Is Corporate “Training & Development” an Oxymoron?
While studying the topics of corporate and executive training, this question kept repeating in my head, at ever increasing levels of insistence, “Is training and development an oxymoron?” To find the answer, and thus dismiss it from my internal “question queue,” I opened my old Webster’s Dictionary and began thumbing through its delicate pages. Surprisingly quickly (for a die-hard web searcher) I arrived at my first destination.
On the right hand side of a page covered with dense, tiny type sat the definition. “Training: The act, process or method of one who trains.” “Development,” Webster’s went on to say, is “The act, process or result of developing.” Putting these terms together joins the process of training with the process of developing, which produced another question. “Can training and development occur simultaneously?”
As Webster’s definitions only served to deepen my curiosity, it occured to me that I might find the answer I was seeking by looking at “the processes” of training and development. So I turned to the Goliath of the training and development world, the entity that offers recruits the opportunity to “be all that you can be,” the US Army.
Basic training gives new recruits rigorous physical and mental training. Its level of difficulty comes as much from the challenges of the physical training as from the challenge of adapting to a totally unfamiliar environment. Most importantly, the US Army’s basic training effectively separates those who have the potential to do well in the Army from those who do not.
Basic Training is divided into two parts: Basic Combat Training (BCT) and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) . After 9 weeks of BCT, recruits move into AIT where they get training specific to their chosen Army roles, such as operating tanks, firing artillery, being a medic, etc.
Making a Case for Basic Organizational Training
In the business world, the Army’s “Basic Combat Training” could be compared to a comprehensive orientation program for “new hires” that teaches them how to handle themselves successfully in their new environment. (And let’s not address the dearth of such programs in the business world. That topic that could easily fill a book or two!)
Combine Corporate Culture and Skills Training to Build Sustainable Productivity
To continue examining the parallels between the military and civillian business models, it seems that specific professional skills training programs could be compared to the Army’s “Advanced Individual Training.” Investing in ongoing employee skills updates would be an excellent way for organizations to ensure that the top people they attract continue to stay at the top of their game.
And when you look at the Army’s training model, it’s interesting to note that during AIT, recruits continue to fulfill the same duties and adhere to the same disciplinary rules established in BCT. They are also regularly tested on physical fitness and weapons proficiencies, two competencies that are essential to top performance.
A comparable corporate model would require that the skills that are key to an employees’ success within the company - the cultural, procedural and navigational proficiencies specific to their organization - would continue to be developed throughout the first few years of their employment.
To stay true to the Army model, during this period, they would also receive ongoing advanced training in the specific skills they need to maintain or grow the special knowledge that they were hired to utilize on their employer’s behalf.
What a marvelous approach! Simultaneously productive, practical and visionary.
Unfortunately the Army and Corporate training and development comparison falls apart on a number of fronts:
So what do corporate employees typically get, under the corporate training and development banner?
1. Productivity Skills Training
This training typically focuses on training that will resolve functional deficiencies within an organization, division or department. For example, people in the Finance Department may be encouraged to sign up for “Advanced Excel Training” if a lack of proficiency with this software is causing productivity issues.
2. Management Training
These programs address “teamwork,” or “time management” and are offered as perks based on rank. Middle and upper middle management are subjected to more of these programs than those at either the top or bottom of the corporate ladder. There is typically no attention paid to individual needs.
3. Corrective Training
This is when corporate training DOES focus on the individual. When an employee is having difficulty in their role, and is of sufficient value (or offers enough of a threat) to an organization to warrant correction, an executive coach will be called in to work with them on overcoming their specific challenges.
What do you think? Can we, in good conscience, call what the corporate world offers “Training & Development?” Are organizations truly joining “the process of training” with the “process of developing?” Or can this term only be used with certainty when speaking of Army recruits? (Perhaps “Military Intelligence” is not the oxymoron it’s largely held to be.) Will we continue to let the Army’s approach to training and development eclipse what’s offered in the civilian business world? Or will we choose to adapt their model and use it to create an elite force of exceptional employees who, through their choice of occupation and employer is also able to “be all that they can be?”