Magazine article Training & Development

What about Training Illiteracy?

Magazine article Training & Development

What about Training Illiteracy?

Article excerpt

Recently, I was aked to address a group of human resources executives on the subject, "New Values, New Cultures, New Workforces: How Do We Make It All Work?"

The more I thought about the speech, the more irony I experienced. I remembered the story about the elderly farmer who said to his county agent, "No point in your telling me about all the new techniques I should be using when I'm not practicing the old ones that I know would help me."

I opened my speech by posing several questions to the audience, including these:

* How can we expect managers to deal with cultural diversity when they generally haven't recognized the diversity they've always had in their employees?

* How do we train managers to be effective with the new workforces when they haven't been successful with the old?

* How can we hope that managers will gain employee commitment to better quality and greater productivity when most managers don't seem to understand what motivates people on the job?

* Why do we continue to spend upwards of $10 billion a year to train our supervisors and managers to manager effectively when we see so little return on our investment?

If I had been speaking to trainers, I would have added this question:

* How can you help you clients and trainees to be more effective in their performance if you are unaware of all the wonderful research into people's behavior at work that has gone on in this country since the late 1920s?

No more soft stuff

All of the above questions are related. Managers must understand that so-called principles of managing and of human behavior are universal, but that the practice of management is one-to-one.

If a manager doesn't understand that, there is absolutely no way in which he or she can hope to be effective with subordinates, especially without understanding individual acculturaton and drives.

If managers have little or no grasp of the realities of what motivates people at work, how can they possibly manage that motivation to achieve greater employee commitment and productivity?

If trainers are naive about what we know--thanks to extensive research in the behavioral sciences and organization development--about what makes people want to work well, then why should we dare to believe that the managers we train will somehow acquire the necessary and available knowledge, skills, and experience to be successful with the motivating forces in their subordinates?

For who is charged with transmitting the knowledge of people's wants and needs in their work? Who is supposed to show managers how to enlist those needs and wants in the achievement of organizational goals?

Trainers, of course.

And yet, in my many talks, programs, and workshops for HRD people in the past decade, I've been repeatedly and sadly impressed with a suspicion: Many people in the field of training and development have little or no acquaintance with the names and significant ideas of important thinkers in the behavioral sciences over the past 60 years.

What about the early lessons of the Hawthorne experiments of the late 1920s? What about the counseling interventions of the Mayo team in the early 1930s? When I talk about Rensis Likert, I often encounter blank stares. On average, perhaps 2 or 3 percent of the people in my audiences are familiar with expectancy theory and Victor Vroom.

I wonder whether Blake and Mouton are merely quaint reminders of the distant past and a "fad" known as the Managerial Grid. Would the name of Chris Argyris even faintly ring a bell? What about the great Kurt Lewin? When I talk about Fritz Roethlisberger, I know I must explain that he was a member of Elton Mayo's group at Hawthorne and a pioneer in the discipline of organizational behavior.

No wonder that many high-level executives still refer to management training and development as "soft stuff. …

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