I created a performance improvement toolbox when I started this blog in 2004, and have kept adding to it over the years. I often look at workplace performance first from the perspective of whether the situation we are trying to address is complicated or complex. Training works well for complicated problems, when you have clear and measurable objectives. Training looks backwards, at what worked in the past (good & best practices), and creates a controlled environment to develop knowledge and skills. Training can be good to develop ways to reduce errors, which is only one part of improving organizational performance.
Complex problems often require insight, beyond what training can prepare you for. There are no clear objectives with complex problems. Learning as we probe the problem, we gain insight and our practices are emergent (emerging from our interaction with the changing environment and the problem). This is social learning, which is much messier than training or education following a prescribed curriculum. Prescribing training to address complex performance situations will not work. There are too many variables to train for. Instead, systems and structures are needed to support social learning in work teams, communities of practice, and looser social networks. Enterprise social networks (ESN), forums, social media, and especially conversations amongst peers support social learning and build complex problem-solving capabilities.
Many vendors and training practitioners try to sell one-size-fits-all solutions, but there are no cookie-cutter solutions in the complex domain. I read lately from a critic that I am someone who,”believes training and learning are pretty much unconnected”. As you can see, they are connected, but training is subservient to organizational learning, especially in the complex domain, where it provides us with no new insights, a critical component in a changing work environment. Supporting workplace learning today is complex, not merely complicated. As more work becomes customized, traditional training and performance improvement that supported standardized work need to be heavily reinforced with social, collaborative, knowledge-sharing structures.