Getting Better Results
|In order to get better results in the workplace, managers must adopt a
new perspective on learning. This means understanding the difference
between "training" and "learning."
Training is a term that has been used over the years to refer to instructors teaching individuals by presenting structured content in a controlled classroom environment. Recently, with the introduction of computers and distance learning technologies to the workplace, the term has taken on a broader meaning to include on-the-job training and technology-based training.
Learning, by contrast, is a much larger umbrella that covers all our efforts to absorb, understand, and respond to the world around us. Learning is social. Learning happens on the job every day. Learning is adapting, and it is vital for the survival and well-being of individuals as well as organizations.
Traditional training has structure and boundaries. Learning can break through boundaries to expand or reconfigure knowledge in new ways. The Canadian Centre for Management Development, in a report on continuous learning, puts it this way:
Training is something that is done to you, or that you do for someone else. Learning is something you do to and for yourself. Training implies that something already known is to be transferred to someone else. Learning, by contrast, implies a process of self-directed exploration and discovery, in search of something not yet known, something yet to be found.16 In the government, traditional training has been the function of the human resource development (HRD) practitioner in the personnel or training office. Managers have typically contributed to the training process by identifying their employees' training needs, initiating training requests, and sending employees to agency training programs.
This situation is reversed for learning. That is, managers must take the lead in setting up the environment for learning, and HRD practitioners must contribute support. The remainder of this chapter lays out a roadmap for you to:
Before any meaningful learning can be initiated, five principal barriers must be overcome. As identified by R.L. Dilworth, these are:17
These barriers exist in many government organizations, and unless they are removed, organizations cannot be designed to learn.
You have considerable power to make the necessary changes in your own organizational unit. For example, you can demonstrate new behaviors and set up new systems that encourage openness and communication. There is much to be gained by breaking down the barriers: the ability to learn is not measured by what the organization and manager know but rather by how the manager and organization learn.
There is a significant difference between individual and organizational learning. Consequently, different strategies are needed for each.
Individual learning is a familiar concept: it is the ability of individuals to experience personal growth in their exchange with the world around them. Organizational learning is perhaps less familiar. Certainly, it is a much more recent concept: it is the ability of an organization to gain insight and understanding from experience. Groups and organizations adapt, grow, and change as units to shape their future course.
The idea of organizational learning was popularized by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: Mastering the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.18 Its publication generated a significant level of interest worldwide. Since then, organizational learning has become highly valued by corporate leaders because of the systems-level learning that occurs when entire organizations address and solve problems, build repositories of lessons learned, and create core competencies that represent the collective learning of employees, past and present.
Individual and organizational learning are distinct, but not separate. Individual learning is the foundation of organizational learning, but it does not lead automatically to learning by the organization. As Argyris and Schon put it: "Individual learning is a necessary but insufficient condition for organizational learning."19 You can use techniques and tools to promote each of these and link them together.
Individual Learning Strategies
There are two types of individual learning: formal and informal. Formal learning encompasses all traditional training in structured courses, classrooms, and formal development programs. Informal learning is that which takes place in the informal processes of everyday work. Most individual learning occurs informally, rather than through formal training or education.
While managers can do much to influence and reinforce formal learning, you can have the greatest impact by deliberately creating a climate for informal learning. Here are some strategies for informal individual learning that, although they cost very little in time or money, have potentially big payoffs:
Organizational learning is still in its infancy within the government, because a history of bureaucracy, compartmentalization, and segmentation has not provided much fertile ground for openness and communication. Yet managers can design organizations that learn and that are able to transform themselves to respond rapidly to technological change, downsizing, and restructuring. And when organizations are designed to learn, the lessons are not lost when individuals leave.
Here are some strategies for organizational learning:
This list of strategies is only a starting point. As you begin to see every workplace exchange and activity as an opportunity for learning, you will generate your own ideas for organizational learning strategies. And, although you must take the lead in learning, managers should look to the HRD office for expert support in designing and implementing individual and organizational learning strategies. The HRD specialists should be able to provide more information about any of the recognized strategies described in this handbook and facilitate learning processes with employees
Strategic alignment refers to the correlation between an organization's operations and its mission and goals. Ideally, operations should support and reflect mission and goals. For our purposes, we are here discussing the importance of aligning training and learning activities with the "big picture" that is, with the organization's overall business strategy. In government, there are several important reasons for ensuring that plans for building human capital are linked to business strategy:
In short, more must be accomplished with today's existing workforce and today's existing resources.
