Is Training Always The Solution?

In spite of a well planned training strategy do you find that you occasionally get corralled  putting out fires and dealing with last minute demands?  This can be very frustrating for the entire training team who are trying in vain to accomplish their goals as set out in their performance management plan. Last minute requests usually need to be dealt with in a rush which leaves little time for the requirements of assessment, design and delivery. Plus training is not always the best solution to the problem.

I can recall an example from my past, working for a large eastern Canadian health care institution.  I received a call from my boss telling me to drop everything and come down to his office for a meeting.  The CEO was there and was visibly upset because of a complaint he had just received from the wife of a dignitary who had cause to visit our Emergency Centre.  She personally complained to our CEO about the rude and unacceptable treatment she had received from some staff.

He directed me to create a comprehensive training program, not only for the Emergency Centre but for the entire organization on “Customer Service.”  And he wanted to see a draft plan on his desk by the end of the week.

We are talking about a staff of 3000 employees and our Training Department only consisted of myself, the manager, and two Training Specialists.  Where too start?

First I had to put all existing projects on hold.  I did a quick needs assessment with the Emergency Centre by interviewing both the leadership and 25% of the employee population. As the old saying goes “there is a reason for everything”, and I soon found out what was at the bottom of this unrest.

The staff of the Emergency Centre had just been provided with new uniforms and were mandated to wear them on shift.  They hated the uniforms and were angry that they were not involved in the selection process.  They felt that the uniforms were unattractive and made them look unprofessional.

As coincidence would have it, the day that the VIP came into the Emergency was the first day that staff were required to wear the uniform.  And the VIP made a few less than generous comments on the uniforms which led to some  less than flattering feedback about keeping her opinions to herself.

So this was the catalyst to suddenly drop everything and bring out a  corporate wide Customer Service program.  In my opinion this was sort of like “killing a fly with a sledge hammer!”  I reported back to my VP and suggested perhaps we address the uniform issue and conduct a Client Satisfaction Survey to confirm whether there was a significant customer service issue that could be remedied through training.  

In the end we did the Satisfaction Survey and received  very positive reviews from our clients which we shared with our CEO.  We explained the unhappiness with the staff uniforms that was at root cause and he agreed to let HR set up a Committee with staff representation to select outfits that everyone would be satisfied with.

Hence a training emergency averted and a problem solved!

Ramblings About Managing Learning In Organizations

The training and development department is a very misunderstood beast.  In my early years, working in organizational training I was often told that employees go to school and get their education and then they go to work.  I still run into the occasional manager or executive that carries that sentiment.  Why should our organization pay for an employee’s learning?

Having set up and managed a number of training portfolios over my career, I can safely say that the training and development department is often the least understood and most heavily underrated department in an organization’s structure.  We uniquely stick out like a sore thumb in the Human Resources Division but that seems to be the most widely accepted place to park us.

But is it? I guess that depends on what training and development services you provide.  If you are mandated to focus on educating employees on corporate policies and procedures then maybe so.  I always called that  “compliance training”.  We did it less to change attitudes or behaviours but more to cover our collective butts.  For example, if an employee violated our Respectful Workplace policy, their first defence was, “well I didn’t know, no one told me that it was wrong.”  So we educated our employees to read each policy and then sign a paper saying that they had done so.  Then came the next excuse, “yeah, I read it but I didn’t understand it.” So arbitrators started to look for evidence of understanding and that’s when corporate training shifted formally on curriculum development for policies and procedures.  And in many cases, the training department (like mine) came out and said maybe we need to ensure that the training is designed to shift attitudes and change behaviours to create a more harmonious work environment.

That of course elevated the role of training because it required more sophisticated training techniques and also couldn’t be taught in two hours.  Suddenly we expected employees to attend a full day or (heaven forbid) a two-day workshop to develop a deeper understanding of their role in maintaining a respectful work environment.  Many an executive has upbraided me saying, “do you know what it costs to have 600 of our employees out for a two day workshop?  Who is going to  do the work?”  Those executives are probably still puzzling over why there is such a negative culture where they work.  Too bad they don’t measure the cost of that!

In the more innovative organizations I worked in, the t&d department eventually became  mandated to develop a global training initiative.  This included on-the-job training for new technology and new equipment.  It also included leadership development, various organizational interpersonal communications initiatives, customer service and the list goes on.  The largest training department I managed over 25 years had six Training Specialists.  Most had 2 or 3.  Each department became an internal customer and each had their unique concerns that they felt training could solve.  The only thing they lacked was budget.  And of course, the t&d budget was often an offshoot of a larger Human Resource budget so there was plenty of competition for resources. With this expanded role, human resources may no longer be the best place for training and development.  There is a need to be closer to our subject matter experts and more responsive to leadership needs that may not always be in total synch with HR.

As my career progressed Training Departments became “Learning Departments” because the latest thinking was that employees should be responsible for managing their own learning.  Which from an andragogical perspective is true.  “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  Learning is lifelong became a reality because change became the new standard.  The days of starting a career in one company and retiring there have largely disappeared.  Whatever you learned in formal schooling was becoming redundant after a few years on the job. How many mechanics would have dreamt that they would need to be IT Specialists to fix vehicles?  Suddenly every time we changed software systems, equipment, or tools we had to have specialists come in to retrain everyone.  So Training Managers often became Training Co-ordinators whose main challenge was to find expert vendors to deliver training.

Then there was the resistance to the new.  Employee attitudes went downhill very quickly when they found out that because of a technological  change they had been reduced to newbies on work for which  they were once considered masters. This also required  additional training.  How do we teach our employees to embrace change?  Change management programs became standard.  The ones that worked best were the ones that focused on the employee developing an understanding of how they typically react to a major unplanned shift in their life. Leave the past behind you where it belongs and develop yourself for the new!

