training for middle managers and supervisors, information technology workers, sales staff, administrative and support staff, production workers, customer service staff, senior managers and executives. You might even make a chart of the number of employees per category trained during the last year or two—a chart that can give you some solid back-up information about what needs to be done, as well as what's currently in place and working. And of course it never hurts to champion the cause by giving credit and visibility to good examples of positive outcomes of training from the recent past.
As part of this process, look around your company to see where informal learning is happening. This might include self-study on the computer at a worker's desk; person-to-person teaching and learning, such as coaching or solving problems in small groups; new employee orientation by big brother/big sister teams or by job shadowing, or by informal lunch-and-learn sessions in the cafeteria. Building on what's already successful and valued is always a good idea.
The second challenge is to prioritize the steps you need to take in order to clearly define your training and learning mission. Either challenge can be open to additions or modifications as you put them together to establish your training and learning mission. In Jenn's situation, there are two levels of learning facilitation to handle—the knowledge-intensive federal and state regulations, insurance claims, and doctors' therapy orders, and the how-to-do-it-better skills-based training of staff needs to interact effectively with clients. In order to champion learning in her particular workplace, Jenn needs to focus her staff-training mission on both knowledge and skills. She needs to define what knowledge and skills are required in her particular workplace, and she needs to outline the steps she'll take to define a training and learning mission that reflects and challenges her staff members.
Setting a Forward Direction
When you take on the role of champion of learning, first look around to identify the processes already in place that support workplace learning. Ask other managers, team leaders, and supervisors for their training data. For example:
Examine the organizations or departments represented at training seminars over the last six months to see if a broad representation of groups received training. Seek out middle managers for this information. Look for fairness.
Examine attendance records at short courses run by various departments to see if there was diversity in the employees who attended these courses. Collect data on equality of opportunity represented by recent training. See training as a benefit of employment. Sit down and talk with team leaders and supervisors; ask them for their impressions of the diversity of employees that were trained. Look for equal opportunity.
Identify categories of employees and levels of employees who seem to have received more—or less—training. Get a current organization chart and find out who reports to whom, and what the job titles are. Then check the current training list of courses and types of employees who attended. Ask the personnel or human resources staff to help you out by identifying persons who did or did not get training if supervisors don't have this information. Look for balance.
Examine the career development opportunities represented by the titles of courses given. Look at repeat enrollments in courses to see who had more advantages through training. Talk to people who got promotions shortly after attending training courses; ask them how training contributed to their career development. Talk to those responsible for hiring qualified employees to see if the current training furthers career development. Look for training that leads to quality of product and service and to competent performance.
Interview supervisors for information about the incidence of both formal and informal on-the-job learning among their organizations' employees; ask about coaching and mentoring. Don't forget to include self-study and e-learning at office computers on company time. Look for good examples of nontraditional learning successes.
Ask for and compare department training budgets. Check with all managers in the company for their training budget bottom line figure. Some managers might have no money allocated for training, and you'll want to note that. Don't worry about the budget details; just collect totals budgeted for training in each manager's line of responsibility. Look for system consistency across departments throughout the company.
When trying to make sense of the information you've gathered, think in terms of overall goals for the next year, not just the immediate goals of a particular training program or learning initiative. Identify the company's goals for profit, productivity, equal opportunity, career development, product development, customer service, hiring, downsizing, partnering, and so on. Look at your current training—and the training that you envision—against the company's broader goals. As a champion of workplace learning, get the facts under control before you step forward with a plan.
Establishing a training and learning mission requires that you use the review and analysis work you've just done to define priorities for training and learning at your workplace. One helpful tool for getting started with priorities is a simple checklist.
Exhibit 1–2 is an example for creating your own priorities checklist. A list of no more than five priorities is suggested as part of a long-range, or one-year plan for training and learning. Use this Priorities Worksheet as a foundation for establishing a training and learning mission. Focus only on mission; separate mission from planning and project management, which come later as part of the implementation phase. Creating a good mission statement requires that you have the information you need to champion learning. Use this written statement to propel your push forward. Write simply and clearly, and craft your mission statement only after you've researched and organized information from all around the company.
As you use the Priorities Worksheet, recall Jenn's story. Jenn's record, probably like your own, led the company to choose her to manage training responsibilities. Her business sense and her vibrant personality are perhaps similar to yours. Her story and yours start with being a champion of workplace learning.
What you see from these eight sample tasks in Exhibit 1–2 is a two-part management challenge. The first five items clearly relate to establishing the training and learning mission. The last three belong in a planning or project management phase, which comes later. We include the last three items as an example of what does not contribute to the crafting of a mission statement. Study these eight items to see the differences among them before you write your own mission statement.
Use the Priorities Worksheet to define your specific priorities for the early phase of establishing the mission. When you've finished prioritizing five or fewer tasks, look for the keywords and issues that form the basis of your training and learning mission statement. Turn negative findings into positive statements that address the negatives. For example:
Reflect the competency needs of our current workforce, including ...
Open doors of opportunity for ...
Facilitate technology upgrades in order to ...
Define the company's needs for training to satisfy federal guidelines in ...
When you prepare to create your own mission statement for training, use a priorities checklist as your first job aid. First things first: Think in terms of steps to take to get all the background information you need. Base your mission statement on filling the gaps you've identified; that is, make your mission reflect what is unique to your company and your priorities for it. Exercise 1–1 will get you started in a step-by-step effort to define a training and learning mission for your company.
Think about how Jenn could approach her task of creating a mission statement. Here are three priorities Jenn might define as she looks around her organization for training and learning opportunities:
1. Get information from the personnel files of both full-time and part-time staff members about which state-sponsored courses they attended. Look for gaps in mandated training connected to professional certifications. Define gaps in mandated needs.
2. Make lists of courses offered in the community college's medical prep curriculum that could help spread the Center's influence in the community. Identify staff members who could benefit from these courses.
3. Interview the top five doctors who consistently recommend clients to the Center to find out what they believe the Center's skills and knowledge strengths are. Then check personnel records of staff to be sure that these skills and knowledge strengths are part of everyone's professional background. Earmark individual employees who can benefit the center by taking additional training courses or receiving on-the-job coaching.
Jenn would then make these situations and findings part of her mission statement. Her mission statement might begin with, "It is part of the mission of The Physical Therapy Center to encourage our staff to complete all mandated training and to go beyond mandates to seek out training and learning opportunities that are directly connected to resources in our community ..."
Exercise 1–1 can help you identify the steps you need to take to get started with a mission statement for your own company.
Excerpted from How To Manage Training by Carolyn Nilson Copyright © 2007 by American Management Association. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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