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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Catching Up, or Building the Future?

train a future based on opportunities, not just problems

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

I have been writing about how various timelines in your business relate to the purpose of your training programs. Last time I mentioned "the dangerous past," problems whose recurrence we try to prevent with training, and "the helpful past," knowledge capture and transfer. Unfortunately, in most organizations there is a lack of balance, so that the former gets all the attention. But in a few years, when massive retirements really start to have an impact, many may wish they had paid a little more attention to "the helpful past."

The Dangerous Future

In a sense, we deal with the future in response to "the dangerous past" when we train people not to repeat those past problems. But if the only problems your company avoids in the future are the ones they have committed in the past, you will never catch up!

The most visionary leadership scans the horizon for future problems and takes steps to counteract them. Unfortunately, unless the training function is in there pushing to help that leadership prepare employees for the problems of the future, top management often will overlook opportunities to educate the workforce in preventive practices.

Even if you don't have the most visionary leadership in your organization, you probably have a trade association, or maybe an informal network, where coming challenges are discussed. What is the point of getting this "advance intelligence" if you don't act on it?

To truly head off the most dangerous elements of your future, it isn't enough to know an iceberg might be out there, and even to create a procedure for detecting and steering around icebergs. If you don't train the crew to anticipate those icebergs before they see them -- if your company waits until the first near-miss, or even the first collision, to start that training -- you will waste a lot of time catching up that you could have used for building a lead on your competitors.

The Helpful Future

Just as with the past, there are opportunities as well as challenges to be found in your future. And just as with the training related to the past, there tends to be an imbalance, with too much of the training about future practices driven by anticipated problems, and too little devoted to building workplace behavior that brings benefits to the company beyond just dodging a problem.

As with "the dangerous future," either visionary leadership or other information sources in your industry should be giving you insights into coming opportunities. And again, even where those opportunities are apparent, the tendency is to wait until immediate action is required before you even start to build the appropriate training activities and resources.

In the smartest organizations, leadership paints the future -- conditions, challenges, opportunities, responses -- and sets the training function to work early in the game educating employees about that future. Even if the opportunity has not fully arrived, awareness of where you are heading will speed up the response when that opportunity is ripe for the plucking.

And along the way, employees who know where you are going are more likely to be able to suggest responses, processes, and tools that will maximize the benefit received from seizing those opportunities. There is a lot to gain by getting a headstart on "the helpful future," and any savings you envision from putting this off are likely to evaporate in the inefficiencies of "playing catchup" when conditions change.

© 2009 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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