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Stop spending millions on training, start investing time in learning.

Conversations about leadership, learning, coaching and change.

Leaders like learning

Leaders like learning

by Moyra Mackie on March 9, 2013

I have been developing and delivering training for more than 15 years now and my mantra has become “Training doesn’t work.” So why would I say that? Does it mean I’m suffering from some kind of commercial death wish?

Well, no. I’m not. But perhaps I should be more precise and say it slightly differently.

Maybe I should be saying: “Training doesn’t lead to change or lasting improvement.” But that’s not so catchy.

@MoyraMackie says: Leaders know the difference between training and learning.

Don’t get me wrong, in the right context, training is great.

If you want to know how a piece of equipment or software works or how to follow a process, training is the answer.

But if you ask people how they feel about training, you won’t usually encounter a rush of enthusiasm. Given the sums companies spend on this less-than-enthusiastically-received training, it’s worth asking why that is.

In general, I think it’s because training often feels like something imposed from the outside. And one thing I have noticed, over the years, is that while managers are often very keen on training, leaders are more interested in learning.

People love to learn, but training is a chore

People love to learn. They will willingly learn all sorts of things in their own time and at their own cost. Why? Because people see it as part of their self-development. Learning helps people grow as individuals. Learning is personal. It’s for them. It helps them to be special.

Whether it’s learning to play tennis or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or a new role at work, learning is about adding to what you can do. And when it’s about learning more to start earning more, everyone can see it’s about getting a benefit for yourself.

But training is different. Training can be seen as a chore.

It happens at work and people often only do it because they are paid to or told to. In the worst case, training is delivered as the “I’m going to send you on a training course” parting shot at the end of an appraisal. Not surprisingly, that feels to the recipient like “I’m going to send you away to be fixed.”

So what’s the big difference between training and learning?

The difference is huge, but it boils down to one key point.

Training is about the organisation; learning is about the individual.

That’s the reason, in a nutshell, why you don’t tend to find people queuing up for training.

But hold on a minute. As we said before, people love to learn for their own benefit. So there’s clearly an opportunity being missed here.

What every good leader knows is that organisations thrive best when individual aspirations are aligned with the goals of the business.

When people grow, they are happier. They are more fulfilled, at work and outside, and they perform better and deliver more.

And that, incidentally, is why real leaders never stop learning for themselves. They don’t just believe in learning for others – they know it does them a power of good, too.

It’s about a lot more than the sign on the door

It’s 13 years now since Peter Senge, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, wrote the groundbreaking book, The Fifth Discipline, that first identified the importance of becoming a learning organisation. Even now, many companies are only just cottoning on to the benefits of developing a learning culture. And in some organisations the only difference seems to be that the training department has been re-branded and re-named Learning and Development.

That may sound harsh, but it’s a real problem. A new nameplate on the door means nothing if the department inside clings to the formulaic training products and sheep dip events peddled by training companies whose sales model is about repeat business rather than driving real change.

John Stepper, one of the sharpest observers of these things, has rightly highlighted the pitfalls of learning becoming a department. His recommendation is that we should concentrate on nurturing communities of social learning that deliver real commercial value.

To put it bluntly, there are a lot of organisations out there that ought to stop wasting money on training and make sure they are investing their time in learning.

The focus of a learning culture should not be on putting knowledge into people but drawing potential out. Developing people from the inside out, rather than the other way round.

Watching people grow and seeing how businesses benefit is an education. As those with a classical schooling might recall, the word “education” comes from the Latin for leading out, not cramming in.

Good leaders lead out what’s in their people. Get it right and that can be an education in itself.

@MoyraMackie says : Leaders know the difference between training and learning.


Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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