Today is great for people like me. Here and now, in this Information Age, we have so much that we can learn and so many resources to help us to learn it. The opportunities feel endless.

Such bounty leads to inevitable change. People learn new things and apply the knowledge in novel ways. Such activity leads to new ventures, new entrants into various industries, new disruptions. New challenges.

Or, at minimum, it causes talented people to grow quickly. That growth causes many to leave their current employers behind. Brain drain is more real today than ever as tenures get shorter and shorter with more and more growth.

Great people leave good companies when the workplace fails to offer enough opportunity. The old adage will continue to hold true: sometimes you have to move out to move up. But just because “it’s always been this way” doesn’t mean it isn’t getting worse. This is more of a threat than we may realize.

A study by Deloitte, in partnership with the employment site Glassdoor, found the following:

[T]he ability to learn and progress is now the principal driver of a company’s employment brand. Yet only one-third of Millennials believe their organizations are using their skills well, 42 percent say they are likely to leave because they are not learning fast enough.

Forty-two percent! There’s the brain drain. The only people who want to remain are the ones who don’t seek growth in the first place. This is concerning.

It also points to the one counter-argument that I’ve heard about training. Some are hesitant to offer training on the basis that their people might learn something, outgrow their roles, and leave. It begs the question:

Which is worse? To train your staff, only to see them leave? Or to not train your staff and see them stay?

That might be an unfair question since it only has one real answer. So we need to train, we need to grow. For our own sake as well as the organization. Everyone probably agrees with this. The trouble, of course, is that the state of training and professional development is slightly terrible.

The Extreme Variation In Training Quality

I just used seven paragraphs to justify the need for training. Seven paragraphs that might be wholly unnecessary since people already agree. In fact, many organizations agree so much on the importance of training that they gleefully pay hard-earned money to solve the problem. Much like parents who pay for the best possible tutors for their kids. And yet …

There are massive quality issues. And there are serious instances where staff feel the organization is ultimately detached and disinterested despite their investment. Let’s consider the quality dilemma first.

Quality is a fascinating problem in professional education. It cannot be solved with money. I have seen workplace training programs that were built on six-figure budgets that failed to deliver better quality than Youtube. Or Coursera. Or Lynda. Or a decent worksheet.

Quality issues can’t be solved with domain expertise, either. We’ve all had brilliant university professors, leaders in their fields, who couldn’t teach effectively. They would try their best yet fail to consistently impart anything helpful to their students.   

Brute force and time won’t do it either. As any parent will admit, you can’t make your child learn. Same for us adults. We could be exposed to nonstop information on a topic yet fail to become more expert.

So what to do? This is where the problem of detachment and disinterest come into play.

Enrollment Required

Enrollment matters far more than we may realize. But not in the way we usually think. A mandatory training where enrollment is required sounds awful, right? Voluntary training, where people choose to enroll, makes more sense. Those who show up will value it more.

But the real problem with enrollment has nothing to do with staff. It has to do with their bosses.

If your workplace offered a new training tomorrow, would you attend? Regardless of topic? Maybe.

What if your bosses said they would attend? And what if they participated because (a) they value it, (b) they want to improve, and (c) it looks fun? Would you also attend? Regardless of topic? I think so. It doesn’t have to be mandatory. When the leadership takes the class, everyone tends to take the class, too.

Imagine, too, that your bosses struggles with the content. They wrestle with concepts. They ask “dumb” questions. They give incorrect answers.

How does that make you feel? I think it would make most people feel more engaged. It might make others feel comfortable to ask “dumb” questions of their own.

Suddenly, this class becomes a real class. I’ve seen it multiple times. Does this mean that leaders should attend all classes in the name of Leading By Example?

Kind of. But only with content that genuinely does challenge the leader in an authentic way. In all other circumstances, I think what matters here is that leadership has a presence in some form. Occasionally in the class, among the students. Better still as the actual teacher.

Three Books. One Conclusion.

I believe there are three truly great books on management practice. Anyone who reads these three books and practice their tenets will be a great manager. The first two books have already been featured in prior weeks. The first is Andy Grove’s masterpiece, High Output Management. Here’s the book review. The second is the inspired descendant written by Ben Horowitz: The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Here’s the book review.

This week’s featured book is Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules! This book rhymes with much of what I’ve covered from Grove and Horowitz. Bock, from his time at Google, readily affirms that training is a vital, critical, Top Two skill that a good manager must possess.

I should say, too, that the emphasis on training doesn’t come from some vaporous bundle of feelings of feeling; this isn’t more of the flimsy virtue-signaling that pervades the common talk of “leadership”. This is about the legit success and survival of the company.  

Training, specifically continuous training, follows high performance just as night follows day. Take this hypothetical graph from Work Rules!

From Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules!

Again, the graph is conceptual. It points to what I think is the most cited line from Andy Grove’s book, a line that I’ll now feature here. Bock cites it. Horowitz cited it, too. Consider the ironclad logic and the safe assumptions that Grove’s argument is built on:

Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manager can perform. Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let’s count on three hours of preparation for each hour of course time—twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class. Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training results in a 1 percent improvement in your subordinates’ performance, your company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as the result of the expenditure of your twelve hours.

So true. And so incredible. A 1% improvement, at scale, is powerful and can have a tremendous impact per Bock’s graphic above. But notice that this is training that you as a manager is there to provide. This is where the value is greatest. For three reasons:

  1. You, as a practitioner in your own right, can offer better insights than a trainer.
  2. You, as the boss, can use this opportunity to shift to the role of a coach.
  3. You, as a teacher, can master the topic in ways that you, as a practitioner, cannot.

But What Is Success Here?

Bock knows a lot about what effective training looks like. His book is worth twice the price to read about the G2G program at Google, a fantastic peer-to-peer exchange that runs the gamut of topics.

In this and other programs, the ultimate point is to see a real, measurable difference in action more so than thought. It’s not about money invested or time invested. It’s not about throwing resources at the idea and saying that the organization “values” this. As explained by Bock:

[M]ost organizations measure training based on the time spent, not on the behaviors changed. It’s a better investment to deliver less content and have people retain it, than it is to deliver more hours of “learning” that is quickly forgotten.

To determine whether the content is retained and valuable and leads to real improvement, Bock references an excellent four-point framework established in 1959 by Donald Kirkpatrick. I have a degree in education and never saw this until now. I’m thrilled to find it and embarrassed to say that I had to. The four points are as follows:


Image credited to Paul Petrone. Click here for more.

I won’t attempt to unpack this wonderful model here. Instead, I recommend you seek out the source material for the image above. The related article by Paul Petrone is worth a read.

For today, I think what matters here is that the Kirkpatrick Model shows us what successful training looks like. It involves a real, positive change in behavior. Bock’s work in Chapter 9 of Work Rules! shows how Google achieves this.

In closing, to manage is human. To teach is divine. For all the talk about having “inspirational” leaders that are “visionary” and “bold”, we should read between the lines to find what people want at their core. The best people want to grow. They want to see their work as a progression of meaningful discoveries that make them better as people and professionals.

Few things are more inspirational than the feeling that someone is there to help us do that. Few things are more visionary than the belief that our people can do that. Few things are more bold than betting on ourselves to make it happen.

Whatever you’re doing to train yourself and others in the workplace, chances are good that you can do more. Bock is here to help. So is Kirkpatrick, Horowitz, Grove, yours truly, and many more. There’s never been a better time.