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Training excellence: an organizational approach.

Training Excellence: An Organizational Approach

The senior executives with whom we have collaborated on training programs were concerned with doing what was necessary to ensure that their people were empowered to enact day-to-day behaviors that reflect their organization's value-driven mission statements. They wanted to implement behavioral training that focused on organizational cultural change. They believe taht quality training is synonymous with creating excellence-oriented cultures. The organization's mission statements all emphasize creating win-win work cultures. They describe what the organizations would like to be in relation to what they currently were.

To design and implement training systems that support major changes in organizational culture, the senior executives developed three broad considerations: buying versus collaboratively developing training, outside versus inside trainers, and mimicry versus mockery.

Buying versus Collaboratively

Developing Training

No off-the-shelf training program is likely to meet the unique cultural and behavioral requirements for large-scale changes in an organization's work environment. We do not mean to suggest that thes programs are without value. They can result in high-quality individual development. However, education that supports organizational change differs substantially from education that supports individual development.

The senior executives we worked with were looking for training to empower people to alter their day-to-day behavior so that. over the long term, a different feeling would characterize the way the organization conducted business internally. To ensure that a program we developed collaboratively would fulfill the individual organization's specific behavioral requirements, we established two criteria. First, the program must give individuals the opportunity to practice behaviors they agree are critical to achieving excellence in their organization. Second, the program must give individuals the opportunity to practice these new behaviors in situations that occur regularly in the organization.

Over the past 10 years, we have asked more than 2,000 managers to identify the specific behaviors they associate with win-win relationships. We have synthesized their responses into 48 discrete, observable behaviors. To establish the foundation for the behavioral model to use within each specific organization, we surveyed senior executives and other members of the organization to determine which of these behaviors they believed were most likely to create excellence in their relationships with one another. By defining the behavioral content of the program it was developing, the organization fulfilled our first criterion, the organization defined the contexts, the practice cases, and the experimental simulations individuals confronted during the training program.

Achieving this level of reality in a program to accomplish organizational cultural change required that each organization become an active partner. We have had good success in developing this collaboration by using what we call prototype design and test groups. Senior management picks and personally invites the members of the prototype design and test group--a clear signal of its importance.

A prototype group has three objectives. As the first group to participate in the new program, the prototype group evaluates the program and provides in-depth feedback on the program's strengths and weaknesses. Then the group describes situations and events that typify the organization's day-to-day reality. We interview these participants about situations they have recently or regularly encountered that did not result in the win-win outcomes the organization seeks. After the participants have completed the prototype program, they provide a detailed briefing to their senior managers and, possibly, other members of the organization.

The number of prototype test runs necessary varied by organization. In one organization, we were able to iron out the bugs after only one prototype program. In a second organization, four prototype groups were necessary, involving the entire head office staff of some 60 persons. The number of revisions necessary is only one of several factors that determine the number of prototype groups that go through a program. The size of the training population and the internal marketing that must take place are also important considerations.

By using the concept of prototype design, we hope to communicate three important messages. First, prototype design indicates that development of the program is flexible. Second, the prototype participants are responsible for contributing the situations that enable the program to reflect organizational reality. Third, striving for excellence means stretching a prototype beyond norman limits, uncovering possible weak spots, and learning from the experience how to increase the quality of the final version of the program. Only the inhabitants of the culture can change that culture, and they can do so only with tools they have had a hand in creating.

Outside vs Inside Trainers

Once the training program has moved beyond the prototype phase, the organization must give serious thought to trainers for the program. Our experience points to the need to have as trainers people who realize the long-term success of the program in their day-to-day lives--inhabitants of the culture. No matter how skillful outside trainers may be, they will always be outsiders to the culture.

Each of the organizations became comfortable in assuming this level of accountability at a different time. In one organization, we delivered the program to all of the senior managers before the essential transition took place. We collaboratively designed a spin-off version of the original program and then selected and trained two in-house managers to present the program to the organization's high-potential managers. When these participants receive promotion to upper-management positions, they will have little difficulty fitting into and reinforcing the emerging culture.

In a second organization, the best model proved to be a blend of inside and outside trainers. The inside trainers included both full-time trainers from the human resource department and line managers. This arrangement worked well because significant time passed between programs. Inside trainers could link program concepts to concrete situations in the organization; because outside trainers train for a living, they keep their presentation skills finely tuned.

The third organization clearly demonstrated the potential power of exclusively using line managers to present programs. Senior management had already demonstrated its commitment by making itself the members of the first four prototype groups. The organization carried this commitment one step further by releasing six prototype participants from their line responsibilities to become full-time trainers for six months. Their goal was to hand-carry the training message to the 400 or so people just below them in the organization and to select from those they trained the next group of line management trainer candidates. These line management trainers also received an extensive train-the-trainer program to prepare them for their upcoming role.

