Industry April / May 2010

Blended Development

Extending beyond the classroom to improve performance

Some managers believe the best solution to employee development is “Let’s buy a training course”. Perhaps that means implementing traditional classroom training or even an online training programme. Sales numbers down? Send them to sales training. Marketing team in a creative rut? An “innovative thinking” workshop will fix that.

But does training, by itself, really change behaviours? What can enhance training to make it more applicable to business results in the actual workplace and relevant to the work employees are doing?

Traditional classroom training establishes the foundation and offers a safe way to practice new skills and activities. Training may also bring together employees, as a way to build relationships and improve communication. But learning extends beyond the training room and many firms find that a more dynamic way of changing behaviour is to blend training with other initiatives and operations, to create a planned development experience. This is an approach we call blended development. By combining training with other development options, firms can offer employees a more focused and personalised approach to learning.

The types of activities that might be part of blended development are diverse, readily available in most organisations and include: on-the-job training, coaching, mentor programmes, e-learning options, assessment tools, performance-management systems, and work-exchange programmes across divisions and countries. Tony Bingham, president and CEO of The American Society of Training and Development, recently delivered a presentation on using social media as a development tool, which is certainly an innovative approach. All of these approaches add extra value to classroom training and extend the learning process to the workplace.

With any employee, development needs may require different approaches, and what works with one person may not be appropriate for others. Blended development has the advantage of being able to find the right mix for each employee’s situation and offers the ability to apply continuous development in the workplace. Planning for this type of development is crucial, and managers must ensure that they monitor and guide employees through structured development steps.

Of course, traditional training is not dead. There is still a place for structured learning away from the pressures and demands of the workplace. Some skills may be best addressed in the classroom, such as critical thinking, where the trainer is now more of a facilitator, enabling learners to practice and build new behaviours in a structured environment. And then they can take those new behaviours into the workplace for additional application.

But isn’t this approach expensive? The reality for many companies is tight budgets, with managers under pressure to cut costs and minimise training time, while also being asked to quickly develop employees to their full potential, with fewer interruptions to work. Blended development increases time spent doing the actual job in the workplace, which is usually the best place for employees to learn and develop. Some development activities can be done with minimal additional cost. For example, with mentoring, the time and energy of those involved are the main costs and these resources are often readily available.

By blending training with other development activities, organisations are able to more effectively develop their people for better business results.