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Never Train your Employees

Meet Aki, a middle level manager in an IT company. He is career focused and has big ambitions of making to the top. He has come up the ranks from being a developer to now a senior manager, who is managing a large client account. He was very confident of his skills and has developed a particular leadership style to get work done by his team.

His organization initiated a leadership assessment program and the results shocked Aki. He was deemed to a good manager but lacked leadership skills.

But Aki was determined. He reached to his L&D team to look for courses that improved leadership skills. The program that Aki enrolled was highly rated and although Aki was very busy, he somehow made the time, did the assignments and quizzes and got a good score.

Did the program help him become a better leader?

Aki, although he now understood the essentials of becoming a good leader, he didn’t quite know ‘how-to’ make the shifts required to change and ‘whom-to-go’ to get constant guidance and advice on his journey to becoming a good leader (there was no clear guidance and roadmap laid out by his organization). Although he reached out to his superiors at times, he felt that he was left only with a lot of ‘gyaan’ (information) and a certificate.

I have seen lots and lots of people in the same boat as Aki and I myself have been in it many a times.

How would you feel about the next training program if you had an experience similar to Aki?

A survey done by a large IT company found that “Only 22% of employees genuinely love to learn”. And the number one reason why employees say that they have stopped learning is that they don’t have the time.

I interpret that to mean, if training is all about certifications and whole lot of ‘gyaan’, I don’t have the time to do it. Our experience working with a large number of organizations corroborates with this finding.

This was also highlighted in an HBR article published in 2019, where they point out that organizations spent $359 billion globally on training in 2016 but 75% of managers were dissatisfied with their company’s Learning & Development (L&D) function.

So, where do companies go wrong with the L&D function?

Here are the top 3 reasons why L&D efforts in training have not been effective in spite of the investment and the effort taken by the L&D teams:

  1. Not taking a holistic view to Learning

  2. Developing Training programs rather than Designing Learning Experiences

  3. Pushing people to enroll in training programs rather than creating an eco-system that encourages learning

With Digital disrupting ‘work’ at a speed of knots, IT industry leaders have been talking about the need for techies to upskill every 18 months or be prepared to opt out. The impact of change is not only restricted to techies but every role in the organization would need to be constantly up-skilled and/or re-skilled for organizations to survive and thrive in this digital era of disruption.

Let’s have a look at ‘what’ and ‘how’ organizations need to shift from providing training to enhancing Learnability in their organizations by addressing the top 3 challenges identified above:

#1 – Focus on Purpose

Most organizations hardly distinguish between training and learning.

Learning is typically handled by a L&D team, a support function within the HR department. The span of control and influence of the L&D team over an employee’s learning is very limited. It only covers the ‘training’ aspect of learning with the ‘application of learning’ residing with the core business teams that the employee belongs.

Peter Senge, in his book, ‘The Fifth Discipline’ had popularized the concept of the learning organization. The starting point and the cornerstone of all five disciplines, according to him was what he called ‘systems thinking’.

From our experience working with organizations, taking a Systems Thinking approach to learning should include the following:

  • Clarity of Need and Purpose in the mind of the employee undertaking learning

  • Ensuring motivation levels of the employee attending any learning program

  • Shared vision between the employee and the team on the efficacy/value of learning

  • Providing space and time for learning (not just training)

  • Ensuring opportunities for employees to apply the learnings on the job

  • Assessing and Evaluating all the organizational system that are designed to drive learning effectiveness rather than only the employee undertaking the learning program.

A Systems Thinking approach needs to be taken towards “Learning”. It needs to be integrated & embedded in the overall Organization Design and not just directed at the L&D function.

#2 – Design Learning Interventions

Organizations have the right intent about learning and invest a lot of money in L&D initiatives. But seldom do they see the results of their investments as their focus is primarily devoted to designing and curating training programs.

Organizations need to establish a clear definition of learning. That will help build a shared vision, sharper focus and a holistic approach to all aspects of learning design essential for success.

We define Learning as a process that leads to an enhancement in a person’s abilities (knowledge and behavior) observed by a resultant increase in their performance and that of the team”

The definition spells out 3 things that need to be in place:

  • Awareness and knowledge acquisition

  • Application of knowledge

  • Synergy with team members to ensure resultant increase in performance

That suggests that, in addition to the curated learning programs, a clear roadmap of the overall learning experience journey needs to be put in place.

Morgan McCall and the Center for Creative Leadership came up with a learning and development formula called the 70 20 10 model wherein 70% learning happens ‘on the job’, 20% learning through interactions, 10% formal learning through structured training programs.

Organizations should look at right-sizing this framework and aligning it with their overall organizational design to achieve the best results from learning.

Designing learning experiences using the 70:20:10 learning model (70% learning ‘on the job’, 20% learning through interactions, 10% formal learning) is one of the very effective ways to enhance performance through learning interventions.

#3 – Creating a ‘pull’ effect to learning

Organizations typically focus on building the cognitive culture – the way individuals come together and collectively work to deliver productive results for the organization. But most organizations tend to miss out on cultivating the emotional culture – the motivations, expressions and feelings about how individuals and teams feel about being and working in the organization.

The emotional culture can be gauged through the subtle ‘patterns of thinking’ of employees. Energy, passion, pride in the organization, being happy about others success, anxiety, fear, burn-out, trust deficit, being some of the traits.

Organizations need to identify nudges that can drive not just the patterns of thinking but also the ‘patterns of feeling’ about learning. ‘Wanting to learn’ is a pattern of thinking rooted in the emotional culture of the organization – the feeling of joy from learning.

Organizations need to work on designing motivation, reward and recognition systems that focus on driving positive emotional feelings in employees. Working on enhancing the emotional ‘feeling’ aspects from learning or for that matter, any initiative, is the key to lasting success in organizations.

Organizational culture consists of 2 parts – the cognitive culture and emotional culture. The pull effect to learning would come by focusing on both: the cognitive cultural aspect (designing a performance metric: demonstrated results from new learning) as well as the emotional cultural aspect of celebrating learning success (recognizing & rewarding the ‘feeling of joy’ from learning)

Learning needs to be looked at as an ‘experience’ and not just a ‘skill upgrade’. By aligning purpose with emotion along the entire learning experience journey, organizations can build a non-replicable and sustainable competitive advantage through ‘learning’.

Never provide training to your employees, engage them in a learning experience.


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