As we write, this organization has trained 24 line managers as trainers, and these inside trainers have devoted 6 months full-time to presenting the program to almost 2,000 participants. As a result of the intensity of their involvement, these 24 people, who have all rotated back into significant line-manager positions, have the potential to model and reinforce the aspects of cultural change they have spent 6 months teaching to others. Tracking the effects these people have on the quality of the cultural change that takes place reinforces our belief in the most powerful training program we know: modeling ourselves after leaders we have come to respect.

Mimicry versus Mockery

Most senior managers with whom we have collaborated understand the importance of leading by example. Theyd know that to tell others to attend a behavioral training program whose goal is organizational cultural change and not to attend the program themselves would make a mockery of the training effort. Leadership by example offers great potential for cynicism. We have heard our share of comments like "So-and-so sang a good tune during the program, but Monday morning was business as usual." The issue this type of comment raises brings us full circle to the theme of quality training as being synonymous with creating excellence-oriented cultures.

Senior executives are responsible for ensuring the maximum return possible from their organization's investment in its most important asset, its people. People easily say one thing and do another. Senior executives in particular must practice what they preach.

One of the central themes of these behavioral-skills training programs is to develop win-win relationships. Recognizing when someone is doing something right and learning from mistakes rather than placing blame are inherent in this theme. How often does anyone bother to acknowledge and nurture an employee who is demonstrating a good return on the training investment? In our experience, the tendency is not to celebrate and learn from individual success. Blowing someone else's horn is only slightly less culturally acceptable than blowing one's own. Similarly, when a well-intentioned human being does not yield a return commensurate with an organization's expectations, how often do responsible persons in the organization attempt to see what they can learn from this mistake instead of attempting to blame someone for it? In our experience, blaming or avoiding are the strategies that most people prefer. These points are what make our collaborative efforts with organizations we have discussed so refreshingly unique.

Two of our experiences demonstrate how some managers behave when they are committed to the belief that quality training is synonymous with creating excellence-oriented cultures. One of these organizations found itself confronting a series of crises during a period of intense training. If it had followed the standard routine, the organization could easily have pulled key managers from the programs so they were available to handle these crises. Instead, senior management took a dramatically different approach.

The CEO wrote a case briefing for one of the crises the organization was facing. Several of the programs that took place during this turbulent period used the case, which took the place of several of the cases the program normally uses. Consequently, participants had the opportunity to practice new behaviors in a real work crisis and be in a learning environment as well. They videotaped their work so they could review their behaviors and the case outcome as part of their learning. Learning from experience, with or without the assistance of videotape, is exactly the habit we hope to instill on the job to create an excellence-oriented culture.

The second example points out some important limitations of our own beliefs and convictions as program designers. A highly visible and influential senior executive from one of the organizations attended the training program and became quite enthusiastic about its potential effect on his behavior patterns. His motivation and enthusiasm continued to grow back on the job, but his attempted integration of the behavioral skills was so dramatic that he increasingly rubbed people the wrong way. The senior executive's manager mentioned to us that he had not only taken the program on board but had gone overboard.

This situation reflects an important blind spot human resource development professionals sometimes have. We believed that the training programs we were collaboratively designing would make a difference in people's lives, and we hoped that participants would take the programs fully on board. However, if we believed participants were going to take the program on board, perhaps we could have spent more time during the program helping them learn not to go overboard with their new behavioral skills.

An aside to this particular situation is how the organization handled this senior executive once it recognized his overboard syndrome. An easy and familiar response would have been to slap the person's hand, pulling him up short, or, worse, cutting the organization's losses by cutting him loose. The organization chose none of these options. Instead, it offered him the opportunity of one-on-one, on-the-job support from us to enable him to make better use of the skills that the organization had asked him to learn and that he had so enthusiastically embraced.

What conclusions can we derive from these experiences? First, quality training goes hand in hand with establishing excellence in an organization's work culture. Second, collaborative design results in a behavioral-skills training program that better reflects the organizational realities inhabitants of the culture experience. Third, when people from the work culture can serve as trainers for the program within their organization, the likelihood of the organization's taking the program on board increases dramatically. Finally, senior managers' behavior will speak louder than any behavioral-skills training program. Members of an organization will mimic the behaviors of their leaders; consequently, to teach one set of behaviors and to display another will only make a mockery of the training investment.

Irwin Rubin, PhD, is President and Robert Inguagiato is Executive Vice President, Temenos, Inc., Honolulu, Hawaii. Copyright 1990 by Temenos, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American College of Physician Executives
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Inguagiato, Robert
Publication:Physician Executive
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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