In the media – Altruism for selfish reasons

– This article was published in Training Journal (December 2014)

It’s always nice when a plan comes together. When helping others to perform and be successful leads in turn to a successful outcome for ourselves and our business. This struck me recently when working to define an apprenticeship programme for a major blue chip organisation. They had tried graduate programmes for a number of years and had decided on balance that the results were more successful when they engaged apprentices instead.

The logic went something like this. There had been an expectation among some of the graduates that they were waiting for their next promotion and it was expected rather than fought for. On the other hand, apprentices soaked up their learning like a sponge and because a job offer wasn’t a given, the resulting levels of engagement were considered to be much higher.

The apprentices are given the opportunity to gain tremendous experience over a period of a year or more and the chance to engage in a number of different roles gaining expertise and real breadth of knowledge. Consider it like a mini MBA for young people. Not only did we see loyalty and commitment but we had real challenge. Apprentices in their early twenties had the ability to ask the question “Why?” far more often than experienced people do. They have no baggage, no legacy and are unencumbered. As a result, the business has the opportunity to question the status quo from a fresh perspective.

Learning comes more from doing than from intensive study. The transition from full-time student (whether at school or university) to employee can be a challenging one. We move swiftly from being led and directed to being empowered and accountable and the speed of this transition is in proportion to the level of support offered.

The 70:20:10 rule

I was fortunate enough to meet Charles Jennings for the first time at a project leadership event recently. Among many other things, Charles is known for the 70:20:10 approach to learning which basically demonstrates that 70 per cent of learning comes from doing challenging work, 20 per cent from your manager guiding you and only 10 per cent comes from courses and training.

He gave a compelling presentation and it reinforced the following three things.

  1. Doing is good – putting knowledge and technique into practice swiftly embeds the learning. On-the-job learning with the opportunity to ask questions as the need arises helps to build competence and confidence swiftly.
  2. Learning requires serious support from your manager. Not just in giving the space to learn and the resources needed but in ensuring that there is a priority to this activity. Stephen Covey calls it sharpening the saw. There is no doubt that lifelong learning is essential and, while it is easy to say learning is important, facilitating a successful environment is rare. The effective manager will take an interest in the programme and the expected outcomes both before and after the learning activity and will create space to develop.
  3. Cramming is bad! Particularly when studying intensively towards an examination. Short-term knowledge quickly leaves the body and if not immediately put into practice, the residual value of the training diminishes within days.

A strong apprenticeship programme delivers competence over an extended period, helps young people to develop into an adult world of business and improves capability across the business as a result. I didn’t agree with the recent increase in university fees but seeing the success of a number of apprenticeship programmes has led me to think again.

So why would we not take the same approach for existing employees at all levels. A healthy combination of knowledge acquisition, action learning and mentor support has proven to be the most effective way to develop overall capability. Continuous learning is valued by businesses but not every organisation offers this when going about developing their staff. The answer is simple to implement.

Building your programme

Firstly identify the people and the need. What is the skills gap and who is the target audience.

Measure their current level of competence in the areas in question and determine the desired capability improvement. Then create the tailored content with direct relevance to the role in question. This should comprise of minimal “training” and maximum application. Appoint a coach or assessor who can provide the regular support. The opportunity to shadow a senior executive creates the feeling of being valued and introduces a completely different perspective. This way, the time out of the business is minimised and the learning takes place while delivering business outcomes.

Create a peer support network. Cohorts of up to twelve people who progress through the extended programme together. This will provide true learning and development opportunities that you hadn’t envisaged. Then sit back and watch what happens.

Commitment to the programme is critical. There is no place for half measures and failure to attend and contribute should be a show stopper. There is a huge amount of value within your team and this is a simple, effective and non-disruptive way to maximise their growth. It genuinely is a win-win outcome!

View the Training Journal article

Eddie Kilkelly

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