How complex is your training organization and its processes? A basic understanding of complexity can be truly beneficial to training managers. This begins with recognizing that training really isn’t your business. That’s right. Your business is probably manufacturing a product, developing software, or providing a service. Training supports your business. First and foremost understand that training in support of your business should not contribute to complexity – it should be part of the solution.
Birkinshaw and Heywood (2010) identify two broad levels of complexity in today’s organizations. Institutional complexity results from a number of factors. The company’s structure and operating style is a good example. Factors influencing institutional complexity can include the number of geographic locations at which work happens, the cultural and socioeconomic background of the workforce, even the number of brands or products provided. Individual complexity can best be summarized as things that happen at the individual worker level such as poor processes or unclear expectations. “A focus on institutional complexity at the expense of the individual kind can lead to wasted effort or even organizational damage,” (Birkinshaw & Heywood, 2010).
Putting this into a training perspective is as easy as placing yourself into the student or supervisor’s role. Does the system in place within your training center make it easier or harder for these two individuals? Your perception of how they should feel is irrelevant. How do they actually feel? When a training manager is faced with a negative attitude, complexity may be a contributing cause. Consider the processes used. How are potential students told of training? When? If training is mandatory, are they given options for attending different sections? Do you force individuals with limited computer access and skills to use online training? Are you offering training centered around the larger business need?
Reducing complexity in your training organization can be summarized in three basic steps: identify processes where complexity is an issue, adapt those processes to better meet expectations, and use training to make complex tasks easier. Taking steps to uncomplicate your training should be done on a planned schedule, separate from any curricular or program reviews.
The first step in solving complexities is identifying them. One of the best ways to identify questionable processes is to simply ask students, instructors and supervisors. Asking can be in the form of a formal evaluation tool, or a simple break room conversation. The process of identifying a problem is a bit deeper than writing down what an employee says. One way to identify potential issues is to ask about training processes rather than individual instructors or classes. Always look at processes across groups or units – don’t ask just supervisors, or just members of one department. To begin addressing complexities, you have to understand how a process affects all groups.
Some of the common training processes that can become overly complex include:
- How students, instructors, etc. find out about class schedules,
- How students register for a class (paper, phone, fax, online); this includes situations where a student may need approval from a supervisor to attend a class, and
- How managers access and use training records
When something is identified, be sure to take a good look at all the related components. Many training processes involve people, equipment and technology. Find out how the complexity came to exist. Review any past attempts at resolving the issues, and the result. Evaluate how other organizations are addressing this type of complexity.
Once the problem has been identified and basic information gathered the training organization has to adapt. This can happen as processes are reduced or eliminated. Some complexities such as those imposed on an organization by a regulatory body, governmental entity or other outside agency are difficult to manage. Other complexities are inherent in a specific business or industry and can only be managed by exiting the business or industry. The area most open to management involves unnecessary complexities. These complexities arise as a gap grows between the organization’s needs and the processes supporting it.
Look for ideas that address the underlying problems. Watch out for negative thinking – instead of saying “our organization can’t do that” or “we don’t have the resources”, frame questions as “how can we do this?” One given is that the processes will change.
Training is an excellent way to address complexity. When change occurs within a training organization, managers have to remember to provide education on training processes. Ensure that the changes are communicated both in training and in daily activity. Training should be agile, and used to refine or tweak the process changes.
There are a number of ways that training can also be used to help resolve process issues. Consider:
- Expanding who is trained,
- Diversifying the learning portfolio,
- Providing development opportunities, and
- Ensuring the work environment supports the application of training to the process. (Noe, 2013).
Training centers often have complex processes aimed at yielding strategic business results. Taking time to examine these processes from the viewpoint of the user is an important role of the training manager. Identify bad practices, adapt them, and then provide training for employees.
Birkinshaw, J., & Heywood, S. (2010, May). Putting organizational complexity in its place. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/putting_organizational_complexity_in_its_place
Noe, R. (2013, September). Strategic Employee Training. Retrieved from http://answers.mheducation.com/business/management/employee-training-and-development/strategic-employee-training#employee-training-and-learning-