Institute training on the job.”
This is a Deming classic, and one I’ve come to appreciate over my years in consulting and IT leadership development. From the vantage point of 2009, one might take issue with the word “training” rather than “learning.” As usually interpreted, the outcome, learning is a more important focal point than the approach of training. You could train me for years on how to land a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier, but you know, I’m just not going to do that! Also, training tends to be sporadic, whereas learning can be continuous.
Institutionalize the Practice!
Let’s take apart the simple five word sentence. Dictionary.com tells us that “institute” means (among other things):
to bring into use or practice”
So Deming is emphasizing the “institutionalization” of the practice, not just an occasional burst. This is consistent with his first Point about “constancy of purpose.” I find in many (most?) IT organizations, there is way too little learning going on – especially considering how rapidly the field is changing. Training budgets are typically among the first to be cut in a recession, and the last to be reinstated.
Outside of IT, I see way too many people in jobs for which they are not properly trained. One impact of this is that they take much longer to complete a task, especially if it is slightly outside of routine (a return, for example, at a store, or using a store coupon), so either more staff are needed than would be the case if they were properly trained, and/or, the customer experience is degraded, leading to reduced revenues. If you don’t believe this, you need only look into the recent histories of Best Buy versus Circuit City to appreciate the impact of properly trained and motivated staff, versus untrained low wage workers!
On the Job!
Deming then emphasizes “on the job” as a form of training. This is crucial, and is one of the reasons I like to think beyond training per se, to the whole realm of coaching and mentoring, developmental assignments, performance support and the whole gestalt that leads to people growing their working competencies.
I’ve had to privilege to participate on the faculty of an IT Leadership Development program with Harvard Business School‘s Professor Jim Cash. I’ve watched Jim skillfully facilitate a group of senior executives through an exercise about their most powerful learning moments. A couple of points are notable:
- The most powerful leadership learnings are almost always “on the job.”
- The most powerful leadership learnings almost always came from a mistake made and learned from.
Towards Continuous Learning and Development
So, how can you establish a continuous learning and development capacity in your organization? How many of these practices are institutionalized in your IT group? If not, would they help if they were? What would it take to make them common practice?
- Do you have competency models for all the major IT roles?
- Are people regularly assessed against these models?
- Are competency gaps addressed through learning programs, including learning assignments, on-the-job coaching, and formal training programs?
- Are people’s compensation and growth prospects tied to growth in competency footprints (i.e., either adding more competencies or deepening existing ones)?
- Are performance support materials readily available on line and in the same context that people use to complete their jobs?
Cartoon courtesy of Management Plus.