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Trainer, Train Thyself. By Dawn Smith


Like all training professionals, those responsible for managing the learning function within their organisation have their own, constantly evolving training needs that shift with the latest thinking and with new business developments. So what are the current issues facing chief learning officers and learning & development managers when considering their own requirements for training?

For those at the top of the training tree, their own professional development needs branch out in several different directions. Like all senior managers, they need to keep their general management skills fresh and up to scratch. Within this skills category are self-management techniques as well as those involved in leading a department or team.

Equally important is the need to keep abreast of the latest trends and ideas in learning and development - not only in the area of specific training solutions, but also in terms of the role that learning & development plays within an organisation. With the pace of change accelerating in all these areas, senior training managers are rising to an increasingly hulking challenge when addressing their own training needs.

Strategic thinking
The biggest issue for senior training managers at present is the need to align the training and development function with the strategic needs of the organisation, says Jo Causon, Director of Marketing and Corporate Affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). “This is the most critical point for someone operating at that level,” she says. “They will need to understand the strategic goals and long term vision of the organisation and how that critically relates to the development of teams; and they will have a vital role in developing that relationship.”

Training in the area of strategic thinking, as offered by the CMI, is one approach that could help to meet this need. Training strategy is also included on certain high level courses designed specifically for senior training managers. For example, developing an L&D strategy is covered in the 5-day course called “Managing a Learning and Development Function”, offered by The Training Foundation. A large chunk of the CIPD Course, “Managing Learning and Development”, is devoted to the subject of developing a strategic approach to managing L&D, and implementing that strategy.

The bottom line
As well as developing a strategy that aligns with the long-term goals of the organisation, training managers also need to pay more attention to the day-to-day business goals of divisions working at the ‘coalface’.

“Chief learning officers are often seen to be an internal part of an organisation but they need to have a finely honed understanding of customer needs,” says Jo Causon. “They have to be outward looking, and think about how training can help to create customer driven goods and services. If the business is all about customer service and satisfaction, the training function should be geared towards motivating and developing the culture of the organisation to deliver that.”

Her point is echoed by Adrian Snook, Deputy Chief Executive of The Training Foundation, who says a key element in the Foundation’s course for senior L&D managers is the interface between learning objectives and business objectives. “In the past, trainers have had a tendency to measure things that trainers care about – such as numbers of people attending courses – instead of business goals such as profit, cost etc,” he comments. He believes one of the reasons for trainers’ lack of focus on business goals is the fact that their career progression tends to lead them into HR – partly because the conventional, academic education route funnels people towards HR modules once they reach a certain level.

“There is a perception that training is something you do while waiting for a career in HR,” he asserts. “This is creating is a situation where people promote messages that show up on HR dashboards, such as employee engagement, recruitment and retention. Although these are obviously important, too much focus on these creates a distance from the business units and their operational priorities.”

Quality and assessment
A consequence of failing to align training goals to business goals is disenchantment with the training function, says Snook, which is often followed by the decentralisation of training to the business units. This, in turn, has several negative knock on effects. One is that people delivering training in business units may be subject matter experts and line managers whose main role is something other than training, and who therefore lack the appropriate training skills. Another issue is that training is taking place outside the control and audit of the manager responsible for it, giving rise to quality issues.

There is no quick fix, says Snook, whose organisation provides independent training skills assessment and has developed the Trainer Assessment Programme (TAP) – a series of courses designed to ensure that all those involved in training, from the coalface to the top rung, are trained at the appropriate level for their role, and within the context of a career pathway that doesn’t automatically end with a job in HR.

Another issue here – and one that could be addressed by specific training for chief learning officers – is the failure of many organisations to adequately assess the impact of training on the bottom line. The CIPD – which says it modifies its train the trainer courses in line with its own research findings – has picked up on this point in its latest research: the 2006 Learning & Development Survey. Some 80% of respondents to that survey said they believe training and development delivers greater value to their organisation than they are able to demonstrate. However, only 36% try to capture the effect of training on the organisation’s bottom line, with only 18% undertaking a ‘return on investment’ evaluation.

The CIPD’s own course for senior training managers focuses on measuring results and evaluating the contribution of learning and development, including cost comparison, cost-benefit analysis, return on investment and payback periods. Evaluation of training is also included in The Training Foundation’s course for L&D managers.

