HR training is awful. Let’s blow it up and redo the whole thing.

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Never been the biggest fanof Human Resources (how are people even called “resources?”), and one of the biggest issues with that is HR training. Typically HR “owns” training in an organization. That worked 30 years ago, but today is a much different environment. People legitimately want to be trained, but most business training isn’t that good — some is downright awful — and it’s hard to argue any of it is really advancing the people involved. Mostly HR training (at the very least, the ones I’ve seen) are generic garbage. There are slides, role plays, and chart paper on the walls. Most people in there tend to regard it as a nuisance as opposed to a value-add. No bueno.

As a result, most leadership development programs are a mess, and that means the people pipeline of a given company isn’t being developed correctly. When reversals hit or people leave/retire, this can really hit you in the bottom-line wallet.

Can we make HR training better?

We can.

The initial steps to embrace

First: you absolutely need to realize we live in “The Knowledge Economy”now. The problem is that most companies and leaders say this in all-hands meetings, but they still run their company in an old-school way. That means knowledge can only exist at the top, everything is proprietary in the execs’ minds, and information is constantly withheld down the chain. That’s not a “Knowledge Economy” workplace, even if you say it is.

Second: you need to ask different questions, and do different things, to get different results. Not rocket science, but many miss this.

The role of creativity in HR training

That’s the subject of a new article over at MIT, which includes this paragraph:

By definition, homogeneity excludes creativity. Decades of focus on quality standards have ingrained the belief that homogeneity (of skills, processes, problem-solving styles) is an institutional virtue. The growing fascination with Big Data is a case in point: Can Big Data improve decision-making? Undoubtedly. But a total reliance on data undermines intuition and artistry, which often drive creativity. Unless homogeneity is indisputably necessary, leaders should encourage a multitude of approaches, recognizing that the digital world is far more complex than prior times. Simple questions, asked after the application of the standard approach, can be sufficient: Would a right-brained person have framed this issue differently? What would she have said? Despite all our good work, what don’t we know about this situation? Would we do anything differently if we weren’t in this organization?

Nailed a few things there.

The core problem of HR training

It’s typically rooted in the idea that, as noted above, “homogeneity is a virtue.” This is part of the reason why process is so sacrosanct to most people who come to gain authority in organizations. You cannot completely strip away process, of course — then work would be a zoo, or more of a zoo than it is — but you need to understand the actual role of process. The way most people use process is either to (a) cover their own ass or (b) keep someone in check that they fear. Those are the wrong ways to use process. The goal should actually be consistency and simplicity.

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As Stanford University has noted, most HR training tends to focus on processes and protocols. But because we live in a fluid, VUCA time — leaders need to develop more skill sets. That’s where the gap is occurring.

The elephants in this room

  1. People are inherently lazy and don’t want to change the HR training rubric they’ve used for five years.
  2. Because HR doesn’t make money and these trainings can’t be tied to revenue generation, no one is pushing back on their flaws.
  3. It’s very hard to define “creativity” much less train towards it.
  4. Oftentimes, a “creative idea” to a decision-maker is simply an idea that made money, even if it was completely not creative at every level.

So how do we make HR training better?

Well, the first thing I’d do is remove it from HR. Training should be the responsibility of direct managers. That’s part of why they get to make more money. It doesn’t have to be formal training either; it can just be 90-day reviewsand career conversations and one-on-one meetings. Honestly, that would still be a lot better than what’s happening out there now.

Overall, though, any HR training — any training really — needs to be more contextual, such as:

  • Working through your biggest challenge of the past 30 days and what you’d have done differently
  • How to talk to direct reports, positive/negative situations
  • Evaluate how you prioritize workflow and projects
  • Soft skill development, i.e. listening exercises
  • “What do you think this company is trying to achieve?” (I bet you’d get a huge variety of answers here)

Training should have value and develop employees to be good, and even somewhat happy, within their roles. Forget “productivity.” That kinda speaks to the idea of all of us as “resources,” which we’re not. But a training should help an employee understand their role in the bigger fabric of the place, and make them feel like they are getting better at their part. It shouldn’t just be checking boxes.

And it probably shouldn’t be run by the same department presumed to be monitoring your Google search and firing you — so maybe HR training should just become “training.”

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