Thursday, October 07, 2010

7 tactics for training in recession

I've given two talks on 'Training in the recession' in as many weeks, the first was a rocky ride as some traditionalists dug their heels in and wanted to cling on like limpets to old diversity training, happy sheets and all the old accoutrements of traditional training. I had a fight on my hands, but it’s a fight worth having. The second was more realistic, with a Leraningpool audience of excellent Local Authority trainers, who really do know what’s coming. This is an opportunity to change gear, collaborate and drop old ‘last century’ theory, practices and courses.

7 tactics for training in recession:

Dump daft duplication

Last century courses

Courses too long

Tyranny of time & location

Crap evaluation



Daft duplication

In the public sector the noises coming out of the commissioned reports are clear, and this is typical, ““find savings… new approaches need to be considered, including service redesign, more joint working and collaboration (Audit Scotland). In Local Authorities, Government Departments, Schools, Universities and all other government organisations there must be a push towards eliminating DUPLICATION of effort. Far too many courses are being run, far too many people designing the same course over and over again and far too many people delivering the same content in classrooms. Sure there’s always some localised content, such as ‘induction’ but even here, there’s going to be stacks of job losses, not recruitment. A full two thirds of the budget could be saved by sharing, collaboration and outsourcing.

Courses too long
How many courses are padded out to fit the hour, half day, full day, two day or three day timetable? Most, I’d say. Front-ended by boring learning objectives, unnecessary introductory modules, too much detail and irrelevant happy sheets, most could be cut back by 30% or more. Cut courses and you avoid the excesses of cognitive overload – too much, too quickly. We all know that the detail is quickly forgotten and the worst enemy of retention is too much information.

Tyranny of time & location
Old argument I know, but there’s far too many people paying far too much in travel and accommodation (especially those awful 3* brickwork hotels with tiny TVs and cheap soap). Let’s get those courses out of the way and spend the money on technology solutions that are scalable.

Last century courses

First candidate – ‘leadership courses’. Ruth Spellman (CEO of Chartered Management Institute) has called for an increase in ‘Leadership’ training during the recession. Sorry Ruth, that is the cause of the problem, not the solution. Ever since training got caught up in the fantasies of ‘Leadership’ we’ve had more corporate and banking disasters than crap Leadership books. Leadership has become one of those wide and meaningless terms that only exists in the minds of trainers and megalomaniacs. Which of the dozens of ‘leadership’ theories does she recommend? Charismatic (born not made), Trait (key qualities), Contingency (look at environment), Situational (different for every situation), Behavioural (one can learn how to lead), Participative (collaborative and inclusive), Transformational (inspire followers) or, as usual, whatever concoction the trainer drums up from books they’ve bought on Amazon? Enough already.

Second candidate – diversity courses. The old view of diversity, very much focussed on gender and race, which, I think was necessary in 80s and 90s, but the world has moved on, and left all of those dull, diversity trainers behind. Society has grown up, while diversity training is stuck in a clich├ęd time warp. The evaluative data shows that it never worked in the first place, and that diversity, important then, was best built through proactive management interventions and not training.

I could go on and on here, as my list of crap courses, is as long as a ladder, but it’s enough to say that STOP the courses, I want to get off.

Crap evaluation

Kill Kirkpatrick. Not literally, just drop the happy sheets, level 2 and level 3. Believe me, boards ain’t interested in your 4 levels of evaluation – that’s just old train the trainer theory. Happy Sheets are irrelevant, assessments often simply tests of short-term memory and behavioural checklists a joke in most places. Stick to the one that matters – actual impact so that good decisions can be made my managers to align training with the organisation’s goals.

Non- scalable

Don’t do anything that isn’t scalable. What’s the point of delivering talks and courses over and over again. Record them, and share the media. Video and audio are cheap as chips (because chips in cameras are cheap).


Achieve more with less to optimise limited budgets and time. The world has changed and we can be reactive and get dumped upon, or take it upon ourselves to reshape our own learning landscape. Fast access to learning needs to be available 24x7 at point of need. This is the norm in the real word and it should be the norm in learning. We need to provide Satnav help for learning journeys, not big, thick, fixed atlases. Flexible responses to your organisation’s needs, not fixed, repeated, timetabled courses. Focus on productivity and promise impact, not happy sheets and course passes. Reduce carbon footprint, reduce travel & meeting costs and above all scale - EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY.

Change management

OK, all that advice is optimistic and some would say idealistic, even utopian. When it comes to getting things done, how do you change the culture and get things changed? Well, there’s tried and tested change management methods. If we take Kotter’s 8-step solution, we can match what we’re going through with each of the steps.

  1. Urgency – DONE: CUTS!
  2. Guiding team – SENIOR ENDORSEMENT
  4. Communicate – SAY WHAT YOU’LL B
  5. Empower – COLLABORATION
  7. Build momentum – SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY
  8. Nurture new culture – BURN BRIDGES

All of this stuff about sharing and collaboration is simply doing what every schoolkid does instinctively. Collaboration is the norm for 12 year olds. They do it daily, even hourly (txting, Facebook, media sharing). We just need to catch up with their mindset.


Unknown said...

Nice one, Donald. Is your talk available online? I enjoyed the ATL one. BTW, where did the film clip (of a boring teacher) come from? You mentioned it but I couldn't quite catch what you said.

Dick Moore said...

All good stuff Donald, can I make a plea for a cross cutting method, and ask that alongside use of technology to deliver, use technology to determine what is required.

- use the search items that staff are looking for from your websites to understand what is needed.
- use heuristics and instrumentation to improve the effectiveness of what you deliver rather than happy sheets, technology lets you measure how your consumers consume, so very often we use the internet as a broadcast medium, mistake.

Over used but getting more for less means different.

Donald Clark said...

Damn clever idea Dick. Should be part of every training needs analysis, and would certainly convince senior managers to respond as they'd see a direct cause between problem and solution. I'm really going to chew this one over. How easy is it?

Donald Clark said...

Francis - will be available at some time on Learningpool site. Not there yet.

Donald Clark said...

Francis - film clip is from Ferris Beuller

Unknown said...

Thanks, Donald. It's on my blog.

Dick Moore said...

Donald you asked how hard it was? If the content is designed well it's really easy and should be designed with instrumentation built in will write you a report (So much content is built without monitoring or instrumentation (like designing a car without a dashboard), but it's fairly trivial to get most of what you want from a combination of web-logs and Google Analytics or equivalent.

Persuading content and course designers to modify their product is the hard part ;)

Vast Talent ELearning said...

I have a few words about the crap evaluation. I think of all points this is the center one, as if you can do the evaluation right, the course or the people can self-improved and all other points less severe. Evaluation is the one that really hard to get matter what kind of technology used. What say you?

Keith Quinn said...

Following on from Dick's comment about using the tools commonly used by ecommerce to measure impact for learning, I thought you might both be interested in this:

George Siemens and Colleagues are running a conference on Learning Analytics in February 2011.

Mike Morrison said...

Hi Don - great piece
Would you be interested in talking about this on a webinar for CIPD members?

Donald Clark said...

Sure thing. Call me 01273 884297

Graham Brown-Martin said...

Brilliant, I have often been baffled by leadership training courses presented by people who've never lead, business mentoring by kids fresh out of MBA (Means Bugger All) school who've not had a life let alone run a business (a consulting group beginning with Mc springs to mind), 3 day courses based around the immensely crap "one minute manager" and conferences that spring up around the latest government agenda designed in a coffee break replete with sponsors who are trousering the cash from aforementioned agenda.

Well done Donald for calling time on this course shit!