What a 9 Year Old Can Teach Us About L&D

SWEET! I wiped out! They should make pads for your butt!

Five minutes into his first ride on his first skateboard and my son was bouncing up off the ground, getting his board out of the shrubbery, and jumping right back on.Skating There were no tentative “baby steps”, no hesitation. It was full force, hop on and go enthusiasm. That brief moment contained the most important aspect of successful training.


What is the most important aspect of successful training? Today, I’m guest blogging over at Performance I CreateRead the rest of this post here .

is learning about performance?

Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) over at Thinking About Learning (he writes good stuff – check him out) raised an important question the other day: Is learning about performance? As one who continually states that increasing performance is the only purpose of training, learning and development, etc. I liked his question. I say it so often and am so convinced of it that his question made me stop and think a bit about my own beliefs.

I do believe the immediate purpose of training is to either create additional skills or knowledge OR to help a person better use the skills and knowledge they already have. Why? Why take time away from the job to learn? Why spend the money, time, and energy? Why pour resources into learning? Because we expect the additional skills and knowledge will help people do a better job and get better results. Technical skills improve performance with tasks and soft skills improve performance with other humans (highly relevant for everyone who’s not a hermit). Even compliance training – safety, anti-harassment, regulations, etc. – aims to improve performance or at least prevent performance from dropping (death, dismemberment, lawsuits, or imprisonment all tend to have a negative effect on individual and company performance).

Put another way: if learning and development doesn’t increase performance through increased or better use of knowledge and skills, then what is the purpose?

When we develop learning events or provide learning resources we work hard to make the information as understandable, relevant, and real-world as possible. We design in the best ways for participants retain and integrate the ideas into their lives and jobs. Why? The more they retain and use, the more they can use on the job, and the better their performance. If knowledge retention and use didn’t lead to better on the job performance why would we spend time worrying about it? Deeper knowledge for the sake of deeper knowledge is nice but doesn’t help the individual excel in their job and doesn’t drive the company forward. I, like many, simply love to learn new things. Learning is a huge value for me and I could happily drain many a day on google, Wikipedia, and in the library. As an employee, my company cares most about the learning that might help me in my job (versus, say, mountain biking), BUT it has a huge interest in me being knowledgeable, competent, and continually improving in my role.

The good news is that I can help others improve their performance across a wide variety of jobs and even industries. I don’t know much about most jobs or industries, but unless I’m training technical skills, I don’t have to. I just have to know enough to be able to apply real world context. For example, with only slight changes, a class on conflict resolution could apply to a manager, customer services representative, sales person, negotiator, line worker, etc. It’s really hard to imagine a job where conflict resolution (or any important soft skill) wouldn’t improve performance – even if that person isn’t directly evaluated on conflict resolution.

It is the manager’s (and employee’s) job to evaluate performance – I can’t do that for them. But when they identify areas that need to be improved either because of low performance or to increase performance as a part of their career path I can help provide the resources and learning experiences that help them develop and use the necessary skills and knowledge. Just as I’m not involved in evaluating their on the job performance, I also can learn and implement it for them. The sole purpose of training and development is to increase performance but the employee and manager play a massive role in it.

I’ll take the discussion a step further. Not only do I deeply believe that the purpose of development is to improve performance (however that’s defined), but I believe development is a source of ongoing competitive advantage.

  • A company must have talent. It can choose to buy talent or develop talent or both. But it does need talent.
  • High performing people are required to create a high performing company. It’s hard to imagine any situation where we could create exceptional results far and above the competition using indifferent, unskilled people who lack the necessary knowledge.
  • We cannot improve a company’s performance without first improving individual performance. Sure, we can slash costs, buy new technology, acquire other companies, but those tend to be short term gains (measured very narrowly) or impossible to do without dealing with the messy human side of it (bringing us back to development).
  • We often struggle to measure the dollar benefit of development and spend much time discussing the ROI of training. Training is an easy cost to cut and is often the first to go when times get tough. Which is funny because I doubt any professional sports teams spend much time discussing the ROI of practice, training, and developing their players. Would a low performing team ever decide that the best way to improve their performance is to STOP coaching and improving their players? Put another way, we can easily measure the cost of training and tend to focus on that because it is difficult to measure the total benefits of development. The problem is we can’t measure the costs of NOT training. (Hat tip to Zig Ziglar for that thought.) And as the old saying goes: The only thing worse than training someone and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.

