In today's economic environment, the cost of developing people can present a formidable challenge, especially in soft-skill areas such as negotiating skills, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence skills, problem solving, communication, etc. One solution businesses have embraced for over a decade is computer-based learning. Computer-based training is an ideal platform for learning hard skills such as computer skills, financial skills, process management, project management, etc. This form of training virtually eliminates travel and material costs while also minimizing administrative and counseling costs. It's easy to ask the learner to use a curriculum and a set of guidelines to create an individualized development plan.
While the computer offers a cost-effective solution for learning hard skills, it may not be the ideal training solution when it comes to developing soft skills because the training is typically performed in a vacuum where the learner has no face-to-face interaction with others. A more effective approach for soft skill training is to use a group setting where techniques taught can be practiced, and participants receive feedback on their performance, all while interacting with the group. However, despite the potential return on investment, it can be difficult to convince an organization to implement such a high-cost intervention as formal group training. So we are faced with the challenge of designing soft skill training interventions that respect cost issues while, at the same time, offering the best possible approach for the learner to develop skills.
If we examine where we can get the most for our investment, we find that it is the leaders who have the most influence when it comes to shaping the culture and other people's performance. We could use the more formal (and more costly) group training with our leaders to increase the likelihood of successful skill development. Having developed their skills, the leaders then become models and supporters who can encourage and reinforce use of techniques they have learned. With strong support from the leaders, we can then identify a method that is less costly to use for others within the organization.
A "how to" book based on successful results offers a potential solution. Using the book in a group setting with a discussion leader (attendees of the more formal training) provides a setting which encourages the learner to read the book and practice the techniques along with his co-group members. The "discussion leader" is not training the individuals. The "how to" book provides a self-teaching approach. The discussion groups reinforce and encourage the learning. By providing feedback they help to celebrate success and troubleshoot problems. The groups also provide a forum to discuss real-life application of the techniques and the benefits of using those techniques.
Discussion groups are very affordable. The cost is that of a book for each individual and time. The group sessions can be planned around staff meetings, lunch hours or whatever fits with the business schedule. The length of the meetings (one-hour, half-hour, 45 minutes) and the pace of progression through the book can be dictated by the group's needs. New group members such as new hires or transfers can learn in the same manner. Peer coaches can be assigned (or asked to volunteer) to serve as discussion leaders.
By training leaders in the more formal group sessions and then disseminating the knowledge and skills through discussion groups, you can effectively help you people develop their skills and minimize the high cost of training. A high-level champion along with the advocacy and support of leaders can be even more effective. The added benefit to discussion groups is that it allows leaders and managers develop their people. And developing people is one of the most important roles of any manager or leader.