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Pretty in Pink

I was a teenager in the 80's.  I had Z. Cavaricci's (look it up).  A very good friend of mine called me "Duckie."  I had multiple Swatch watches (OK, I still have them...don't judge me).  I loved Molly Ringwald.  When the queen of great 80's movies appeared at the end of Pretty in Pink in her prom dress, that she made, while the Psychedelic Furs sang in the background, I fell even deeper in love.

But guess what?  That love was futile.  It didn't last (plus the restraining order she had against me prevented me from getting within 100 yards of her...but I digress).  The truth of the matter is that I was enamored with the facade.  There was no substance to our relationship.  I didn't really know her and she didn't know me.  Our relationship was one-sided; Molly entertained me and I enjoyed it for a bit.  Was my life really impacted, other than a bit of nostalgia and a couple of correct answers in Trivial Pursuit?  Nah.

It reminds me of training today.  A trainer prepares a session which entertains (maybe) those required to attend.  The attendees may enjoy the time out of production; they make like the lunch provided to "learn" something; they may nod in approval to a new idea.  Yet, what happens after the session?  Many times, employees leave and have little opportunity to engage deeper in what they've heard.  Substance is difficult to maintain in the training relationship.

Part of the issue is defining things as training.  From the part of the HR forest I live in, training is job-related and skill-related.  It is shorter-term in nature and it should have measurable results.  Learning a new software process, a new packaging procedure or a new return policy should be able to be handled in a training session.  In training, a learner should be able to see quickly and clearly WIIFM - what's in it for me.  They should be able to understand how it will make their tasks done quicker, more precisely and more easily.

For some companies, training is done often.  Management training, new hire training, sales training, etc. are all facets that can be done in the manner described.  However, what some companies think they have are development programs.  Development is long-term.  These programs are just that - full programs.  For example, investing in people to develop leaders is not a training session once a year or even once per quarter.  It is a mindful and intentional commitment to develop specific qualities and perspectives in those deemed able to handle this.  As I am brought into a variety of companies, I see much more training going on rather than development, even though they call it development.

But let me be fair!  Many companies don't encourage development because it doesn't help the immediate bottom line.  And the bottom line matters.  These types of true developmental programs can take a couple of years before significant fruit will be seen.  Companies are not that patient, nor can they afford to be.  They are not mean, but they cannot be that altruistic.  Pepper in what the global economy has been like over the past few years and, like, totally, no way (please read this in your best valley girl inside voice).

And look at the stats on where our educational training puts us.  In the most recent studies, the US school system ranks 25th in Math, 12th in Reading and 20th in Science in the WORLD! (OECD,  With those numbers, we've got take a look at what we're modeling based on what we've seen.  I am not saying teachers can't teach (believe me, I know some exceptional ones), but there has to be a gap in delivering material to encourage learning rather than to encourage meeting some standard.  We have fallen short in challenging people to think critically and analytically which is key to true learning.  If this is the first system that those of us who train and develop see, then it stands to reason that we can easily fall into similar patterns in creating educational sessions for our companies.

Be critical about your delivery methods and the programs created.  As HR professionals, we have to be aware of "flash in the pan" sessions which may entertain but provide no lasting benefit.  If we really are a product, at least in part, of the type of exposure we've been given to teachers and trainers, then make sure you're emulating what works.  Seek out those substantive, exceptional trainers and learn from them.  Study, practice, study and practice again.

And don't label something as development when it is really training; it will diminish the punch when you really do have something developmental.  Assess whether something is long-term or short-term; determine whether what you want to present is skill needed for the job today or aptitude/ability/attitude-related for down the road.

We've got to be serious about development and we've got to be serious about training.  Both are required, but each is to be approached differently.  Measure success in the short-term with training and use that as you meet with the executive team to encourage developmental programs to start.  Show them that you have the tools and the results.  The C-Suite can also believe that what HR does is just provide touchy-feely sessions and there is no backbone to it; you've got to show them differently.

In my life, I have spent about 6-8 hours with Molly Ringwald.  She presented information that I enjoyed and was necessary for the job I had at the time - to be a teenager.  When I watch those "sessions" now, I can smile for what once was, but it no longer applies.  I have been developed by some significant mentors and through some long-term programs.  Molly can't hold a candle to what those investments meant to and for me.  Not even if she had sixteen of them.

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