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Workshop Training: Biting the Hand that Feeds Me?

Jack Duffy
People come to workshops for many reasons. Some are told to attend— get repaired. Some are told they deserve a break—have fun. Some want to get a certificate of attendance—become a certified expert in whatever. Occasionally, there are some who want to learn something—enhance their existential being. Few actually plan on using any of the material to do something differently when they return to their jobs. The day after training is simply business as usual.

So, why are workshops so popular?
We all like to be entertained. When someone else (the employer) pays for us to attend a quasi-night club act during working hours, with a free lunch to boot, few of us complain.
Those who are there to get “fixed” had a nice day and can now claim they have been repaired. Those who are there for a reward are satisfied. Those seeking only a certificate got more than they bargained for, and those looking for existential enhancement are fulfilled as long as there were a few kernels of insight in the presentation.

Unfortunately, while most are satisfied, few are motivated to change their performance on the job. However, if workshops are a waste of money, they are a relatively cheap waste of money. For one or two days of paid vacation and a $300 to $1,000 registration fee, the corporation gets a tangible product and no complaints from the trainee. Well, almost a tangible product. At the end of the fiscal year the Training & Development Department can cite the number of person/days that employees spent in training. Imagine how unbelievable this figure would be if it were based on self-directed hours of reading a book on management theory! And unlike university part-time courses, a workshop requires only the blocking out of one or two days and doesn’t require any release time to study for exams or write term papers. Moreover, with documented proof of person/days of training, the CEO can repeat year after year in the annual report, “We believe our employees are our most important asset.” .

What Would Be Better?
In thirty years of consulting, I’ve learned at least one thing. Employees are not as stupid as the boss thinks. After two years in the same job, even the dullest employee has learned the best way to survive. Teaching her/him new survival strategies and throwing her/him back into the same job is a waste of time. They have already learned the optimal solution for them in that job.
Almost all organizational performance improvement through training comes from changing the job situation to compliment the training content. Workshops per se aren’t bad. In fact they are necessary. But they must be combined with direct, on-the-job interventions to have a significant impact.

So how do you change the situation? You can start by having training attendees give a formal presentation to their coworkers on what they learned and what their group should do differently based on that recent training. This approach has several advantages. Trainees know in advance that they better pay attention during training. They also know that they had better relate their training to their job. They must present to their coworkers which can be eye opening to all, in a very multifaceted way. Finally, the group gets to think about new ways to do things without the employer having spent the money for all of them to attend the training. Finally the trained employee becomes the valued member on that topic.

Another efficient way to change the job situation of an employee is to change her/his boss. The corollary of this concept is to first change the CEO and let that change trickle down the entire organization. Unfortunately, most CEOs don’t have the time nor the will to change. Their style has gotten them to the pinnacle, so why should they change it now? Subordinates have yet to climb the mountain, so they are the ones who need to “get fixed”. Thus, starting-at-the-top-approaches can be very frustrating.

An easier although less efficient method is to convince the top executive that her/his management team could improve. This tact allows the boss to dodge direct responsibility for sub-optimal performance. Moreover, in my experience, these team building interventions, which can incorporate workshop training, result in improved groups no matter how effective or ineffective the group was before the intervention. When combined with process consultation and behavioural modeling training, the change can be quite dramatic. And of course more workshop training would be part of the prescription for continuous improvement.

I’m not going to take space here to define process consultation and behavioural modeling. But try looking them up in a good Human Resources Management textbook. Can’t find a concise and readable discussion of these topics? Write the editor and ask her to commission another article by me.

When you bite the hand that feeds you, you should have a path to another hand. Until then, I’ll look for you in my next workshop.

Jack Duffy may be reached at cbduffy@ns.sympatico.ca or at 902-494-1838

The State of Canada’s Job Market

Employment in Canada is dropping. Recent employment statistics show a decrease of over 14% of full time jobs over a 2 year period, and the trend has not shifted. This is an indication of the slowing down of the Canadian economy and a reason for Canadian workers to be wary.