You can link learning to performance and organizational results by doing the following:
1. Review your agency's strategic plans and objectives. Every agency has a strategic plan, as mandated by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. This five-year plan describes how the agency will use its personnel, budget, and other resources to accomplish measurable performance goals.
2. Determine how you contribute to agency plans and performance requirements. What is your core expertise? What do you do best? Draw the relationship between your group's function and the mission, goals, and core competencies of the agency. Examine the ways you are expected to perform and the outcomes you produce. Are there potential new ways you could lead, support, or participate?
3. Plan learning that supports your ability to contribute to agency objectives. Check the agency annual training plan to identify priority training programs that involve your employees. Determine if your organization has key positions in mission-critical areas that need continuing professional education. Find out if your employees can explain the organization's business strategies and specifics of their own group's performance. Identify the competencies necessary to meet performance goals and the learning activities that build and strengthen them.
4. Focus on learning that addresses areas of performance weakness. Review the results of your organization's past performance. What are the strengths and weaknesses, and where are improvements needed? Most importantly, what learning can be done that will result in the biggest payoff to the agency in measurable results?
5. Create learning objectives that tie into business outcomes. Whenever possible, set up learning that directly relates to your organization's critical success indicators. For example, if the organization is measuring cycle time, or output, or customer satisfaction, try to build learning activities or select training courses with related objectives. This helps ensure that the changes in your employees' performance are the ones desired and the ones measured.
6. Support the transfer of learning into performance and results. On average, less than half of what is learned is actually applied on the job. There is no automatic transfer of new skills into new job behavior. You, as a manager, can influence such a transfer by fostering an environment that gives employees a chance to practice new skills, values innovation, and rewards improved performance.
As always, managers should look to the HRD office for expert support in aligning learning to business strategy. HRD specialists should be able to advise you on how to perform the steps above and to provide you with tools to make assessments and decisions about learning.
For its part, the HRD office should be taking steps of its own to integrate training and development with all the other human resource functions recruitment; retention; creation of new positions, work systems, and performance management systems to align total performance requirements with the agency's mission and goals. When all human resource requirements and priorities have been integrated when it is known what level of effort will be needed to move the agency forward for each career area, for retraining efforts, for introducing new systems, for reorganization and reinvention, for leadership managers gain valuable information and insight on the kinds of learning that are strategic. This in turn promotes consistency across all managers striving to link learning to performance and results.
Recently, an office in a federal agency used its training funds to send several employees to expensive conferences and two executives to long-term executive development programs. Later in the year, when it came time to implement the agency's new automated procurement system, the office didn't have enough funds left in its budget to cover basic training. The office had to delay the use of the system until the next fiscal year, when it could afford to get its employees trained.
Situations like this occur across the government.
There's a straightforward way to avoid the "first-come-first-served" mentality that plagues many government organizations in allocating their training dollars: make a training plan. Such a plan is extremely useful for organizing thinking about investments in formal training. With limited dollars to go around, managers need an aggregate perspective to find balance, establish priorities, and separate merely good ideas from business imperatives.
When you plan for learning and training as an organizational unit, you gain powerful advantages and get results. With an annual training plan, you can:
Here are basic steps for you to develop a training plan for your organizational unit.
1. Define learning needs linked to strategic plans.
2. Review other information to identify needs.
3. Validate your list of needs.
4. Determine the best strategies.
5. Identify potential sources for learning.
6. Estimate costs.
7. Set priorities.
8. Determine how to evaluate results.
9. Share your plan with employees, customers, and other managers in your organization.
10. Execute and monitor.
The HRD office can advise managers on developing annual training plans. The HRD staff can provide valuable information on the best resources for training, how to estimate the actual costs of training, and how to evaluate the value of training.
The best HRD offices make organizationwide master training plans these can be a significant help and resource to managers in making their own plans. HRD master plans link learning and organization strategic plans at the highest level, and describe large-scale training initiatives that contribute to agency goals and performance requirements. You can then build on the platform of these master training plans and fill in the blanks for your own unit.
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