Maximising on the job learning

Written by
Changeboard Team

28 Mar 2010

28 Mar 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Learning & development model

In our previous Changeboard article: ‘Has product-based training passed its sell by date?’ we looked at how approaches to learning and development have been considerably affected by changes brought about by the economic downturn. One area of focus explored how more organisations are subscribing to the 70/20/10 model in their development strategies.

The model 70/20/10 model developed at Princeton University proposes:

• 70% of learning and development takes place from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving. This is the most important aspect of any learning and development plan.

• 20% comes from feedback and from observing and working with role models.

• 10% of learning and development comes from formal training.

Strengths & weaknesses of learning

1. The difference between the participants’s learning experience in the training room and on-the-job.

2. Exploiting the strengths and eliminating the weaknesses of each type of learning.

3. Ensuring staff remain engaged and on track with minimal involvement from management.

We have already seen that learning takes place both in formal training sessions and on-the job, or as some call it ‘on the office floor’. A key question is how does the experience of employees differ in these two contexts and what are the strengths and weaknesses of each type of learning?

The formal training experience

Let’s use the experience of Sophie, an account manager for a cleaning services company, to explore the two different learning experiences.

Sophie has an extremely pressured job and has recently been sent on some customer service training.

In the training session Sophie worked with a facilitator who helped her take a step back from her daily role and perform learning exercises, test her strengths as well as figure out her development points. She did the exploration work and the facilitator motivated her and guided her along this process.

Sophie came away motivated to build her skills in areas that were identified in the workshop. Although once back in the office-environment some of what was looked at during the workshop slipped away among the humdrum of responsibilities and deadlines.

The office-floor experience

For Sophie, the same type of guided exploration of areas for development simply does not occur on the office floor.

She is supposed to have appraisals every quarter but this rarely happens, and her meetings with her manager usually take place at 8am over a rushed coffee with only time to discuss the targets for the month and assume a load more of work outside of her usual job role.

She is required to motivate herself, set her own personal schedule and action plan to meet her career aspirations outside of working hours. For Sophie identifying the areas which she should develop often hinges purely on personal discipline and her level of self-reflexivity. 

Sophie’s on-the-job learning is through her own trial and error, and it is neither planned nor monitored. She often finds it hard to motivate herself and doesn’t feel that she has a defined support to help with this. 

That said areas that she does start working at developing within her role often become habit and hence action.

Exploiting strengths & eliminating weaknesses

Formal based training’s greatest strength is encouraging thought and identification of development areas and allowing a safe place to practise new ideas. The weakness is that unless managed effectively these may never be implemented.

While the greatest strength of office-floor learning is that it allows for immediate implementation and testing of ideas in a real situation and the opportunity to make habit out of the ones that work.

The greatest weakness is that error can result in real and potentially serious ramifications. In turn there is the risk that there is no one to provide a objective view of new methods and ideas and help guide self-reflexive development for the individual.

 So how can these risks be managed?

Formal training

To effectively make sure that there is a real return on investment when procuring formal training it is imperative that the provider of the training relates what is covered in the workshop to the real office-floor experiences of the participants.

Providers of formal training solutions should be adaptable and allow the opportunity for participants to test the content against the reality of their working environment. Without this the content remains abstract and in some cases even irrelevant to participants. An interactive approach allows participants to voice concerns and practise how they will use the content in a safe environment.

By far the most important aspect of formal training is a structure that allows participants to mould an action plan. Without action the learning will simply remain cerebral and will not be transferred into behaviour and skill.

Whether the training is delivered by an external or internal provider follow-up support and measuring the impact of the training at a later date should be prerequisites.   

Office-floor learning

A focused development meeting can take thirty minutes and can yield Results for a whole quarter. A coaching approach which draws out an understanding of areas for development means that an employee does not for months on end sit in a vacuum without feedback.

In many cases the only measure some employees have of their success is whether or not they receive negative feedback. Coaching helps to eliminate this and bolster positive self-reflection.

Once an employee sees the personal Benefits of building their skills in the areas the manager has helped them uncover, the only job left for the manager then is to review these and check later on their progress. Presto. Within an hour you have an employee who wants to build their skills because they see the personal benefit. In turn the need for constant external motivation is effectively eliminated.

Once a clear path of learning is set out, there are simple steps that can help maintain momentum with employees and save valuable time for managers by ensuring minimal input is required from them.

Keeping employees engaged

When coaching individuals the smart manager who is looking for momentum and sustainability might identify someone else within the organisation that has similar goals or skills to the coachee and set the two up to mentor each other.

Aside from keeping them engaged and decreasing the need for the manager’s input, this will also build the organisation’s internal network – something that is crucial for cross-selling and many other factors that make the best organisations tick.

Rewards & recognition

We all need verification from those around us that acknowledges when we are successful and doing a great job, it’s natural and completely healthy. Simple recognitions of achievements show teams they are on the right path help direct next steps and show appreciation. Praise equals motivation – so smart managers notice their employees achievements and reward accordingly as they know their time is saved in the long run by doing so.

Smart ways of learning

The 70/20/10 model is a powerful approach when the strengths and weaknesses of each area of learning are considered and managed to ensure that staff develop in a sustainable way. Managing risks and promoting coaching among staff on the office floor is an incredibly influential way of helping colleagues assume personal responsibility for their development.

Similarly formal training that is outcome based and firmly embeds action plans for real implementation can offer a degree of critical reflection that may be tricky to achieve while performing the job. The creation of a safe environment to explore new techniques controls potential risk and helps foster confidence.

Finally it is vital that managers are actively involved in the development of their staff by giving feedback, promoting and rewarding change. Doing this could see the difference between a struggling manager trying to drag their team towards a common goal and a successful manager who watches their team dynamically work towards a unified goal.