Elephant and blind men
Breakthrough opportunities in business are based on change and innovation. As a minimum, they require change of established practices and actions.
More important, innovation requires changing “thinking bias” which often are consequences of so-called professional deformation.
Here is one example.
When we started to market SNAPSIM™ we usually presented our potential clients SNAPSIM™ Leader – the most sophisticated of our products. It has features of all other software combined. But we found out that presentation and discussion after the presentation heavily depended on the area of expertise of HR professionals. L&D professionals asked questions about learning and development tools in our system. Assessment professionals were interested in assessment tools. HR Managers considered integrations with ERP systems and analytics systems as the most important features.
Like blind men who touched the elephant they were only ready to evaluate the solution only scoped by their expertise. They just couldn’t get a helicopter view and see how complex HR solutions work. After a few meetings, we changed the tactics and explain our every product in our range starting with the simplest one.
Main stakeholders (and risk-takers)
We experience resistance when presenting our solutions, but we are not the only ones. HR professionals face the same when they try to “sell” internally any non-standard HR project. People don’t like to change status quo and get out of their comfort zones. Often, they are only ready to discuss what they understand and get used to.
When we try to make L&D process measurable there are three large groups of employees who can be considered stakeholders:
- learning employees,
- managers of learning employees,
- HR professionals.
These three groups are also main risk takers and they need incentives for change and communication.
Employees in training
E-learning was always bad at keeping the learners’ attention (may be the only exception is compliance). Any HR conference with a L&D section is full of examples where speakers present different forms of “engagement” – it seems that the only way to get people to learn something via a Learning Management System (LMS) is to have a “wow effect”. It can be anything: interaction, celebrities, gamification, animation, videos. And everything should be short and simple, presenters say. Otherwise our employees wouldn’t’ learn.
Almost everything in corporate training is …. a bit tricky. In the area where most companies get feedback only by answering one question: “have you liked the event” - it is hard to expect something else. Who would mind spending a day or two out of daily routine?
Flashy handouts, which will rest on the employee’s desk for a couple of weeks, before finding their way to the bin, coffee breaks and lunches, new impressions, new acquaintances, sometimes, but not very often – new ideas. Does it increase performance? It doesn’t matter. Everybody is happy: HR professionals have pleased their internal clients – employees, employees enjoyed a nice change, their managers hope that their direct reports would be a bit more productive upon return from the training.
But this is all about face-to-face training. eLearning doesn’t have all these incentives; however doubtful they are. What can be interesting in the traditional eLearning? Employees read the text from screen, click “Next” button, take final tests. It’s boring. And the reason for boredom is simple – they are forced to learn. And this learning has no goals and no results.
If someone believes that Interactions, animation or gamification could keep employees’ attention with such learning is naïve to say the least. We believe that users keep their focus of there is a clear value in learning something.
It is potential value or usefulness and not the form of content that would keep the focus of an employee. If there is no value in learning something, animation, interaction and everything else is useless.
Nowadays, learning in corporate environment competes not only with other activities on the job, but with some forms of entertainment, which are just a click of button away. If there no internal or external pressure, learning content, interactive or not, can’t compete with TV series.
HR professionals seem to use all possible tricks to attract learners into the Learning Management Systems (LMS). But the situation is even worse with line managers. Sometimes when we mention that line managers should be involved into the learning process, we feel as if we said something inappropriate.
Theoretically direct managers should observe how new knowledge and skills gained by their reports are applied on the job. Ideally, they should train employees.
But that’s a theory. Often, everything line managers would do – is to fill in 360 forms and hold regular meetings required by the performance review process.
Why are HR professionals so afraid to bother managers? May be the reason is that if top management would raise a question on responsibility of training results, line managers would blame HR people: “What do you want form us? HR function is responsible for training and my people are not trained because of them!” And HR professionals often don’t have arguments to contradict. They understand that top managers would ignore all “smile sheets” which prove that employees really enjoyed training session and facilities and coffee and cookies were excellent.
Inability to prove the usefulness of training is just one problem. It seems that HR professionals have something like inferiority complex towards line managers: “They are doing something useful; they earn money for the company and we are here just to help and do what they ask us”. We need to remember that this “help” comes in the form of considerable budget and should be spent with the best outcome possible.
Line managers and HR professionals seem to have an unspoken bargain between them: “We provide appearance of learning and you provide appearance of coaching”. And everybody is happy.
So, we think: how the situation would change if HR people would operate clear metrics on how training impacts results in business? Would they still be reluctant to bother line managers?
HR departments in most companies resemble Hallelujah Mountains – flying islands in the Avatar movie.
Competency Models, Performance Assessment, Learning and Development, Employee Feedback – all these elements of T&D process in most companies are connected very loosely. It means that each professional is responsible for their own area of expertise. We sometimes have as much as twenty HR professionals in one meeting.
When HR professionals responsible for training, employees’ assessment and HR function are so divided, it is hard to present them a solution that will integrate all their activities. It also means that flying islands cease to exist, and their work would become interconnected and they would be really responsible for employee development.
But who can be blamed for avoiding extra responsibilities?
When identifying risks of rolling out a non-standard HR solution, we can expect resistance from the following stakeholders:
- employees, who are used that HR professionals should have various incentives to lure them into the LMS or put pressure on them to complete obligatory training and in both cases, results are not clear,
- line managers, who consider coaching as another non-priority activity,
- HR professionals, who are reluctant to take responsibility for the L&D process in the company.
Forewarned is forearmed, so we if we know where to expect pitfalls, we can avoid them. We will explain how to do it in our next article.