Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Don't Train - Evaluate

Companies buy training. We know that. But why do they buy training?

I would suggest that, usually, it's to fill a skills gap, to educate, to teach people how to do new things.

I would further suggest that there is a far more important reason for training people - to create a performance baseline.

Once someone has learned a skill, and demonstrated competence in applying that skill, they do not forget it. If someone fails to operate at an assessed level of competency then this is unlikely to be a training issue, this becomes a performance management issue. That person is choosing to perform below their demonstrated level of competency. The person who arrives late for work knows exactly what their contracted working hours are. The person who blocks a fire exit knows exactly what their health and safety responsibilities are.

We need to take the focus off training and put it onto evaluation, because evaluating and assessing a person's performance both gives us a baseline for development and a point of reference for everything that flows from accountability - high standards, engagement and retention.

I've been in work for 31 years, and during that time, I would say that every training event I've experienced or seen delivered starts, not with an evaluation, but with an assumption that the trainer knows stuff and the participants don't know it, so the trainer presses the 'play' button and the training course begins. Yes, yes, I'm sure you're special. You're the one trainer who allows the participants to fill in the gaps for themselves, like the children do in Dr. Sugata Mitra's Minimally Invasive Education project, where he places a computer in a hole in a wall to see if uneducated children can figure out how to use it. They can. He has given reference materials to children and they have taught themselves the principles of DNA replication and quantum mechanics. No teachers in sight, just children and information.

The presence of new information creates a point of reference, which is also what an evaluation does. Both show the learner that there is more to learn, or a higher standard to be achieved. Shown the gap, the learner knows exactly what to do.

Here’s an example conversation, both with and without the Evaluation.

Without Evaluation:

Manager I listened to your calls today, and I heard you telling three customers that they would face court action if they didn’t sign up for a payment plan. That is untrue and illegal.
Employee I thought it would be OK. It’s what the trainer said we could do.
Manager Erm, OK well that’s not right. I’ll organise another training course.
Employee Great!

With Evaluation:

Manager I listened to your calls today, and I heard you telling three customers that they would face court action if they didn’t sign up for a payment plan. That is untrue and illegal.
Employee I thought it would be OK. It’s what the trainer said we could do.
Manager Shall we check the training record?
Employee Erm... do we have to?
Manager So on 3rd June you signed this page to say that you agreed with your team leader’s evaluation of your performance at the acceptable standard. So at that time, you demonstrated that you knew the correct procedure. Therefore I am issuing you with a formal verbal warning.

Tough? But fair. You see, when you see someone else in your team being let off for something that you know is wrong, you feel that you are being treated unfairly. You think to yourself, “Well, why should I bother then?” Standards decline across the team and no-one is happy about it.

When I’ve interviewed the highest performing managers in many different types of business, one consistent aspect is that they are ruthlessly firm on standards. They also give staff responsibility for their own jobs, so in practice very few employees ever find out how ruthless they are. They’re as tough as the crash barrier along a busy road. If you’re not planning on crashing into it, you never need to worry about it. And you have to remember that it’s not keeping you in, it’s keeping you safe from those crazy drivers on the other side of the road.

The highest performing managers have told me, time and time again, that when they are tough on under-performance, the problem rarely resurfaces. In one British supermarket, the manager with both the highest financial turnover and the highest levels of staff satisfaction told me, “If someone’s late, I give them a verbal warning, right away. 4 times out of 5 there’s never another problem, but on that one occasion that the person is a persistent offender, I can get them out quickly. If they don’t want to play by the rules, that’s fine, they just need to do that somewhere else. They need to make room for someone who wants to be part of the team. Everyone in the team gives their best because they know that everyone is treated equally. Everyone knows where they stand and we all know that we can rely on each other.”

Doesn’t that sound like a great place to work?

By holding people accountable to the performance standards that they have freely entered into, you are making your workplace better for everyone.
Training becomes the tool, not for fixing performance problems, but for setting standards. Good old fashioned line management is what maintains those standards. When the standards, or the products, or the people, or the processes change, that’s the time for training.

This article is adapted from my book Learning Changes, ISBN 978-1-908293-36-7 £8.99 - also available on Amazon Kindle.


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