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People Development vs Training - Its Not Training!

Aug 17, 2007
People development has long been recognised as a primary need for any growing and developing organisation. However there seems to be little agreement as to what people development really is. What tends to happen is that companies, once they do decide that something is needed (through annual appraisals, personal development reviews, performance management reviews, change programmes, etc), put out a call for training, without really understanding the difference between it and development.

Then they get saddled with programmes that 'train' people on the 'right' way to do things (communication, presentation, assertiveness, etc.) and find that things don't seem to change much. For instance, we often hear of presentation training designed to get everyone giving a consistent message. So people get trained in the right way to deliver the company message, rather than having their individual capacity developed to present in their unique style.

One company we spoke to had put an entire department of 400 people through a 'training' programme (prestigious and expensive!) and plaintively asked why nothing had changed a few months down the line. It wasn't even that the training was bad; it simply had a different, more proscriptive perspective on the issue at hand (indeed, the outcome was one of conformity) and the organisation ended up not getting what it needed.

It's not called sheep-dip training for nothing!

Impact Factory has been at the cutting edge in the field of people development for over ten years and we think we know what we're talking about.

To start with, it's not training. Training presupposes that the people involved need to acquire some new skill. They need to become good at doing something that the organisation needs. This may be part of someone's development but it isn't all there is by a long shot.

Real people development should be driven by the person being "developed". Think of it as learning to use new words within a language rather than learning a new language. In hard skill terms it is rather like a good computer programmer developing his ability to write better programmes. He doesn't need to learn to programme, he's already a long way down that road.

In just the same way, people development issues such as influencing, negotiating, assertiveness, presenting, time management, etc, begin with people who already have a good foundation of skill in the area. For instance, an organisation may identify that a group of managers need to communicate better and therefore look for programmes to address that. But the reality is that these managers already do communication or they wouldn't have their jobs in the first place. Therefore trying to get them 'trained' in communication won't do it. There has to be respect and regard for what people already have.

Here's a good example of how we see the difference between training and development. Let's take appraisals. If managers get any appraisal training at all, it tends to be along the line of: how do appraisals work and what procedures you need to follow. From a development perspective, we'd be far more interested developing a manager's skills so they could handle a difficult appraisal well.

One issue we've encountered a lot is one of time management: "We need this person to become better at managing their time. What can you do to fix that?" Well, we can't, and here's why. If, after a whole life of managing their time (however it is that they do it), someone is still unable to work to a time table, it is highly unlikely they will 'develop' into a well-regimented, routine-driven person, no matter how much 'training' they are given.

Unfortunately, what can happen is that they are sent on time-management training courses that end up making them feel bad. First they learn all about clear-desk policies, the right way to be organised, keeping an up-to-date filofax and making 'to-do' lists, and might possibly go away inspired with this new routine - for about a week. Then, their real and true personality asserts itself and they revert to type by doing exactly what they've always done. Except now they have the added burden of not having done it the right way, and the 'time-management' problem still exists.

That's tackling the situation from a training perspective: this is the problem; give me the solution.

A people development perspective is completely different: it looks at what people actually do, rather than at what companies wish they would do.

So with our time management 'problem' person, the aim would be to identify what they can do, not what they can't. With this approach we would turn things on their head. Perhaps this person works best under pressure and their best skill lies in not missing deadlines. Someone who does work well under pressure tends to leave things to the last minute and appears disorganised and chaotic, which makes colleagues very uneasy.

This person could now be developed into someone who is skilled at allaying the concerns of colleagues and has a reputation for calm in the midst of chaos. Far easier than trying to get them to start projects earlier or to miraculously become organised. We can't fix any of that.

All effective people development starts with an assessment of what each individual already does well. And more importantly avoids any reference to weaknesses or things that need 'fixing'. At first look this may seem wrong, and against a lot of current management thinking: surely you should look at strengths and weaknesses. We don't think so. A sure-fire way to undermine someone's confidence is to tell them what they're weak at.

You can also look at turning a perceived weakness into something the person can use. For example, if someone is quite young and inexperienced there is often the desire to get them to have more authority. Whereas if you turn it around you can develop this person's sense of pride in their youthfulness, energy and fresh outlook.

This is because any soft skill that a person is bad at is one that they will never excel at. You can put a lot of training effort into getting someone from bad at something to competent at it. Whereas with just a little development effort you can get that same person from good at something to excellent at it. And what is more, you will have a happy person on your hands as opposed to a weary one.

At Impact Factory we are passionate about peopling feeling more in charge of whatever arena they are working in. That's why we say our work is 'more than just training'.
About the Author
Jo Ellen and Robin run Impact Factory a training company who provide People Development, Public Speaking, Presentation Skills, Communications Training, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching for Individuals.
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