Wednesday, 10 February 2010

More training. But what does it mean?

Leaders both use and misuse training. Leaders are adept at agreeing to big expenditure on training. Some are equally adept at curtailing the training budget when the pinch comes. But what is training? What is masquerading as training?

In a roundtable discussion on ‘extended services’ with the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the Guardian (9 February) ironically reported ‘As well as a common language (sic), the other unifying factor is training. As one participant said: “The school workforce, in all its complexities, needs training. … We need to plan ahead with training …”. A speaker added, “We need training to understand what it is that different agencies can actually add to the child package for children to reach their full potential”.’

Clearly, some of these people have a need for more information. The call may be for simple, old-fashioned briefing. Perhaps they need to be called together to hear, and possibly discuss, this, even be consulted. But they may not need training. They need to hear, be informed and know. They may need to meet. But they may not need to learn, in the proper use of that term. Do they need to learn about something, or learn how to something? Or do they need to agree to something?

Dr Peter Critten at Middlesex University holds concern over misuse of the term ‘training’, and tries to avoid using it, preferring to talk about learning (where that is the intended outcome). But he points out that “training can result in no learning at all”, … adding that “training is needed for airplane pilots, for example”.

This theme is picked up by Stephen Fry in Paperweight (1992), where he draws a distinction between training and education: “Education means freedom, it means truth. “Training is what you give to an airline pilot or a computer operator or a barrister or a radio producer. Education is what you give to children to enable them to be free from the prejudices and moral bankruptcies of their elders.”

In The Search for Leadership I describe how training can be misapplied. I cite examples where ‘Leaders sometimes invoke training either naively or as a strategic ploy to point the finger elsewhere or to try to reassure the market and investors, as in the pensions mis-selling scandal’. In Developing Corporate Competence (Tate, 1995), I analyse the use of ‘training’ as propaganda.

As Alice says (in Alice in Wonderland): "The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Organisations do – and need to do – most of these things. But, please, let’s not call a spade an obfuscation.