How to ensure that companies don't waste their money on training interventions


20 November 2017

Organisations are changing in the digital age, and leadership and management development must change as well, says the GSB's Director of Executive Education, Kumeshnee West. The key to success lies in empowering employees to take charge of their own development in order to build a true learning organisation that can stand the test of time.

Across the world, companies are spending more and more on leadership and management development. According to Forbes, spending on corporate training in the United States grew to $70 billion in 2016. There is an increasing range of courses, corporate programmes and leadership development workshops on and offline available for employees at various levels of their careers.

Yet a new study from Bersin by Deloitte shows that workplace learning is not keeping up with the changes that are taking place in the workplace. The report states that many training programmes are outdated and unable to deliver the results needed in the fast-paced, environment that most companies find themselves in. 

Rather worryingly, says Kumeshnee West, Director of Executive Eduction at the UCT Graduate School of Business, the report found that 74% of the 1 200 organisations surveyed said they still turned to conventional training despite being aware of them being less effective than in the past. 

"As a provider of executive education opportunities to organisations in all sectors, this is not a situation that we think is sustainable or desirable. Furthermore, in a country and a continent where the human capital development needs are critical - according to the latest Global Human Capital Index all sub-Saharan Africa countries perform worse than the global average - it is vital that every Rand spent on training yields a return on investment."

So how can this be achieved? West highlights three key areas that need to be considered when approaching this question: understanding why some training fails in the first place; making sure that people are empowered; and the judicious use of technology as an enabler rather than an inhibitor of human development.

1. Understanding why training fails

There are many reasons why training programmes fail and much has been written about this. West points to a McKinsey report that reveals that many programmes are too general and not tailored for in-depth individual learning. These take a one-size-fits-all approach, which is doomed to fail as the very nature of leadership development, for instance, delves into self-awareness and introspection.

Then there is the complexity of taking people out of their workplace, giving them new tools and skills but not providing context and support when they want to implement these upon their return to the workplace. 

"The McKinsey report also points to the necessity of understanding participants' mind sets and the importance of changing behaviour, which requires a certain sophistication in the psychological approach of the curriculum as well as a level of commitment and personal engagement of the participants involved," says West.

2. Empowering employees is key

The Deloitte study goes further than this to say that successful training and development interventions need to empower employees to acquire skills and take responsibility to improve the work itself and that when learning and work are integrated, organisations naturally evolve to compete more effectively as business conditions change.

Organisations that empower employees to continuously develop tend to view learning and work as "two sides of the same coin," utilising opportunities inherent in work for development, and continuously providing feedback and data that employees use to improve both themselves and the work, says Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte.

But how do organisations actually achieve this? According to Billy Elliott, Country Manager, Africa of the Top Employers Institute, which annually certifies excellence in HR best practice in organisations across Africa, those that are getting it right are providing the right processes, structures and feedback loops to enable people to embrace an ethos of continuous learning. Old Mutual, for instance, gives its employees access to online Harvard tools and an online learning platform where they can book learning workshops. This is linked to performance and talent management online processes, which prompt employees when they need to take action with respect to their learning and growth.

Critically, line managers need to lead by example and take responsibility for providing their employees with the right guidance and support.

"A key thing to note here is that by creating a culture of employee empowerment and continuous learning, companies are investing in the entire talent pipeline," comments West. "Often organisations focus only on the upper layers of senior management, but this is a big mistake. Investing in new and mid-level managers and leaders is vital, especially as these individuals are the ones most often engaged in forging organisational culture on the front lines."

3.Technology to augment not replace

A related observation is that the judicious use of technology and digital platforms offers unprecedented opportunities to empower employees and to track their development. "Instead of using technology to do the same things better, Bersin tells us that mature organisations use technology to completely change the types of developmental opportunities they offer and enable learning in the workplace through technologies integrated into employees' work," says West.

Balancing these interventions with face-to-face learning opportunities - especially when it comes to the development of soft skills and emotional intelligence - is also key. As Peter Hirst, director of the executive education program at the MIT Sloan School of management, told the Harvard Business recently, there's still something special about face-to-face interaction. "The richest experience [is still] being able to get together in person, face to face. There's millions of years of evolution behind that."

Getting it right

"There is no doubt that we are in a disruptive time," says West. "Automation, digital technology and the rise of contingent labour are just some of the forces disrupting traditional workplaces and nobody really knows where it is all going."

In this context, says Bersin, companies of all sizes are being forced to literally reinvent their learning strategy, infrastructure and employee experience like never before. Gone are the days of instructor-led, classroom-based education. Nowadays, leaders at all levels can learn through a blend of offerings including face-to-face interactions, learning platforms, immersive experiences and social connections.

"Companies are faced with a bewildering number of options," agrees West. "To truly benefit from a management or leadership development programme or corporate training initiative, best practice would suggest that organisations and training providers need to work together and keep three important tenets in mind. 

"Firstly, we need to ensure that people are not only given the opportunity to acquire new tools and skills (whether that be through digital or face-to-face learning or a blend of both), but also the opportunity to implement what they've learned in a supportive environment. A good rule of thumb here is the 70-20-10 rule, a leadership development learning model that has stood the test of time, that suggests 70% of development should consist of on-the-job learning, supported by 20% coaching and mentoring, and just 10% classroom training. 

"Secondly, we must focus on outcomes rather than just content and be clear about the impact that the training must achieve in terms of how it changes behaviours. And third and most importantly, people need to be empowered and given the space and support to direct their own learning and, in turn, to influence the work they do. It is only when training and development is made the responsibility of the entire organisation that you create a true learning organisation. And a true learning organisation is an organisation that is more resilient and fit for the future."




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