Magazine article Training & Development

When Packaged Programs Are All the Same

Magazine article Training & Development

When Packaged Programs Are All the Same

Article excerpt

How are presentation skills like peanuts and porkbellies?

All are commodities - products or services we can purchase successfully from many different suppliers, with price as the major differentiating factor. Adopting that mindset can transform the way you buy some kinds of training programs.

The term "commodity" takes me back to Midwestern roots and WLS early-morning radio in the milk barn, which quoted the day's opening prices on the Chicago Merchandise Mart for wheat, corn, oats, and - by far the most intriguing - porkbellies.

These are "commodities," explained Uncle Leo, on whose dairy farm outside Rockford, Illinois, I spent several highly educational summers. Commodities are farm products that are grown by almost everybody, he said. They are available in bulk from many suppliers, so we can differentiate them chiefly by price. In other words, the laws of supply and demand drive the market. Any farmers who claim that their soybeans are different from the next truckload carry the burden of proof (Uncle Leo's phrasing was considerably more pungent!) and certainly face an uphill battle if they try to charge more than the next seller.

Not everything about training is a commodity, of course, but some instruction is, and so are certain topics. Consider the following:

* communications skills - making presentations, instructing, writing, and listening

* time-management skills

* negotiating skills

* influencing skills

* recruiting techniques.

Training programs in those and similar subject areas are commodities, readily available in the marketplace from a wide variety of sources. And one program is just as good as the next.

That last statement is crucial. It is predicated on a very pragmatic assessment: that we understand "good," in a training context, to mean that the training delivers its design objectives.

Thus, writing workshop X truly teaches its participants to write well-constructed, informative, and reasonably cogent business documents, free of jargon, grammatical errors, and stylistic faux pas. It enables participants to do all those things better than they could before. Period. And writing workshops Y and Z achieve the same results.

So, if the objective of a training effort is the acquisition or enhancement of writing skills, as defined above - and if all three programs deliver that outcome to a satisfactory degree - then workshops X, Y, and Z are for all practical purposes the same. One of them is just as good as another. In other words, they are interchangeable.

They are commodities.

Commodities can be crucial

Classifying a topic or a program as a commodity does not mean that it is unimportant. In fact, the reason corn and peanuts are on the market in such bulk supply is precisely because they are so much in demand.

The same is true of commodity training programs: They are available in such quantity because they are widely and repetitively needed. It is entirely possible for a commodity topic to be crucial to a particular business or circumstance - even strategic.

For example, rolling out a new suite of products or a new human resource policy might very well mean that you have to equip large numbers of non-trainers with instructional skills so they can train other employees. Some sort of train-the-trainer effort is critical in such a situation. The importance of that need does not change a simple reality: Train-the-trainer programs abound in the marketplace, and in many cases you can manage their use as you would manage a readily available commodity.

What gets classified as a commodity today can change tomorrow. For example, in most cases, you might treat train-the-trainer programs as commodities. But not always.

For example, in response to a business initiative, you might need to create a highly specialized train-the-trainer or presentation-skills program, because of the content of what has to be taught or presented. …

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