Why Training will NOT make You Oustanding

In my post last week, I wrote about a particular leadership skill - some would say the critical leadership skill - that of engaging and influencing people well. I looked at how the wrong mindset can get in the way, or even overlook people engagement as anything important.

But there is another problem in our developing this skill. And that is training.

Now, for latter part of my career I was heavily invested in face-to-face business training. I built a company where I recruited the brightest and the best in project management training, people who could take an otherwise-boring subject like project management and transform and energise the room. Our delegates loved it. 

In what follows, I describe the emergence of a sort of industry that caused me and my colleagues a lot of pain. You'll see why as you read on.

The killer seemed to be that our corporate clients, particularly those in procuring training, didn’t see the value of an excellent training experience. They wanted the cheapest commodity. That’s how they regarded training: a commodity, something that had to be done, that you could source like for like, so it was best procured as cheaply as possible, and delivered in as short a time as possible.

Does this sound familiar? 

What we saw was the emergence of a training factory. In this factory, trainers would take professionals and subject them to a sort of Death by PowerPoint. Schedules were brutally shortened, for commercial reasons. I heard of one trainer in another company saying to his delegates at the beginning of such an experience,

“If you don’t ask questions and don’t interrupt me, then we can get through this material in time for your exam. And you want to pass the exam, right?”

Of course they did. The delegates were there to get their qualification.

But can we call that a positive learning experience? Is this something likely to improve the skill and practice of project manager? Of course not.

We found that great project managers might get the badge that way, but honed their skills in other ways.

And then there were the exams themselves. These became mostly tick-box assessments, albeit sometimes fairly sophisticated. But what do they test? Ultimately they test the candidate’s power of recall, pattern recognition, and use of logic. If Mr Spock of Star Trek saw one of these exam papers, I imagine he could have said to Captain Kirk:

“It’s a skill, Jim, but not as we know it.”

I remember a senior client, a Portfolio Manager, coming out of one such exam as saying, “This is supposed to be a Practitioner exam! Is that it?!” I can’t blame her for this reaction, or defend the assessment. But it was the industry in which we had to work in order to offer our clients the routes to these qualifications.

Well. this commoditisation eventually drove us out of business. Because we refused to compromise on the value to delegates. 

Not all professional assessments are like that. In my previous email I referred to the APM. Their blue-chip qualification, what was called the RPP (the Registered Project Professional) involved an exhaustive submission of experience, as well as a thorough interview by peers. The APM Practitioner Qualification (APM PQ) is, in my opinion, a qualification worth having. I saw the process improve my clients as they went through it, and it meant something to have gained that qualification at the end of it.

In fact, it was at APM that I came across a different way of looking at skill. Watch this short video.

So we have been working on how to help people develop the critical skill of leaning to people, stakeholder engagement, as it is often called, beyond merely the Advanced Beginner stage of skill development; beyond merely being Competent, to Proficient, and perhaps even to the so-called Expert level.

I'm invested in helping people change the world - in small ways and big - for the better. That's my mission. But becoming a world changer will require something rather more than an online training course.

It certainly won’t be achieved by a factory approach that can be standardised as a commercial model.

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