Change causes stress.  This led to both physical and mental health problems for employees.  It cost organizations significantly in lost work time and benefits payouts.  Resiliency and stress management programs became part of our portfolio of offerings.

In my experience training has made a significant positive contribution to our workplaces.  Organizations that invest in learning reap the rewards.  Those that don’t pay the price in lower productivity, high turnover, legal costs  and poor morale. Technology is also making learning more accessible to all employees through online and eLearning.  It is also making it more affordable.

Learning today, truly is lifelong.  And your training or learning department knows it! Hug your Trainer!

Leadership & Training For Nonprofits Even If Money Is Scarce



Years ago, I worked for a nonprofit organization providing literacy education to people in rural communities.  I soon realized that I needed much more than my idealism to make it work.  I required marketing skills to attract volunteers and sponsors, volunteer management skills  to inspire and retain a cadre of volunteers, as well as some solid administration and planning skills to meet the demand and ensure that respect and privacy were always top of mind.

Time was always in short supply and I soon had to learn to delegate and to develop a systems approach if I wanted this to be a successful project. I was fortunate at the time to have a strong mentor who taught me the value of collaboration, leadership and continuous learning.

As the person in charge I had to work quickly to build my team.  The two key learnings I received from my mentor was to be an effective leader you have to be a good listener and always be willing  to collaborate.  Meetings quickly became work sessions with clear goals and timelines.  It didn’t take long until we all felt a sense of accomplishment which created mutual feelings of respect and trust.  We developed a collaborative conflict resolution process so everyone felt safe when there was a significant disagreement.  I made sure that everyone felt supported when the need arose.  We developed the attitude that whenever a problem arose or one of us made a mistake, it was an opportunity to learn.

Second to developing strong collaborative leadership skills was developing a program of continuous learning for the team.  With money always in short supply we couldn’t afford to hire consultants or send people off to courses.  So we developed our own training program.  We identified a list of topics that ranged from legislative and privacy concerns, to team collaboration.  We voted and prioritized  14 modules and each of us took one module and researched it.  My job was to develop a training program on basic curriculum design and facilitation skills.  As each team member completed their research they would learn how to design training materials, learning objectives, agendas, and participant guides.  They would then participate in a two-day in-house facilitation skills course where they learned creative ways to share their knowledge.  One team member hosted a series of “lunch-box” sessions with a variety of expert guest speakers that really inspired the group.

I learned early on in my career that training need not be expensive to be effective.  What strategies have you developed to bring learning into your organization when resources are scarce?



Harnessing the Age of Reflection


What is your organization doing to retain its knowledge?  With so many employees nearing retirement you may be missing the opportunity to harness invaluable information.

Your long-term employees have the advantage of experience that is specific to your work environment.  Many of them have developed strong relationships and are respected by younger employees. This trust extends to their expertise that will be readily accepted by newer employees.

Start by identifying  the knowledge that you need to capture.

Take this knowledge  from your experienced employees and have them learn some basic facilitation and mentoring techniques and you have developed a vehicle to share knowledge within.

As employees approach the age of reflection some choose to retire and take on new challenges.  But others would jump at the chance to give back what they have mastered over many years.  Many would love the opportunity to shift from full-time to part-time or contract employment.  More and more people are still engaged in some sort of work into their late seventies.

Unfortunately most organizations have not developed a career track for this type of “knowledge capture”.  They haven’t developed a mechanism to identify potential  trainers.  Those that have often don’t provide the necessary training and development for this new role.

Just think of what you lose when these  employees  leave  with  their expertise, and you haven’t harnessed it. This includes broader  industry knowledge along with your organizations operating procedures, systems and equipment familiarity.  And don’t forget all the shortcuts and “better ways of doing things” that they utilize on a daily basis but may never have shared.

To develop organizational knowledge, employers should formalize a plan that includes these four elements:

  1. Transform your long-term champions into Trainers and Mentors as an option to retirement
  2. Develop a  formal collaborative mentorship program and learning environment
  3. Document foundational knowledge
  4. Develop a knowledge transfer program and integrate it into your performance management plan for each employee.

Long-term employees approaching the age of reflection are often eager to share what they have mastered throughout a long and successful career.  Harnessing it is up to your organization!

Travelling Light



A Highly Recommend Read!

On this journey of discovery, we strive to understand what motivates us while exploring our true personalities. We reflect on situations that have brought about our greatest learning. It is within these answers that we discover our own fulfillment.

Although the truth lies within each of us, we may be too scared to peel the layers away to discover the real person beneath. It is only through this real understanding that we can accomplish that feeling of bliss that we all seek.

Traveling Light is the self-reflective journey that I share with you in the hope that you open yourself up to an adventure of your own. It is meant to help you create and reinforce your own safe zone of discovery. I assure you it will be a trip worth taking and will be filled with learning that will reflect in multiple areas of your life.

So start this journey today with me. While you make the commitment to invest valuable time in yourself, I encourage you to notice the successes that you begin to create through your own actions and new awareness.

Nisha Paul photo

Nisha Paul is a psychologist who has spent the last two decades focusing on people and organizational development. Born in Mumbai, India, she has traveled and lived in different parts of the world and currently calls Vancouver, Canada her home.

Having studied at the University of Mumbai, India and the University of Nottingham, U.K. she has gained a global academic perspective to complement her valuable life lessons. Along the way she has discovered what truly makes her happy and has created a life for herself that she finds enriching. Nisha also enjoys photography and has used her photographs to illustrate this book.

Motivated to seek opportunities to give back to her community and society at large, she decided to share this literary journey, which is her first. While encouraging her readers to reflect on their own life journeys, she aims to contribute to the collective awareness in our world today.