By Warshauer, Susan
Training & Development Journal , Vol. 44, No. 6
Setting the Stakes for Success
In a poker game - as in life - people often credit luck for their successes and blame fate for their failures. Yet, on closer examination, other factors usually play a large part in the outcome of the game.
I'm not suggesting that training professionals embrace the ethics of stereotypical poker players, but the poker analogy is a useful one. Skillful card players use many strategies that have definite application to the field of training and development.
Training and development functions flourish or decline as a result of many factors. Certainly, professional competence is critical. But often the ability to play organizational politics can be just as important as technical expertise. Playing politics can increase the likelihood that an idea, a single intervention, a program, or a training and development function will succeed.
As in a poker game, it's helpful to know when to show your cards, when to hold them close to your chest, when to fold them, and when to take a risk to get a better hand. With concentration and skill you can give Lady Luck a run for her money, and increase the visibility, credibility, and influence of your training efforts.
Learning the game
Obviously, the first step in being a successful poker player is to truly know the game. Trainers can increase their effectiveness by presenting themselves not only as competent human resource professionals but as partners in the business of the company.
While it is not usually necessary for trainers to be certified in their company's field, they do need to understand enough about the business and the industry to make appropriate training decisions. Training departments need to stay in synch with the company - its mission, goals, plans, and changes - as well as with trends in the industry.
Many trainers have finely developed research skills that carry them through the process of program design. The more successful trainers use those same skills to learn about the business of their company and to stay up to date with the industry. Subscribing to (and reading) trade publications, attending industry conferences, and understanding specific issues can go a long way toward increasing a trainer's credibility and visibility.
Another way to learn is by talking to employees. Trainers can easily create formal and informal opportunities to talk with cross-sections of employees in client organizations. Sometimes trainers will become aware of certain issues before they become real problems.
Once they identify internal business trends and the effects of such external factors as the economy or legislation, training professionals can design programs to address them. Relevant programs are valuable, and even seasoned managers will voluntarily attend programs they see as addressing the cutting-edge issues in their industry.
It also helps to speak the language. Avoiding human resource jargon and learning the common business or technological terms of an industry can increase credibility. People find it easier to believe that a training program will address their needs if the people who plan and design it show that they care enough to learn something about the business. In a study of 26 companies, Robert Desatnick reported that "the successful human resource professionals undertook their mission with a clear understanding of the business, its needs, and its priorities."
Learning about the players
Winning at poker involves more than knowing how to play the game. You've got to be able to "read" the other players at the table. What are their styles? Why do they play? What are their goals? Do they provide consistent nonverbal or verbal cues that will allow you to predict their behavior?
A winning poker player is usually an astute observer of human behavior, with a knowledge of motivation, small group behavior, and psychology. …