Workplace Training

Over the years in my career, I have had to attend plenty of training courses. Sometimes they are very relevant and "hard nosed" such as "Advanced Java Programming," or "Intermediate Threading," or even "How to Be a Better Public Speaker." Sometimes, though, they are a bit more "squishy", such as "How to Get Along With Your Coworkers," or "Personality Types: How to Recognize and Interact," or "Maximizing Your Potential." (These are not the real titles.)

There's nothing inherently wrong with the squishy programs, we can all use improvement. But here are some of the things I've noticed they seem to have in common.

1. Material that could be covered in 5 or 6 hours is spread out over 2 or 3 days. This is understandable, the companies promoting these classes have to make money. You make more money offering a 2- or 3-day class, rather than three or four presentations.

2. At the beginning the message is "You have to find your own way, you discover the answers on your own. You make the program fit you." But they never really mean it. In the past, I've found a way or discovered an answer the presenters didn't agree with, and they've told me I'm wrong. Then they tell me the "correct" answer and send me back to work on it some more and come back when I have a new answer. What they really mean is, "We've reached some conclusions. Take this course to reach your own conclusions, so long as your conclusions are the ones we want you to reach."

3. Dissent or criticism is a shock. I suspect the vast majority of people attending don't really engage and just want to get it over with, so there's no dissent. However, I've always felt that if I have to spend two days in this program, I'm going to try to get as much out of it as I can. So I dive in, I try to really listen and think about what is presented, really do something in the exercises, then try to discuss the issues. Sometimes I ask more-than-superficial questions, other times I point out what seem to me to be inconsistencies or contradictions. I've even offered some dissent and criticism. I try to be decent about it because I believe this is how we can come to better conclusions. But most of the times the presenters are surprised and don't know how to handle it.

4. Participants are asked to evaluate the program but questions are designed to allow only positive feedback. At the end, the feedback questionaire asks, "What did you learn?" or "How will you take this material and apply it to your job?" or "How did this course help you grow?" There's no place to put the comment, "I liked the part on X, but I just can't get behind all that talk about Y."

Some of the squishy programs have some valuable information, there really are things I can apply to my job and I hope I have grown. Some of it is a waste of time. But a program can improve if it accepts negative comments and listens to criticism. If you do something and never listen to the critics, you will never change. Maybe what you're doing is perfect or at least as good as it can be and there's no need to improve. But if you listen to some dissenting comments, maybe you will find that they are valid and you can make your program better.

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