Training on trends in learning solutions
In the age of technology, chief learning officers need to utilise the technology that works for them and have an understanding of how it can help to deliver training goals, says Jo Causon at the CMI. The growth of blended learning strategies, in particular, has been identified by The Training Foundation as one of the major trends in learning and development - but another major trend is the lack of practical skills in newer strategies among senior training managers, says Adrian Snook. “When you look at the regimen that exists for the development for senior training people, it is very theory driven,” he comments. “They have specific challenges – such as understanding the benefits of e learning and blended learning – that the traditional forms of professional development haven’t kept pace with.” The Training Foundation is among the specialist organisations that offer courses in areas such as e learning and blended learning.

Another approach to keeping up with new ideas is offered by The Training Circle, which runs a Masterclass for senior training managers, which is accredited by the Institute of Leadership & Management. This workshop-based course provides theory on the latest training ideas, followed by an opportunity to put them into practice. “The course focuses on newer developments in training such as brain friendly learning, multiple intelligences etc, and is updated as new ideas emerge,” says Kathy Morrison at The Training Circle. “People can come and explore whether those ideas are suitable in their circumstances and relevant to their needs. We ask them to come prepared to make a short training delivery with very simple content and then rework it to include some of the ideas they have picked up during the course. It’s very challenging. They have to go outside their comfort zone.”

After taking the course last November, Peter Allen at Sheffield City Council found the Masterclass “revitalised” his own style and led to major changes in the way training is delivered by his team. Peter, who has been managing training development at a senior level for 14 years, currently manages a team of 12 trainers delivering to some 7,500 staff in the Council’s health and social care division. The areas where the course has had most impact on how training is now delivered by his team is in making the training more interactive, and getting the message across by organising it better, he says. The environment for training has also changed. “This used to be quite sterile, but now it has been made more conducive to adult training, using colours, flowers, music etc.,” he says. The ideas from the Masterclass have also been shared with the trainers on his team, through half day and one day courses, and “we’re discussing how to take it forward,” he adds. “It certainly inspired me to keep updating my ideas.”

Management skills
Senior training managers are of course faced with the same challenges as other top level professionals when it comes to developing their own managerial skills. Like their fellows they will find the tools they need on any senior management training course worth its name. Key issues of the moment include change management – which for chief learning officers might focus on how the training function can participate in scoping, planning and implementing change within the organisation, as well as identifying areas for change, says Jo Causon at the CMI. Managing change is also covered by the senior training managers’ course offered by The Training Foundation.

Other key areas in management training are leadership training and behavioural change. “We would look at training that enhances the person’s already heightened level of dealing with people, and we would use anything from NLP to psychotherapy to theatre in that training,” says Robin chandler of The Impact Factory, which runs a number of train the trainer courses at a senior level. “They should already know how to teach, so we would work with them to develop skills such as how to inspire other people,” he adds. “Generally we work on their strengths, rather than weaknesses, although we can also utilise something they are bad at, by getting them a reputation in their organisation for being bad at one particular thing but brilliant at everything else. As the saying goes, you need to find something to be bad at, because people will hate you if you’re good at everything.”

The Impact Factory also conducts “confrontative training” for training managers at the highest level, in order to challenge them. “As a chief learning officer you have to get yourself into and out of difficult situations with groups of people,” he says. “To be at that level you need to have challenged yourself. So we would put them in challenging situations.”

Lonely at the top
One area which many senior managers are “very bad at” is managing themselves and their time and keeping themselves focused, says Jo Causon. “Creating thinking time and personal space at this level is critical and will become more critical in future,” she says. But few top managers do it.

Many senior people are also bad at thinking about themselves, their own personal development and their own training needs, she adds. Given the multifarious training requirements of senior learning officers, that sounds like particularly bad news. Causon advises chief learning officers to consider their own personal learning goals, think about joining networks, talk to fellow chief learning officers in other organisations and attend relevant events. They could also benefit from the diagnostic tools on the active management section of the CMI website, designed to help managers reach their potential (

And finally, of course, senior learning managers can attend training courses which offer a networking role and an element of self development as well as honing their skills. In fact, one of the reasons why top level training managers attend courses at The Training Circle is precisely because they crave feedback and support that they don’t get anywhere else, says Kathy Morrison. “Maybe there is no-one within their organisation at their level with their skills and knowledge, so they feel quite lonely in that organisation. They have no-one to exchange ideas with. They are looking for professional development support for that reason.”


CMI active management:
The Training Circle:
The Training Foundation:
The Impact Factory:


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