Training and the One Minute Manager: Measuring Training Success
Reference note: The full citation for Leadership and the One Minute Manager can be found at the end of this blog post.
Years ago a friend let me borrow her apartment for a week. One night I picked up her copy of The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. At the time I was 23, out of college for less than a year, and not managing anyone. Whatever wisdom the book had to offer was lost on me.
A few years later, I picked up Leadership and the One Minute Manager. The thing that most captured my interest was that, although the book is focused on leadership, it makes numerous references to training. In fact, the more I read, the more I became convinced that the title could easily be changed to Training and the One Minute Manager.
Let me start my discussion with my favorite quote from the book. Toward the end of the book, the discussion turns to performance evaluation, and one of the characters shares this anecdote:
...I think of my favorite college teacher. He was always getting into trouble with the dean and other faculty members because on the first day of class he would hand out the final examination. The rest of the faculty would say, 'What are you doing?' He'd say, 'I'm confused.' They would say, 'You act it.' He'd say, 'I thought we were supposed to teach these people.' They'd say, 'You are, but don't give them the questions for the final exam.' He'd say, 'Not only am I going to give them the questions for the exam, but what do you think I'm going to do all semester?' (Blanchard 87)
Have you guessed his response? "Teach them the answers."
This anecdote was meant to illustrate the proper way to conduct performance evaluations. It can just as easily be applied, though, to corporate training. It addresses some of the fundamental issues of training:
What is the objective of corporate training?
How do we measure success?
What is the role of the trainer and the trainees?
These are questions most trainers have thought about throughout their careers. Here I set forth my answers, with Leadership and the One Minute Manager on my mind.
Practical Answers to 3 Training Questions
What is the objective of corporate training? Let's be practical. Training, both development and delivery, costs money. And these days, money is tight. Most often the objective of corporate training is to teach people to do their jobs better, faster, more efficiently, etc. We want them to use new software, manage their people more effectively, and follow new policies. All of which is designed to help them help the organization meet its overall business goals. Compare this to the goal so many educational institutions state of teaching students how to learn, how to reason, etc. With such different objectives, it doesn't make sense to use the same training methods for employees that we would for students. Which brings me to the next question...
How do we measure success? A student's success is often measured by his ability to memorize enough information from a course that he can answer questions on a test without advance knowledge of those questions. Like the students in the anecdote, however, employees already know the questions on the test. In fact, there's only one question: Can you successfully perform your day-to-day job activities? And there's only one acceptable answer. As trainers, we often get caught up in measuring success based on trainee feedback on course evaluations. Or we administer end-of-course tests and count a course successful if the trainees can pass. Sometimes we include pre-tests and post-tests and measure the level of improvement. The list goes on. Yet, even when these tests involve real-life simulations, correctly completing a simulation in class is very different from successfully completing your job. At the end, the only true measure of success is whether an employee consistently and accurately can apply the skills learned in the training sessions to their daily activities. This measurement of success raises the question...
What is the role of the trainer and the trainees? This view of training demands a partnership between the trainer and the trainee. When the only question on the final exam is the ability of the trainee to apply the training to her job, who knows better how to write the exam than the trainee herself? While the trainer is traditionally the one responsible for putting together the training curriculum and the evaluations, in reality, without the input of the trainee, the potential for the course to succeed is greatly reduced. In this model, the trainee can't abdicate responsibility for her learning to the trainer. And the trainer can't work in a vacuum deciding what information is important. Instead, it's a symbiotic relationship.
Not only does this model of training increase the chance of success from a content perspective, but it also addresses one of the fundamental concepts of Change Management: People are more invested in the success of endeavors that they have helped to shape and create. The last time you were forced to attend corporate training, I imagine you did a bit (or a lot) of grumbling. It's a waste of time. You have more important things to do. These courses never teach you what you need to know.
What if you had helped to design the course? What if you had decided what questions would be on the final exam, and knew that the entire course would be dedicated to teaching you the answers? What if you knew the training would directly contribute to your success?
Trainers: How much do you collaborate with trainees in developing training?
Blanchard, Ken, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi. Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership. New York: William Morrow, 1985.