A reduction in full-time employment in Canada will impact on various age groups in different ways according to a new global study by our firm. The study, titled “Career Choices and Challenges of Younger and Older Workers”, involved approximately 10,000 unemployed managers and professionals from 27 countries including Canada. Three age groups were studied including Generation Xers (aged 21 to 37), Baby Boomers (aged 38 to 56) and Mature Workers (aged 57 and older). Key findings include:

  • 80 per cent of survey respondents were looking for work as a result of organizational change such as reorganization or restructuring, merger or acquisition or downsizing
  • Generation Xers were slightly more likely to be affected by downsizing than older workers, but 61 per cent of this age group did secure new full-time employment. The average length of time to re-employment for this younger group was 3.0 months and 60 per cent found new positions at the same or higher salaries
  • Baby Boomers took an average of 4.0 months to find new employment and 20 per cent of the study group chose self-employment rather than full-time jobs. Forty-two per cent of this group found new positions at the same or higher compensation
  • Mature Workers took 4.4 months to secure new employment and just 38 per cent of the people studied chose full-time employment. Thirty-five per cent of this group ended up in self-employment, the highest percentage of the three age groups. Just 32 per cent of people in this age category found new employment at the same or higher salary.
  • Changing industries and switching job functions were important strategies to locate new employment for all three age groups. Sixty-eight per cent of Generation Xers switched industries compared to 75 per cent for Baby Boomers and 81 per cent for Mature Workers
  • Thirty-nine per cent of Generation Xers found new employment in a different job function compared to Baby Boomers (44 per cent) and Mature Workers (57 per cent).

    The results of this study might appear to give an edge to younger workers when it comes to finding new employment, but mature workers have significant advantages in our increasingly competitive job market. Mature workers showed more flexibility for change than younger people and have the experience, willingness and confidence to switch industries, start a new business or become consultants. While it might take longer to find new employment, mature workers are valued by organizations for their attendance and punctuality, commitment to quality, loyalty to their employer, practical knowledge, solid experience and reliable performance.

    As job creation slows in Canada, this study should provide confidence to Canadian workers of all ages that they have much of value to offer to new employers.

    John Withenshaw is Senior Vice-President, Operations for DBM Canada.

    Ending Mandatory Retirement

    If you fall into any of the following groups, ending mandatory retirement may have a direct impact on you.

  • Approaching retirement but either not ready to retire or not sure you can afford to retire;
  • A younger professional climbing the corporate ladder counting on attrition at the more senior levels for your opportunities;
  • A manager supervising an employee who is coasting to retirement , already at a pace slower than you would like;
  • A pension or benefit administrator unsure of the legal and financial impact on the organization’s plans, policies and practices;
  • A manager or HR practitioner concerned about the potential age discrimination complaints, or unsure how different legislation and social programs will be impacted;
  • A non-profit organization trying to attract candidates retiring from the public sector;
  • A CEO or senior manager undertaking succession planning and unsure of the cost-benefit impacts in either a unionized or non-unionized environment.

    In 2005, Ontario plans to follow the lead of countries such as USA, New Zealand and Australia, and other provinces including Quebec and Manitoba in banning mandatory retirement.

    The McGuinty Government is committed to giving Ontario workers the right to choose when they want to retire. As a first step, a consultation process commenced in August 2004 with the Government issuing Providing Choice: A Consultation Paper on Ending Mandatory Retirementi, followed by public consultations in the Fall. The consultation specifically sought input from Ontarians on the impact of ending mandatory retirement on economics, labour markets, employment issues, pension and benefits, social and human rights issues, and occupational and sectors specific issues.

    From a social perspective, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) called for an end to mandatory retirement by changing the Human Rights Code’s definition of age in employment, arguing that mandatory retirement policies undermine older workers’ dignity and sense of self-worth, as well as impose financial hardship. Currently, protection from age discrimination for employment purposes is afforded to those over 18 and under 65 years of age.

    Social conscience may be driven by workforce demographics and pressures from employers, as well as employees. According to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadians aged 65 and over is expected to double from nearly 4 million in 2000 to over 8 million in 2028. Ontario will follow similar trends, with 1.5 million seniors today projected to increase to 3.2 million by 2028. During the same period, the proportion of younger workers aged 15 to 24 will fall from about 13% of Ontarians to approximately 11% by 2028.

    With a significant portion of the population made up of recent immigrants and women who either enter the workforce later or leave the workforce temporarily, there may be challenges in achieving financial stability by age 65. Also, with greater life expectancy and quality of life, individuals want to continue to be active and productive, including possibly choosing to continue to work beyond 65.

    In reality, all employers do not consistently enforce their mandatory retirement policies, some finding other employment arrangements to retain valued employees.

    Whether a change in legislation actually impacts individual retirement decisions or not, there will be a wide-ranging impact on organizations, their policies, practices, and benefits and pension plans. Furthermore, changes to other legislation and social programs will be required. Some of the issues identified include:

  • Increases in monitoring performance, dismissals, lateral promotions or demotions of older workers;
  • Declined growth in wages of older workers, potentially leading to discrimination challenges;
  • Increased retirement incentives, possibly leading to reduced productivity;
  • Reduced gains by women with fewer job opportunities;
  • More women working beyond age 65.

