The value of ‘back to fundamentals’ training

by Brett Henebery28 Aug 2017
L&D Professional spoke to Bruce Tulgan, CEO of RainMaker Thinking, to get his thoughts on the state of L&D in 2017 and what his company is doing to enhance training opportunities for employees.

LDP: Can you share any words about any new training opportunities that Rainmaker Thinking will be providing in 2018?
We continue to focus intensely on providing “back-to-fundamentals” leadership and management training to leaders and managers at all levels in organizations of all shapes and sizes. We find that the most powerful adjustment that can be made in almost any organization is making certain that nobody is ever in charge of anybody without first being taught the tools and techniques of strong highly-engaged coaching/teaching-style management – that is high-structure high-substance communication focused on spelling out expectations and providing guidance, direction, support and feedback every step of the way.

We also work with our clients on providing what we call “professionalism” and “critical thinking” and “followership” training for employees at all levels, whether or not they are in leadership roles. We have developed and tested our curriculum over the years in our “career skills” and “managing your boss” seminars, following this basic teaching strategy:
  • Make them aware: Name it and describe what the skill means to the organization. 
  • Make them care: Explore what the skill means to them.
  • Sell it: Explain the “self-building” value of the skill.
  • Break it down: Spell out exactly what they need to do, step-by-step.
  • Make it easy: Use ready-made lessons and exercises.
  • Get them involved: Give them “credit” for self-directed learning.
  • Make it practical: Spotlight opportunities to practice on-the-job.
  • Follow up with coaching style feedback to reinforce the lessons whenever possible.

LDP: In your view, what is the current state of training evaluation in Australian organisations today, and are there any areas in which it could improve?
It can be very hard to measure the impact of training on changes in knowledge and skill on any dimension of aptitude, even technical skills. That’s because people tend to develop improved aptitude with experience and practice, not just from training. So it can be difficult to separate the two (the impact of training versus the impact of experience and practice). But even when one conducts evaluation strictly before/after training, it is much harder to measure changes in soft skills than in hard (technical) skills. Indeed, it is simply harder to evaluate soft skills in a measurable way. That’s not because they are not critical, but rather because they are less tangible, more subjective, and more variable in the range of perceived failure to excellence.

LDP: What do you think is the most valuable job skills as the Fourth Industrial Revolution / age of automation approaches?
Hard skills are easier to define and measure, yes. Hard skills are critical and they deserve lots of attention, but don’t let anybody fool you: Soft skills are every bit as important. For the vast majority of your workforce, soft skills are the key to your success in the workplace and competitive differentiation in the marketplace.

Soft skills are the source of a huge amount of power that is always right there hiding in plain sight – a tremendous reservoir of often untapped value – a secret weapon for any smart organization, team, leader, or individual performer.

I focus on three old-fashioned categories of soft skills – professionalism, critical thinking, and followership – because they seem like the best way to capture the thousands of details of behaviour that managers bring up in our surveys, interviews, focus groups and seminars.

Related stories:
New report puts spotlight on soft skills development
Why ‘lifelong learning’ is becoming the new norm