Like many consultants, I am of a certain age. I started my banking career just after the Financial Services Act came into force. I have seen the Regulator change many times and I suspect I will get to see another Regulator change before I retire. I look back on these initial years of my career with great fondness. Yes, it was a carefree time in my life with little responsibility but what I remember most was the constant learning. Back then, we learnt the different branch roles by sitting next to a more experienced employee who gradually loosened the reins as we absorbed the new task. Whilst I enjoyed this, what I really looked forward to, was receiving the latest list of forthcoming trainer-led courses as I knew there was always something on there that I would really want to attend. This learning was mainly skills based; I remember learning about behaviour quartiles, dealing with difficult customers and how to smile on the telephone to name but a few. To supplement that, we also had a great learning library full of books and videos to borrow as and when we wanted. My favourites were a series of ‘John Cleese Customer Service’ videos that I would love to see again.
You can learn the theory of a new skill in a few hours but to master it takes time and practise
Training back then was constant; it wasn’t a ‘nice to have’ nor was it a ‘minimum viable product’, it was seen as something that was essential for success. As you looked to move up to a supervisory role, you would need to not only demonstrate that you had knowledge of the tasks being undertaken by those you oversaw but also you had completed a list of management skills training. As such, your potential was normally identified many months ahead of a role becoming available. You were often encouraged to take on some mentoring responsibilities first to give you the opportunity to put into practise some of the skills you had learned without having the associated responsibility of leading a full team. As such you knew about the importance of taking care of people’s hygiene factors, you knew how to build a ‘goodwill bank’ with your team and you understood the importance of continuous performance management as opposed to it being a tool to manage someone who is underperforming. And then there were the Sales Managers; to be a Sales Manager, you also had to demonstrate success in the role and often had to be a top performer before being considered.
Fast forward to today and now we are asked to estimate the ‘value’ that will be delivered prior to being given the green light to proceed with designing a training programme. The process to estimate the value is not a lot different to calculating a Return on Investment (ROI) but of course, you have no tangible outcome evidence to work with. As we need data to calculate Level Three ROI, this typically means we can only estimate the instantly received value of Level One or Level Two in old ROI language. But there is a problem here; skills take time to develop. As I’ve said in previous articles, skills are not learnt overnight. You can learn the theory of a new skill in a few hours but to master it takes time and practise and this means that it is difficult to demonstrate the instant value of a skills course.
Now, you may expect me to continue by saying that this is preventing many organisations from staging skills courses, but this wouldn’t be the case. Thankfully many are still delivering regular sessions, albeit much reduced from my carefree days. The problem here seems to lie with the individual. Whilst I saw those skills courses as my passport to fulfilling my career, many today seem to only want to learn skills they can utilise in their current role. They seem unable to see the value of attending a session that teaches them about something they may or may not use in the future. As such, we often find individuals appointed into roles with little or no supervisory knowledge or experience. And whilst they can learn it on-the-job, as such, I believe there is a hidden cost of doing it this way around on a person’s wellbeing.
Organisations today have ever expanding departments spending growing budgets on taking care of their staff’s wellbeing. Amongst other things, they frequently offer great sources of support for employees experiencing their own version of the effects of stress. Whilst not all stress is directly task related, the reaction of an inexperienced line manager is likely to become detrimental if not handled appropriately. We hear time and time again in exit interviews that employees loved the work, but their line manager was the problem. They report feeling unsupported, not listened to, not developed, not appreciated…the list is endless, but the point is much of what is reported could have been tackled at an early stage if the line manager had had the skills and knowledge to do so. Not forgetting that the journey to making the decision to leave is often a long one; the road often involves conflict, unpleasantness and gossip, all of which unsettles the rest of the team and leads to a downturn in output. If the team are client facing, the impact can be far greater.
We must find a way of convincing the next generation of consultants that training is still essential and linking it to wellbeing may be the way forward. Maybe for this generation it is not about the value you obtain from being ready to climb the career ladder whenever an opportunity presents itself, but more about the work experience you create and the impact you can have on yours and other people’s wellbeing along the way. Maybe the way to sell training these days is on the experience they can create by having the knowledge and skills and not what you can personally achieve – food for thought.