Training and development is almost as driven by fashion as the clothing industry. While not quite up to the speed of fashionistas such as Gucci and Versace, which unveil new collections two or three time a year, people development is also a slave to trends. Thus we see the tide of training fashion ebb and flow over periods of years rather than months.
Coaching is now the most fashionable item on the training rack. And, if your company isn’t coaching you are simply not “in with the in crowd” as style icon Bryan Ferry once warbled. It is being introduced into so many organisations that it’s difficult to keep up. But is coaching appropriate and will it work? Do your values, culture and working practices support it? Are your staff ready for it? Do the demands on your people warrant it? Have you even thought that it might not be the ‘next best thing’?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) exhibition at Olympia last year was overrun with coaches and coaching. It reminded me of platform shoes in the 1970s: faintly ridiculous and impractical. Or, come to think of it, those current fashion victims, chavs.
Similarly I can remember (was it just four years ago) e-based training companies did the same thing at the 2002 CIPD expo. Every other stand offered the promise of an internet-based learning nirvana. Now all that, like tie-dye T-shirts, is just a distant memory.
And other recent training fashions have attracted organisations like moths to a flame. And like the moth, many have been burned by the very object to which they were drawn.
Emotional intelligence (EI), for example, is one. Until relatively recently almost every training-related book, article and brochure seemed to major on this subject. Where is EI now? It has been consigned to the bottom of the resources cupboard alongside yesteryear’s training fads. But why, if it was so important, relevant and pertinent to business? Answer: probably because it wasn’t.
Competencies and competence frameworks are another HR and training fashion. Did anyone work out whether all the money spent on identifying key skills and developing the frameworks, producing the paperwork, and slavishly creating descriptors has affected the bottom line of the business? I doubt it.
Has anybody seriously asked the question, is this right for us? The fact is there are many organisations where the development and introduction of competencies has had zero impact on the organisation. It was done because everyone else was doing it.
My advice is stick to the classics: undertake an identification of training needs to determine what should actually be addressed. Look critically at the training response and ask, will it contribute to the business? And finally, be wary of consultants bearing gifts, especially those bright shiny ones that match this season’s colours.
Gary Platt is a training adviser at a major utility company