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Stephen Mather

Watson Neale & Mather

Managing Director

Read more from Stephen Mather

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You can’t learn French in a week!


Having some time off over the holidays has allowed me to tidy my study and to realise that I don’t have enough room for all of my books so I need to have a bit of a clear-out. I notice that I have a number of “teach yourself a new language” books and I also notice a common theme in their titles such as “French in a week”, “Italian in a month” and the even less plausible “Instant Spanish!” all of which got me thinking about why I continue to be sucked in by the promise that there is an easy way to learn a new language.  I suppose like many others I just keep on hoping that I can get all of the return without the full investment of time and effort that’s required.  Ultimately I suppose most of these learning programmes deliver less than hoped for results – maybe giving us the ability to utter a few tentative phrases but certainly falling short of the dream of conversing in any meaningful way.

The above example is my own experience but I think it is a story that reflects some typical aspects of human nature and so it’s no surprise that businesses and other organisations sometimes behave in a similar way when it comes to learning.  Having spent over a decade as a trainer and coach I think this is a massive challenge for training in the workplace.  Some training interventions still deliver little more than the equivalent of being able to deliver a few tentative phrases back in the workplace and whatever gains were made are gradually lost to disuse. 

So what is the answer?  How can businesses get a real return from the training their people undertake?  To be honest the answer is no secret. In fact it’s essentially the same principle as every other type of business improvement and basically it boils down to:

  1. Be really clear about what you want as an outcome (in relation to training think skills, knowledge and behaviour).
  2. Work with the individual before training to get buy-in, agreement and clarity over the desired outcomes.
  3. Deliver high quality training.
  4. Work with the individual following the programme to identify specific changes in practice or improvements in performance.
  5. Support the individual over time through effective management processes and on-job coaching.

In addition you will also want to make sure that the business systems and processes supports the behaviours you are looking for.

Although it’s no secret it does require awareness within organisations and commitment from the management to make sure that the full training lifecycle is followed through.

So going back to my own situation I have decided that one of the things I would like to do in 2011 is to have another go at learning a new language, but this time I’m going to do it properly.  I’m going to follow my own advice and be clear about what I want as an outcome, invest in a high quality programme with clear deliverables and I am going to seek coaching and support from others who speak the language and with whom I can practice.

So arrivederci and a Happy New Year.

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Stephen Mather

Managing Director

Read more from Stephen Mather

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