The "Missing Linkage" in
While refilling our coffee cups at a client's technical training center, Phil Schuman & I overheard
an exasperated graduate of the company's comprehensive data technology
training program say to another Account Team student:
The studentís frustration
was real and compounded by the fear that confiding this to
management would be detrimental to their career.
- Now what ?
- Iíve been through the entire training program,
but I still donít know how to use what Iíve learned,
less remember all the details.
Imagine that you are the CEO of this company. Your account
teams are seasoned professionals experienced in all aspects of
their industry. In the past several years, you have invested millions
of dollars in providing the very best data technology education
for your account teams. How do you feel about the low
customer satisfaction rating your account teams continue to receive from
customers? Frustrated and bewildered? After all, the company has
fulfilled its obligation to provide the tools necessary for success
- Extensive sales training courses over the years
- Industry training and general experience working within the
- Training for every product/service offered by the company
- Extremely comprehensive data technology training (8+ weeks!)
So, what's the problem? Why canít seasoned professionals take the ball and
run with it? Part of the answer lies in the misconception that given
the right information people will always be able to "put it all
together" to complete the customer solution puzzle.
This misconception is driven to some extent by the personal
experiences of operational and training decision-makers. People tend
to extrapolate their experiences over a period of time and apply it
to individual learning situations. Consider the
sales/marketing/training Vice President who attended numerous
training programs over the years and was able to "put it all
together" to become successful. It would be natural to assume, when
making a decision about addressing a specific training need, that a
training class is just one more piece that the learner would plug
into their experience base.
A second misconception is that exposure to information, even when
not learned, is better that no exposure. The "fire hose" technique
dazzles most learners in a technology curriculum generating great
level 1 and level 2 feedback. The problem is that there is minimal
performance improvement. Not only is this a bad business idea, it's
also counter-productive for the learner.
Let's go back to the student's comment, "Iíve been through the
entire technical program, but I still donít know how to use what
Iíve learned, much less remember all the details." Clearly for this
student, training activity and learning occurred, but performance
improvement did not.
A common mistake that invites poor return for the training
investment dollar is developing a course/curriculum that focuses on
what must be learned versus what
must be done on the job. The course/curriculum focuses on
topics that the organization feels is important overall, and what
must be learned to achieve results. This approach seems logical, but
the problem with focusing on what must be learned is that
individuals and teams are charged with, and are responsible for specific
tasks (sales, admin, support, products, etc.). It's counter
productive to just learn information, instead of what I need to do
The student's comment, "much less remember all the details," is a
result of the "exposure to information, even when not learned, is
better that no exposure" misconception. I'm reminded of a line in
Simon and Garfunkel's song "Kodachrome" that says; "When I think
back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can
think at all." Filling the knowledge funnel with unnecessary
information may make the organization happy, but if it doesn't have
a direct linkage to performance objectives it's a waste of
An important concept in performance improvement is linkages.
There is an external linkage between new
learning and how to apply the learning on the job. External linkages
- Goals and Objectives - Quantifiable
measures of performance - revenue, production, response times, and
- Performance Requirements - What
individuals must do to meet the goals and objectives.
- Operational Environment - The
systems and processes that support performance requirements.
- Training Needs - Identifying
learning interventions that support performance requirements.
Internal linkages are connections
between new information and the student's existing skills and
knowledge. Internal linkages influence how we
learn by improving understanding and retention, while
external linkages influence what we learn.
Both must be considered to maximize the companies ROI.
Where did this company go wrong and how can you avoid a similar
fate? There are no easy answers to these questions, but here are a
- Make sure that your organization is clearly focused on
performance and not training.
- Changing more than the titles of training development
personnel from Training Specialist to Performance Improvement
- Change from event focused training activity to systems focused
- Identify the external linkages that have a major impact on
individual and account team performance, and think of them as a
system that works together.
If you were the CEO of this company you might mistakenly conclude
that the answer to the problem of poor customer satisfaction ratings
is to provide additional training activity focused on topics like
consultative sales skills and listening skills. In fact, that may be
the recommendation of a training or performance support organization
that is focused on what individuals must learn, or favors less
organizationally intrusive training activity.
The reality in this example may be that additional training is
unnecessary. The problems may be better addressed by identifying the
business goals and objectives - in this case improving customer
support ratings - and determine:
- What individuals and account teams must do on the
job to meet those goals and objectives.
- The internal and external linkages that support these goals
- The gaps between target and actual performance.
This information will form the basis for developing a performance
model that will identify performance results, competencies, quality
measurements, and work environment factors.
There is no magic to performance improvement, but one key to
finding The Missing Linkage in Performance
Improvement is to stay focused on what people must do
in their jobs, not just the learning activity.
So, what was the solution to the CEOís customer satisfaction
problem and the graduates confusion about how to use what they
learned? As it turns out, the two problems were closely related.
First, the confused graduate should not have attended the classes at all.
Their job - what they do - didnít require that they receive the comprehensive
data technology training to support their account team
efforts. Second, the graduate - an order processing specialist - was
absent from the account team for a period of weeks attending the
training and actually contributed to the poor customer satisfaction
How could this have happened? Easy, the curriculum was designed
to raise the knowledge level of account teams across a broad range
of technology topics. The focus of the curriculum was on specific
training activity - not on how the knowledge would be used by the
learners on the job. Then, to save development money, the training
was offered to a variety of employees outside the target population.
After all, any training is better than no training at all. Isnít
The confused graduate never had a chance. Even though he/she
was able to comprehend the information and graduate from the
curriculum, there were no linkages to their job and only peripheral linkages
to the organization's goals and objectives. The student's
participation in the curriculum was a total waste of time, money, and more
If you would like more information
about our approach to performance improvement...
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