Is learning about performance? In my mind, absolutely. There are many, many side benefits to learning and development, but if we’re not helping people create the knowledge and skills they need to do better at their jobs and if we’re not helping the company perform better by helping individuals and teams perform better, what are we doing?

What thinks you?

stuck in yesterday: why is change so hard?

“You can’t get to who you’re meant to be tomorrow clinging to who you were yesterday.” ~ Robin Sharma (@_robin_sharma)

We want different results. We want to be a better leader, better networker, better at communication, better at managing our time, better, better , better. So we take classes and we read books and we get excited about the possibilities. It all sounds like it could really work and we can’t wait to get started.

And then…

We don’t. We don’t change. We wonder what’s wrong with ourselves. Why can’t we do this? Why is change so difficult?

Lots of reasons, really. Two of the biggest barriers are simply habit and our routines.

We have spent a lifetime building the habits that support our status quo. Twenty, thirty, forty plus years of habit rarely change after a class or a book. It rarely changes after a week of intense focused effort. It takes much more time and effort to truly replace one habit with another to the point where the new habit is completely reflexive.

We have also completely and entirely set up our lives to support us EXACTLY as we are right now. Our routines, processes, physical environment, etc. are all perfectly designed to maintain things just as they are. As an example, something as simple as eating healthier would probably require shopping differently – buying different food from different sections of the store, maybe even shopping a different store. Then it would likely require changing your routine so you had time to plan and prepare a day’s worth of food and snacks. Do you do it the night before, get up earlier, spend most of Sunday making meals for the week? And so on. None of it is impossible – it’s all pretty simple stuff – but if we don’t plan for it and realize that we need to change the routines that support our habits then pretty soon we’re eating fast food and snacking out of the vending machines again.

Or, if I truly want to become a better leader or better in my job, then I’ll need to create time to study, plan, think, reflect. I’ll need to seek feedback, evaluate it, and modify my plans accordingly. I’ll need to either invent extra time during the day (time is finite, so what am I going to give up?) or get better at time management or change my priorities and focus. It’s all completely possible and may not even be that hard, but it will require changing up routines and habits.

Personal change isn’t as easy as the infomercials suggest, but recognizing the difficulties and preparing for them makes it that much easier to avoid staying stuck in yesterday.

all you need to know about training design (repost)

When training fails, it is generally because the learners haven’t understood the material on both an intellectual AND an emotional level. Intellectual level training focuses on the “what” and the “how”. What needs to be done and how do I need to do it?

We see this all the time. Where people say they don’t need training because they already know it, but they aren’t doing any of it. They haven’t truly connected with the “why”. Why is it important that I do it? What are the benefits of doing it or the consequences if I don’t?

There are only two reasons that humans do anything: 1) to seek pleasure; and 2) to avoid pain.  These are the same two reasons that humans learn anything. Why do we learn the newest version of Microsoft Office? To do our jobs better (pleasure) and to avoid failing at our jobs (pain). Why do we learn new exercises or diets? To get sexy and delay death.

So, no matter how much we read, research, discuss, and ponder, we never truly learn until we connect with the material at an emotional level. Everyone knows that smoking, drinking, or eating too much will shorten their lives. We know at the intellectual level, but often don’t get it at the emotional level (if we did, we’d stop). Until a person really, really connects with the consequences at an emotional level, intellectual warnings do zero good.

All great training – regardless of topic – teaches the what, how, and the why. And it does it in a way that each participant can individually understand and key into. Experience is the best teacher because it provides the emotional learning.

Will Rogers really understood this principle. He summed up everything important about training design in three sentences: “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

Design and evaluate your training programs accordingly…


Note: this is a repost of my very first blog post from almost a year ago. Hope you enjoyed.