Strategy, Alignment, and Training (Part 2 of 2)

January 7, 2010

Readers of the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s online factsheet “Aligning learning to the needs of the organization,” written by Valerie Anderson, will miss plenty of training gems if they don’t follow some of the links to earlier papers on related themes.

One, for example, leads to an earlier report, “Learning and the line: the role of line managers in training, learning and development.” It offers intriguing ideas for front-line managers who are thrust into the role of trainer without any formal preparation for that role.

“Learning and the line,” written for the Chartered Institute by Susan Hutchinson from Bristol Business School at the University of the West of England and John Purcell from the Warwick Business School, documents what they call “the critical role of line managers as facilitators and providers of learning” and moves right to the point: “(e)nsuring that line managers have the skills for and are committed to support learning and development is essential” (p. 3).

This, of course, is something which rarely receives attention within libraries. It’s enough of a challenge for most of us to organize or participate in train-the-trainer offerings when we are formally responsible for staff training programs. The front-line manager and supervisor who is running a facility or department is rarely acknowledged as a trainer, and probably sees little reason to participate in train-the-trainer workshops which would benefit staff and the institutions and customers they serve.

The problem is obvious and documented by Hutchinson and Purcell: far too few employees receive much needed one-on-one coaching or training from supervisors because many supervisors and managers are not comfortable placing themselves in the role of trainer (p. 4). Furthermore, managers and supervisors who are uncomfortable in a training role provide little more than “short-term learning related to a current job…at the expense of longer-term career development” (p. 5).

Within organizations where training is effective, the writers note, several things are in place (p. 8): new staff shadows or works alongside more experienced staff to gain the skills they need; “good performers go the cutting-edge work that provided the best route for learning new things by doing”; line managers provide coaching and guidance; informal training activities, often over lunch, are part of the mix; and staff are encouraged to attend conferences and formal training sessions.

“Line managers always have conflicting priorities and role overload,” Hutchinson and Purcell acknowledge (p. 14). The best organizations, they add, provide managers and supervisors with the skills they need to provide “short-term job-relevant learning and development” and “longer-term career development.”

Perhaps one major shift we all have to make is to broaden the formal definition of trainer-educator so that it extends far beyond the walls of administrative and staff-training offices.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Strategy, Alignment, and Training (Part 1 of 2)

January 7, 2010

It’s no surprise to trainers that aligning strategic plans with training plans makes sense; the real news is that the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) released nearly two years ago remains as fresh today as when it was written. It includes a detailed factsheet which, through a series of links imbedded in the text, serves as an easy-to-read primer useful to trainers, learners, and anyone else interested in effectively linking strategic planning with training.

Among the key elements in “Aligning learning to the needs of the organization,” written by Valerie Anderson (Principal Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Portsmouth Business School) and released in January 2008, is the reminder that “(l)earning, training and development professionals…need to work in partnership with senior managers, line managers and learners” to provide learning opportunities which are aligned with business needs as well as with individual learners’ career development needs. It’s a simple concept with little room for argument—so simple, in fact, that it often is forgotten as we all concentrate on resolving the short-term crisis du jour. Long-range planning, unfortunately, remains a sporadic-at-best process for many and results in strategic plans which sit, unused, on shelves or intranet sites—until they are retrieved as templates for the next strategic plan.

There’s a roadmap here. Anderson, in a section entitled “Implication for learning and development professionals,” offers a list of skills needed by training and learning professionals interested in long-term impacts: “developing a strategic understanding of the organization”; “clarifying the operational priorities that are important to line mangers in different parts of the organization”; “working effectively as part of a management team”; and “assessing the extent to which ‘year-on-year’ learning and training processes maintain a close fit with organizational strategic priorities”—items usually left to managers, supervisors, and other administrators rather than to the trainer-learners who implement staff training programs.

The beauty of Anderson’s CIPD report is that it offers ammunition for trainers and administrators supportive of all-inclusive, consistent, long-term training programs to meet their organization’s interrelated business and staff career-development needs. The essential corollary is that training is planned and implemented at all levels within an organization, not just by training directors or a small group of administrators—a tall order for contemporary libraries and nonprofits, where it is all too common for everyone to have multiple responsibilities and too little time to do more than respond to each in all but the most cursory way.

“Alignment,” Anderson concludes, “is a process rather than a singular outcome,” and the training which leads to alignment has to come from line managers as well as from those with overall responsibility for managing staff training.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Next: Preparing Line Managers to be Effective Trainers

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