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  • Szilvia Olah

Make Competence Mandatory, Not Training

When I or people, in general, want to know or learn something, we find the way. We sign up for a course, free up time for learning, watch YouTube videos, read books, research online, or ask somebody. Let's compare this to what we do in hotels and probably other organisations. We herd them into classrooms and bombard them with content. We don't care if they are interested or not. If they are learned or not, the aim is training delivery. The worst part is that employees associate learning with a classroom session. The majority of learning & training happens in the flow of work, on the job, yet, when I ask them about their learning experience, they say, "I received no training".

This sentence bugs me for many reasons but mainly because it reeks of dependence, and dependence equals control!

Training or Learning & Development is one of the areas where we infantilise adults in multiple ways. Firstly, by not giving them the credit that they can build their knowledge and skills independently, we spoon-feed them. Unfortunately, this doesn't encourage them to think for themselves, to find information or new ways of doing things. It fosters dependency, lack of decision making, accountability, and responsibility. It has given birth to the notorious phrase "let me check with my supervisor/manager". Those who live in the UAE or any GCC country hear this daily. Why? Because here we have created an enormous cradle of kidults.

I often hear managers complaining, "They can't think for themselves" or "if you don't tell them there is a wall, they will walk into it". Well, maybe, but whose fault is that? Who gets upset when they mess up instead of using that as a learning opportunity? Who is the one who takes over tasks to "eliminate" their mistakes? Who doesn't show any trust in their capabilities? Who has created an environment in which they have developed this level of dependency? You, the manager. You would say, "Yes, but…". I know it is challenging and frustrating and a very long process to shape them into independent individuals, but the reward feels phenomenally good once you get there!

When I moved to the UAE from London, I remember being shocked. My staff would come to my office for every small thing related to their job. "Can I do this?" "Can you help me with this?" "Can you tell me that?", "Can you speak to the customer?". Back in London, I had 30-40 highly independent people who managed themselves and others, including guests; therefore, it was shocking why anybody would ask those basic questions. The reason is complex and somewhat cultural & educational, but I had none of it. After a month or so of being here, I called a meeting and told them that I would provide comprehensive training for their roles (there were no training records, so I had no idea what they were trained on), and from then onward, they will have to manage themselves. I had dedicated two months to training the team, testing their understanding and application, and gradually starting transitioning to independence. Of course, there were wobbles when they came and asked me questions they ought to know or for me to make a decision that was for them to make. In cases like that, I would say, "you have been trained on this; what would you do?". After nine months of doing this, I had issued a new SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) when one of the supervisors came to me saying, "Miss, I think this is wrong". Hallelujah!! This was the moment I had been waiting for! Now they were at the stage where they were not afraid of pointing out my mistakes. This is what I wanted. We reviewed her points together and changed the SOP accordingly. This is how you build independent teams who oversee their own, their teams, and their managers' development because believe you me; that nine month developed me in ways I never imagined it would.

Trust is a crucial component in treating adults like children, which shows in the main comments I get from managers "What if somebody misuses the trust given to them?" My answer to that is simple. You will always have a few bad apples, and you will always have people who are just not designed for independence. Instead of punishing your entire team or even the organisation, weed out those few. As a hotelier, I always think of the anti-theft wardrobe hanger misery. Few people must have stolen the hangers at some point, and now we are all punished with the stupid anti-theft hangers as there is no way you can hang anything on them. Let's not do that to our staff, shall we?

Instead


Provide access to learning materials but let them decide how and when they want to learn. Don't make training mandatory. Make competence mandatory. What do I mean?


Treat them like adults by telling them what they need to know, how to behave, and what skills they need. I often find that people can find solutions to their learning needs but struggle to understand what competencies they are required to demonstrate. Once criteria for performance are clearly communicated, constantly assess their knowledge, skills, and behaviour. If they fail, redirect them to the available learning resources, whether books, courses, online webinars, mentors, or coaches. Then assess them again. If they fail the assessment three times, review their suitability for the role. For example, you can start instilling independent learning with your company induction program, the one - or two-day mandatory classroom brainwashing delivered by the L&D person who is desperately trying to make the insane amount of content engaging and interesting. Instead of making the attendance - that doesn't guarantee understanding -mandatory, make the knowledge and understanding mandatory and assess after a month. Employees would have a month to study, experience the workplace, meet people, and ask questions. Basically, find the most suitable way for them to acquire the knowledge needed. Then, test their knowledge and their understanding of the culture. If they fail, assess them two more times again. If they fail the third time, maybe it is time to say goodbye. Does it sound harsh? No. It helps the organisation weed out people who have no drive or motivation, lack the ability to learn and do things independently. Those who take no charge over their self-development, and people with a lack of curiosity. Those people are hard to train and motivate (of course, we don't talk about people with learning difficulties here). And, of course, it depends on how much resources the company is ready to allocate to people development. If you have a workforce of dependent learners, you will need an army of trainers to meet the minimum requirement. The army will likely be made up of supervisors and managers, who are directed away from essential tasks that would move the organisation forward, risking stagnation and frustration.


But before you introduce independent learning, make sure your managers and supervisors are highly, I mean highly competent. Superstars! They must demonstrate the behaviours, culture, knowledge, expertise, care, independency etc., that you want your team to be like. Social learning is the most powerful learning in organisations. We copy each other, and supervisors and managers are the ones we copy the most. This is also the reason why I insist on developing supervisors and managers because it cascades down to the team. Lastly, it would be best to have business leaders whose minds are caught up to the 21st century. When I told a couple of hotel GMs about this, they almost died! "How can you do that? Orientation must be a face-to-face!"


Wouldn't it be better if new joiners went or showed around by their managers and introduced to everyone? Wouldn't it be better if they had a digital guided workplace orientation (I did that for my guys) to which they can go back any time when they need to recap on the information?


Wouldn't it be better if we treated people like capable grown-ups rather than dependent kidults who are waiting for the next spoon of knowledge to be served?
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