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Aligning Training with Strategic Agency Results

Open Dialogue on Aligning Training with Strategic Agency Results

Warren Master and Russ Linden

Warren: In my recent review of Russ Linden’s new book – Leading Across Boundaries: Creating Collaborative Agencies in a Networked World (http://www.josseybass.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470396776.html)
– I encourage public management practitioners to avail themselves of the many
case illustrations and user-friendly tools the author offers to navigate beyond
customary bureaucratic boundaries (www.thepublicmanager.org).

Yet, if there’s one topic that gets only scant mention in Linden’s book, it’s the strategic role that training and development plays in these otherwise exemplary
collaborative fixes. This is true of both the author’s many and varied case illustrations
as well as the spot-on lists of critical elements, factors and principles that
track with each collaboration challenge. Whether training’s absence is due to
the failure of project managers to include the training community in their
planning efforts, or simply an oversight in adding T&D to the toolkit, I
don’t know.

As you might have noticed, in the past few weeks I’ve also added several blog posts highlighting examples of how some government
organizations are indeed aligning training with their agencies priority
outcomes – including efforts at the US Departments Defense, Energy, Homeland
Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Transportation, and Veterans
Affairs; and within New York State, among others (http://community.thepublicmanager.org/cs/blogs/agile_bureaucracy/archive/2010/03/29/strategic-workplace-learning-in-the-public-sector.aspx).

So…Russ and I have been chatting about how to reinsert workplace learning into the formal strategic planning process – particularly as
concerns working across boundaries. And I’ve asked him:
How can
the T&D community (within agencies and/or through outside sources) add
measurable value to achieving priority agency results – in this case fostering
collaboration in a networked world?

Russ: As I did research for this book, Warren, I
rarely found any mention of training and development as an important factor
leading to increased collaboration. Given the amount of time I spend teaching
government managers and leaders, that wasn’t a happy discovery! But it’s an
accurate one. Agency leaders do a number of things to support collaboration –
they model it, they promote people who demonstrate it, they make it a key
element in annual appraisals, they provide resources for collaborative teams
and give them high priority issues to work … but training doesn’t usually
become an important driver.

That said, T&D can play an important role, not only in fostering
more collaborative cultures but in supporting other agency strategic objectives.
There are several ways:

§ Provide just-in-time training for teams and units that are working on important projects. JIT is usually more effective than broad-based
training that isn’t tied to a project or goal.

§ Emphasize the agency’s high priority goals over and over (and over and over). When leaders and middle managers are all focused on these
goals, the T&D staff should design sessions specifically targeted to
achieving the goals. And those goals should be discussed in all T&D
activities, whether the activities are focused specifically on the priority
goals or not.

§ Ask senior leaders to identify one or more important issues that they want managers and employees to work on. These needn’t be crises, but
rather ongoing issues that need analysis and recommendations (e.g., How do we
prepare middle managers to replace the large numbers of leaders about to
retire?). Then, ask a senior leader to pose one of those issues at the start of
a management development class, give the class time to work on it, and invite
the leader to return at the end of the program to hear the class analysis and
recommendations. This is sometimes called Action Learning, and when planned
well, it’s a very powerful way to make T&D relevant.

§ T&D managers need to think strategically, and that starts by learning what’s on the agenda of agency leaders and managers. What
are they trying to accomplish this year and next? What concerns do they have?
What are the issues that are eating up their time? Once T&D managers are
clear on this, they should ask themselves: What can we do to address these
goals/issues? All too often in my experience, T&D managers go to upper
management in a “here’s what we need from you” mode. We need to turn
that around and begin by asking: What do you need that we can contribute to?

We Need Your Help

Now the two of us turn to you – public management practitioners, trainers, applied researchers, public sector consultants – to
share your thoughts and experiences on these matters. What can be done to make
training more strategic in the public sector, and what best practices are out
there now – at any level of government – to help guide the way? BTW, we’re
hoping to find enough awesome case
illustrations for a 1-day forum on this topic in Washington DC
later this November – along with Web-driven and other virtual arrangements to
increase access to our widely distributed community.

The Public Manager, a nonprofit quarterly practitioner journal, has been publishing best practice articles and information contributed by volunteers from all levels of government, public nonprofits, applied academics and researchers, and government-oriented consulting and training organizations since its founding in 1972. Warren Master is the President and Editor-in-Chief of The Public Manager. Russ Linden is a management educator and author who specializes in organizational change methods and teaches at the University of Virginia, the Federal Executive Institute, and the University of Connecticut.

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Warren Master

Thanks for your comment, Harlan. Although I suspect the IRS has already anticipated these new requirements in its annual training plan (and training budget), it would be interesting to see how they go about it and what training outcomes they use to measure success.

Warren Master

Warm & fuzzy, indeed, Jack. As a warm & fuzzy cultural anthropologist with more than 40 years of government service & public management consulting experience, I share your perspective. That said, there’s a message hidden in your blog post that deserves some further consideration. Namely: what is HR training & development? Or rather: what’s the alternative? Bovine T&D? Canine or feline T&D? I mean, virtually all T&D in human organizations is by definition of the HR variety. No? So…I think we need to cut the umbilical cord between training and the HR sub-cultures of our organizations – at least in the public sector – and tie T&D more directly to the strategic thinking, planning and management processes. Sure, organizationally the T&D function may remain lodged in the strategic human capital area, but it can’t be allowed to stay buried and disconnected from the kind of strategic mapping that’s needed to achieve substantive mission results – e.g., increasing warning times for severe weather events by the US National Weather Service, improving facilities and citizen access and education outcomes by the US National Park Service, etc. Unless budget & personnel justifcations for strategic T&D can be framed along these lines – no matter how warm & fuzzy – I suspect this line of work will become increasingly less competitive for scarce agency resources. Cheers, Warren

Jack Shaw

Thanks for your post. I agree with you, and lest I lead someone astray with my HR T&D comment, I can change it since I wrote and published it. The article was indeed a reaction to someone implying T&D did not hold a place in the Strategic planning arena. As you may have noticed, I am not a trainer except by default. I came to the business by being a good oral communicator, and a writer of sorts. I just don’t see how you can leave T&D out of the picture or try to put it back in later after the fact. I think that’s what we do now. Training resources are among the first to go; that already happened to my agency. We went totally computer-based and now we have a committee back in to re-invent the other kinds of training we need now. An integrated effort would have saved money all around and prevented the issues we are having with retention and back-filling slots we can no longer afford. As you can see I do write from different perspective. Feel free to be a guest blogger for the Free Management Library and, of course, my Training and Development blog. I accept all points of view. 🙂