Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Can trainers learn fast enough to stay viable?

It seems to me that these days the hard-working trainer gets maligned by just about everyone, including fellow trainers, not for doing a bad job but for not attaining a Renaissance Person status to which few other corporate functions aspire.

I may be more guilty than most of doling out the criticism. I constantly berate those in the training profession for not continuously evolving at the pace of their environment, for being complacently stuck in outmoded paradigms, for defining their roles too narrowly, or for jumping from ineffective low-tech ruts into high-tech ruts that may be equally ineffective.

But when I look at what I am asking of training professionals, I can’t think of any other corporate field in which the desired changes are so broad and so deep:

  • Comprehend, master, and stay ahead of strategic implications in emerging technologies.
  • Anticipate the direction and performance needs of corporations whose strategic and tactical navigation is in accelerating flux.
  • Understand, relate to, and accommodate a wave of digitally savvy employees whose world view, technological competencies, instincts and modes of operation are radically different from those of the established employee base.
  • Customize your service to the individual, reducing your operating costs at the same time.
  • Continually improve effectiveness, cutting time to market, time to competence, and time away from task.
  • Demolish or at least plasticize your formal processes, making them more flexible, more adaptable, and more workflow-snug.
  • Develop skills and competencies with constantly evolving tools (personal, group, and enterprise) that span administration, web authoring, testing, evaluation, presentations, databases, scheduling, collaboration, networking, globalization, project management, and communication (broadcast, podcast, mail shot, synchronous, peer-to-peer, mobile).

I could go on, but you get the idea. What about those in other corporate functions? It is true that innovation is called for everywhere, and the impact of e-business touches the goals and processes of all people throughout the organization.

Marketing and sales have gone through significant revolutions in many aspects of their work. Obviously, IT people have different systems to deal with. Customer service people deal online with customers who bought online. Administrative departments have to integrate their operations online with those of suppliers and business partners. Strategy groups are (hopefully) building new visions for the future of the organization. Legal people are rethinking contracts, intellectual property issues, and management of privacy. HR systems are becoming real-time, and more recruiting is done through the internet. And financial people are transacting online.

But I doubt that as individuals there is anyone who has a broader front of continuous change thrust upon them than those with a training responsibility. Nor is there anyone whose fundamental personal operating processes are challenged so deeply. Marketing people may disagree, and trainers have great deal to learn from them about making non-linear change happen rapidly, and about understanding and responding to individual customer needs. But most marketing people specialize in one aspect of the process – training people are expected to be competent across the spectrum.

In most companies, it is not unusual for individual training people to have to set strategic direction, conceive, architect, build, deploy, administer, test, and review everything that they do, with a little help from those in IT. Instructional designers are supposed to help, of course, but too often their only pedagogical qualification is some fluency in Macromedia’s tools – and their ability to provide broad strategic input is limited.

In an environment such as this, there is a tendency to withdraw, redefine our responsibilities within narrow confines, and hope that all that external change will eventually settle down. But it won’t. In a technology sense, and in a workplace culture sense, trainers have to get out more. We have to foster the curiosity and find the time to become more au fait with what is going on in the world of applied technology, e-collaboration, workflow learning, and those aspects of corporate strategy that hinge on knowledge and skills. Trainers need more training themselves, not in task-specific skills but in the environment in which they are going to have to operate.

It is ironic that this “development” part of T&D is the hardest to get budget approval for, yet it is fundamental to the future success of everything we do.

Original in TrainingZONE Parkin Space column of 28 Oct 2005

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