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Training that focuses on goals brings about targeted change

By Al Kuebler
March 15, 2011 11:23 AM ET

Computerworld - Early in my career, I experienced attitudes toward training and development that were polar opposites. Later, as I moved into leadership positions, I gravitated toward the pole that favored developing staff and keeping them up to date on technology developments. Nonetheless, I have found that extremes rarely provide the best course, and I came to realize that an anything-goes, pro-training policy had its drawbacks.

As a young IT professional, the prevailing attitude in the companies I found myself working in was, "Training is a waste of time. You'll just get brainwashed. We need you to hustle every chance you get." At that point, having given the matter little independent thought, I pretty much agreed. I didn't think that the term "research" applied to me at all. I couldn't be bothered with a systematic investigation of the influences on the world of IT and the businesses it served. Instead, I added to my professional knowledge in a very casual and opportunistic way. I might buy a book or get permission to go to a free presentation, but that was it. My work was my priority, and I remained connected to it even when I took a vacation.

Then I became a systems analyst at what could be considered a more progressive company. There, I learned, the CIO required every IT professional to apply for off-site training lasting at least one week each year. Any training that was at least indirectly related to your job qualified for approval, but you could also sign up for training in areas you didn't work in if it fit in with your planned future IT career direction. The CIO tied all this training to improvement of the IT organization by requiring everyone to submit a one-page report after each course taken that summarized the material and recommended changes in the IT management function that would accommodate this new knowledge.

While recognizing that the CIO was primarily interested in aggressively pursuing training because he saw it as essential in assuring continuous improvement, I was even more impressed by the psychological effect his approach had on a staff member like me. I was being trusted to manage my time so that I could accommodate the training requirement, and I was delighted that I would be paid to travel and learn. I was being given autonomy to the extent that, within limits, I could choose the material that would help me be more productive or progress my career. Best of all, I got the feeling that I would be trusted to bring back what value I could and that my input was sought. For this benefit alone, I was motivated to perform.

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