    Point of Note:

    These and other issues will be explored by a panel of experts in Ottawa on June 9, 2005. The panel will be comprised of:

  • Lynn Harnden, Emond Harnden
  • Pascale Longpré and Jacky Evans, Mercer Human Resource Consulting
  • Kathryn Butler Malette, Vice-President of Human Resources, Canadian Blood Service
  • Brian Pascal, President of IPM

    Assessment in Career Planning

    A thorough self-assessment initiates the career planning process. Simplified, this stage involves a complete self-analysis, including of skills, interests and values. Shakespeare wrote, “Know thyself” which he identified as the key to personal fulfillment. One must actively become knowledgeable of who you are in the present, and then discover what you would like to be in the future.

    On average, we spend close to 1/3 of our lives at work. We expect to enjoy our work. By considering our life goals and values through a career planning process we can achieve this objective. A comprehensive self-assessment will include a holistic consideration of you as a person. A career professional can guide you through the process.

    The assessment portion of the career planning process involves a comprehensive review of one’s significant life experiences. It is important to put your current situation within the context of past experiences and to thoroughly understand the realities of your past life.

    Then turn to the tools of assessment. Once you have reflected on how you got to where you are, it helps to use psychological and other standardized tests to help in the exploration process. Of course, these are just tools, and they need to be appropriately interpreted and critically evaluated.

    What to Assess?

    The dimensions for assessment including which psychometric instruments to use will vary dramatically from person to person. However, there are five important core areas for anyone developing a career plan.

      1. Personality: What is your personality style? How do you typically behave in different situations?
      2. Interests: What do you find interesting? Where are your passions?
      3. Values: What is important to you? In career? In life?
      4. Motivations: What aspects of a workplace get you excited and working hard?
      5. Competencies: What are you good at? What are your skills and abilities?

    Then, depending on individual needs, a variety of other dimensions may be interesting to explore. For example, for the person considering independent consulting, it would be relevant to assess entrepreneurial potential, interpersonal needs and selling style. This additional assessment helps in the development of a career and business plan.

    Standardized tests can be a valuable tool in the self-assessment process. Tests must always be understood within a context. A professional who understands test interpretation can reveal to the career planner their full meaning.

    Tania Corbett, M.A., C.Psych. is a Chartered Psychologist with Toombs KWA Inc. She can be reached at (403) 777-2360

    Why Hire an External Keynote Trainer?

    You’ve been tasked with finding the right speaker or trainer resource to make your event a success. There is pressure on you to first look internally, but you know that you need something different to shake things up. Here’s what you can do.

    First, make the case.

    There is one thing that internal resources cannot achieve – organizational objectivity.
    This is not because employees are not adept at facilitating or engaging groups; it is because they are too close to their culture. An external specialist minimizes the political influence that is at play in your organization.

    Next, the most important question you must answer is: “Why should I hire?” Here are our top five reasons.

    1. Impart knowledge
    A carefully chosen external presenter brings a depth of knowledge and expertise to your event. This is especially effective if your event requires that the group learns a new model of doing business, understand a new business process, or be exposed to new concepts. External speakers are also most effective if your goal is to look at best practices in organizational effectiveness or behaviours.

    2. Shake it up
    An external resource brings new thinking and ideas to the group. This person can also more effectively challenge the audience to see the world differently. By bringing new thinking to the group, an external speaker acts as a catalyst for your organization, while being the buffer for criticism that might come forward from certain participants.

    3. Support change
    Helping people understand the needs and rationale for change is every organization’s most difficult challenge. The use of an external speaker or facilitator is one of the best ways to reinforce and support change that is going on in your organization. Communication of the change also becomes more objective when it is validated by an external expert who has “been there, done that.”

    4. Celebrate success
    What better way to demonstrate to your staff or management team that they have done a good job than to bring in an external speaker who will motivate, liven up or challenge the group? If you have had a great year and want to build on that success, an external speaker is a special reward for your team.

    5. Visibility
    A speaker who is also a published author or who is recognized in the speaking community is an excellent resource to lend credibility to your event. This applies especially when you are planning an event for external stakeholders or clients. Just ensure that in addition to their status, they have a presentation that meets your event goals, and that they address one of the four other ‘reasons’ for hiring an external resource.

    Creative Bound International is an Ottawa-based company that specializes in providing on-demand professional resources—speakers and trainers, books, articles and customized publications for government and business. Contact us at 1-800-287-8610 or visit www.creativebound.com for a full menu of our resources.

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