Defining Training Needs in a Disruptive World

Organisational psychologist and coach, Hugo Immink, explores why conventional corporate training no longer works – and what to do about it.

In the corporate world, conventional training tries to bridge skill gaps. The gap that exists between a current skillset and a desired skillset. With the aim to drive sustainable growth and profit for the business. In a disruptive world however, we don´t even know what this desired state is, let alone how to train people how to get there. This is the main reason why conventional training does not work anymore. Yet the 2016 Forbes report noted that spending on corporate training has grown to over 130 billion USD in the world. A waste of money? Not if you pay attention to these rules.

Put your money where your mouth is: Make continuous education really about… Continuous education

During my 20 years as a HR professional in the corporate world I witnessed the following.
Firstly, senior management and HR professionals always talk about 'continuous education VERSUS daily productivity'.  Basically, what they are saying is that employees in training are not productive. I get that. However, I don´t agree with it. I believe we need to change 'continuous education VERSUS daily productivity' to 'continuous education AND daily productivity'.
Somehow we find it normal surgeons have lifelong education throughout their careers to keep up with the latest technologies in the medical world, however we find it normal that senior professionals in the corporate world don´t. We should know better.

Secondly, continuous education is often at best infrequent education. When companies face hard times, training budgets are slashed immediately. Why do companies do this? Apart from my professional HR pride being hurt, not continuously training your employees has one major disadvantage. It puts your business out of the game in the long run compared to companies that train their employees on a frequent basis.

As a company in a disruptive world, you don’t just want to stay in the game. You want to define the next game. If you find yourself at this point, do you still need more convincing that continuous education for your employees is an absolute must have, not a nice to have?

Make disruptive thinking part of your training programmes

Unfortunately, most companies still run on an outdated Operating System from the industrial era. This means that the design and execution of training programmes is still a top down one-size-fits-most process. The best way for employees to learn how to be disruptive and challenge the status quo is for senior staff to show how to do this - mentoring by modelling disruptive behaviour. This means: letting egos and fear behind you.

Half of the workforce now consists of millennials. Ask them what they see as their biggest skill gap. This bottom up approach will give you a good insight into what the younger generation knows it does not know yet (for example on leadership). A side effect of this exercise is that you keep millennials involved and engaged.  They are more purpose driven and are looking to be someone more than just a cog in the wheel. Use this bottom up approach as part of the new social contract you see emerging between companies and its employees.

Last but not least: use co-creation as a way to get knowledge from outside into your company. Ask your suppliers, vendors and customers how your employees can better meet their expectations and vice versa and use this real time feedback to optimise your training content.

Personalise employees' learning experiences

Now that the role from HR has moved from ´chief talent executive´ to ´chief employee experience officer´, offering training is all about providing experiences The biggest advantage of providing personalised employee learning experiences is that it meets the needs of the millennials that are now entering the workforce. Millennials have different expectations around flexibility and interaction, and who want to learn at their own pace. Young people want brief, bright and enriching experiences before they move on to the next employer (unless you treat them so well they stay).

The standardized death-by-PowerPoint trainer led classroom training days should be long gone by now. And video taped classroom training offered through LMS platforms should be abandoned altogether, because “humans crave interaction, and tend to learn better in in-person environments”, an article published by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) notes.

Another benefit ATD highlights is “the affect behavior and body language has on the learning process of rich information and memorable experiences.” Therefore, classroom training remains the most used and preferred delivery method, compared to action learning, on-the-job training and e-learning.

This is not to say we can’t throw technology into the learning mix as a vehicle to enrich learning experiences. In 2017, micro-learning is expected to go YouTube-like with super-short video clips of less than a minute. Did you just say less than a minute? Yes, in our information soaked society, attention deficiency has become a serious issue. Welcome to our attention economy!
“I expect that people will create 90 to 120-second videos as their courses,” Craig Weiss, the CEO of E-Learning 24/7, said. He adds that he believes e-learning vendors will be pushing this trend. It is yet uncertain to what extent soft skill training (leadership) would fall into this category.

Gamification and virtual reality will continue to enhance learning experiences. It’s already being used in the aviation industry where pilots in training are practicing their skills before making their first real flight. Gamification can also be used in the medical, manufacturing, transportation, and scientific industries, in particular.

The year 2016 already saw a start in applying mobile learning to expand the learning offering for employee development goals and this trend is likely to continue in the years to come. Josh Carlyle, contributor for eLearning Industry, indicates that the unique benefits that mobile learning provides means it will be here to stay. "These benefits include portability and flexibility of learning methods, fast access to learning materials, and the ability to engage in distraction-free learning activities in the comfort of your own home." Simon Casuto, president and managing partner of eLearning Mind, adds that "the popularity of mobile learning is due to an increased remote workforce and a renewed interest by leaders to support the overall employee experience." 

Scrawny or Brawny? Adopt the new habit mind-set rule. There are no shortcuts in disruptive learning

As a HR professional and freelance trainer I always get asked the same question: What will be the bottom line impact of this training? I always give the same response. Suppose you are scrawny. And wish to become brawny. In January you hire an expensive personal trainer (you want a good one!) to get results and show off your brawny body at the beach this summer. Comes summer. Nothing to flaunt. Still the same body. Do you call your personal trainer to tell him off? Or are you honest with yourself and admit you have not applied discipline in following the workout and diet regime your personal trainer put together for you in January?

You may think this example does not apply to corporate training, but this is exactly my experience as a professional trainer. There are no shortcuts when it comes down to learning something new. Yet this is what people expect who buy training. They like the projected result, but do not apply discipline in adopting new habits that will get the results. The 'reality of the day' being the most heard and hollow excuse to not apply the newly learned skills.

The point I want to make is that the 'no pain no gain' always applies in learning. Hence what I suggest is the 24-5-10 habit rule. There are 24 hours in one day. This is an absolute number (a day cannot contain more or less hours). The 5 stands for 5 working days (for most companies). 10 stands for 10 minutes of practicing a new habit, every day you work. A realistic aim given 'the reality of the day' excuse I just mentioned. Hence 50 minutes, less than an hour, of practice to learn a new habit. Every single workweek. Now is that so difficult?

In summary, companies need to make a mindshift from using training as a traditional means to bridge skill gaps and ´fix what is broken´ to a more disruptive mindshift of ´challenge what is yet to be broken´. This change in mindshift is disruptive because it requires:

  1. Focusing on continuous education not because you want to stay ahead, but to define the next game.
  2. A critical assessment of the amount of disruptive thinking currently being mentored and modelled in training offerings.
  3. Moving away from standard training programmes to personalised training journeys to keep your employees engaged in their learning lifecycle.
  4. Creating habits around applying newly learned skills to consolidate different behaviours that create transformational results.

Hugo Immink is an organizational coach helping leaders abandon old behavior and form new habits to facilitate disruptive change. He has deep experience in multiple industries, cultures and geographies. Hugo is an Expert member of the PathFinder4 network of disruptive innovators.


Great article... thank you. I know I will remember the scrawny to brawny example. As a 1960's model myself, not an attention-deficient, experience-seeking-millennial, I find it a bit sad that the world has speeded up so much. Can we really learn everything we need to know in 90 to 120 seconds long videos? Whew! I do hope that we don't sacrifice speed for a genuine human connection. Beam me up Scotty!
Comment by Vanessa Westwell - 30 June 2017
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