Hamad has recently returned from the US where he’d been studying for a Finance degree. Upon his return to Dubai, he applied to several banks despite his friends saying that government is the way to go. He’d prefer to work in a bank – he did some training in a small branch when he was in the US and he really loved it. One or two months down the line, Excellent Bank (EB) offers him a position as a graduate trainee. Salem, the HR Director explains that they are looking at placing him in Corporate Banking as a Manager of one of the Sections in one or two years time and Hamad is thrilled. Quickly, he signs the contracts despite having some reservations about the salary and benefits. After all, his friend Rashad’s package with the Things Authority is about 20% better, but in a year or two, things will change, he promised himself.
After a 6-week induction program he is thrown onto the ‘floor’ and rotated among the different departments. Three months later, while working in the retail banking division, his supervisor informs him that he will go to a communication skills training program the following week. Concerned, Hamad asks the manager; “why? Is there a problem with my communication abilities?”
“No, No. Of course not,” Replies the manager, “it’s a part of your training because you’re new.”
“But if my communication skills are good, would it not be a waste of time and money to send me to this training when I don’t need it? I’ve had some problems with scheduling and prioritizing my tasks and I would benefit more from Time Management training.”
“You’ll get your time management training in a month or so. For now, it’s communication skills. Why are you taking this so seriously? It’s free coffee and food and a few days off work at the bank’s expense. Enjoy it you lucky devil!”
Shocked, Hamad nevertheless tries another tactic, “So would you like to brief me?”
Bewildered, the manager asks “brief you on what?”
“The training of course. What do you expect me to achieve out of this course?”
“Nothing. Just improve your communication skills.”
“So there is a problem with my communication skills.”
“No, no. How many times have I told you that? Just go to the training, Hamad.”
Obediently, Hamad went to the training and to his surprise, he even learnt a thing or two about communication. On his first day back in the office, he wrote a ‘debrief’ to his manager detailing what he learnt and how he plans to implement it in the workplace the way he did when he was training in the US.
“What’s this?” The manager asks when Hamad presents the report.
“It’s the training debrief. I would appreciate a few minutes to discuss it with you whenever is most convenient for you.”
“Who told you to do that?”
“No one, I just thought that…”
“You don’t need to do that and I don’t have time to sit with you. Was the training good?”
“Yes it was, in fact I wanted to share with…”
“That’s all I need to know. Enjoy the rest of the day.”
Admittedly, your average graduate trainee will know nothing about training briefs and debriefs unless you tell them. Your average graduate trainee will also be thrilled to go to so many training programs and would probably not question the return on investment the way Hamad did. But even your below average graduate trainees will feel just as frustrated as Hamad when training after training, they do not get the opportunity to share their learning or even to apply it in the workplace. After a few similar training experiences to those of Hamad’s, your average graduate trainee will share the retail banking manager’s perspective that training is “free coffee and food and a day off work.”
Training is perceived by most organizations as indispensable to improve the working skills of their national employees. The inadequacy of the educational system to build real work skills is often sighted as the main culprit of why so many nationals are sent to so many training programs. Moreover, in many organizations, training budgets in the millions of dirhams are primarily spent on national employees. With these figures at stake, organizations, both private and public, should ask themselves whether they really need so much training and if the training is adding any value. The question is not whether to train or not train the national employees; it is how the organization should manage the training of national employees.
Having recruited the best nationals available on the market, the next step would be to train them on the essential skills and competencies required to perform and ‘fit-in’ with the organization. When planning your national training budget, consider the following aspects:
- What kind of culture does your organization really have? Organizational culture is not determined by a piece of paper saying that this is the culture we have; rather, it is created by the collective way ‘things’ are done in the organization. Avoid training employees in areas that directly oppose your real culture unless you have a culture change management program in place.
- What are the skills, knowledge and abilities the employee needs to demonstrate in the following year? For example, before scheduling an employee for a presentation skills training, consider whether the employee will have the opportunity to present formally, at least once, within the first month following the end of the training. Sending an employee to a presentation skills training because in a year or two, they’ll be in a position requiring a lot of presentations is useless. Learning needs to be practiced and applied for it to actually ‘stick.’
- What are the gaps identified by the employee’s direct supervisor? In the case of newly recruited nationals, these gaps are often assumed and not qualified. Your end-of-probation report should incorporate a section detailing training requirements for that employee. Moreover, these requirements should be qualified by illustrative examples to ensure that employees get only the training they require.
Undoubtedly, training is important. But the sad fact is; training in itself is ineffective unless the organization builds the support mechanisms that will ensure that any learning gained from the program is transferred to the workplace. Line managers and supervisors should brief their employees prior to the training and debrief them once the training concludes. The brief should specify why the employee needs to go that particular training program, the skills the manager hopes the employee will learn, and what the manager expects from the employee in the weeks following the training. This exercise should be followed whenever an employee is about to attend training, regardless of whether they are national or expatriate.
Trained employees can also share their learning with colleagues and coworkers to ensure that the learning is spread across a wider audience. The manager may decide that the trained employee can prepare a presentation to his/her coworkers sharing some of the material covered in the training and creating “joint” action plans for the team. In fact, Training Action Plans can be one of the most valuable tools to manage and improve performance. On the other hand, they can also become a useless piece of paper whose only place is in a filing cabinet somewhere, gathering dust! Action Plans are normally filled at the end of the training or in the following week at the very latest. If you are working with an external provider, copies of the action plan should be kept with the training department in your organization, the trainee’s direct manager, the trainee him/herself and with the training provider. Ideally, your training provider should follow-up on the training in the following three to four months to ensure that the gaps, which necessitated the training in the first place, have been addressed. If the training provider is not fulfilling that role, then the internal training function should take charge. In both cases, it remains the direct manager’s responsibility to ensure that the trained employees are given the support they need to practice and apply the learning in the workplace.
The hardest step in managing training in general, but especially national training, is building the required accountability to ensure that the trained employees take the training seriously and transfer learning to the workplace. It is this accountability that will ensure the Return On Investment (ROI) for the organization. While training brief, debriefs, and action plans encourage the employee to take the training seriously, best practice tells us that to build real accountability; the learning gained and applied should be directly reflected in the performance appraisals of the trained employees. In other words, organizations need to incorporate how well their employees have been able to benefit from training attended in their appraisal systems. In fact, in organizations where the focus of the appraisal system is developmental (as opposed to pay-for-performance schemes), the bulk of the evaluation is based on how well the employee has met his/her developmental goals for the year and how has that impacted the organization.
Over the years, I’ve heard many people complain that nationals do not take training, or their jobs, seriously: “We have to train them because it is a politically sensitive issue. But it’s a waste of time and money.” The fact is that even if that statement is true, then the responsibility lies with the organization and not the individual to change reality. In the final analysis, the ultimate goal of any government is to ensure that it’s national workforce are capable and equipped with the skills needed to be effective and competitive. Training for the sake of training will never achieve that goal.
- Next Issue: Optimizing performance.