Value in Training? Only if Applied!
Many of us are continually upgrading our skills and knowledge through experience, as well as continuous training. Good companies want to make sure they have the right skill sets and competencies internally, and will promote education. Often, we can recognise when someone has followed a certain program, as we can hear the "words" and see some of the best practices in play, some of the strategies and methods being applied. These always make us smile, and we respect and will follow in their footsteps, as we all should.
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Alas, many times we hear the words, but actions speak louder!
For example, here is a case on Team Management, Organizational Change Management (OCM) and Project/Program Management, an amalgamation of some of what we have seen and experienced in a few of our consulting engagements in the last few years:
In a large and sensitive program, a team of highly specialised and experienced individuals were assembled to deliver this very visible, multi-million dollar and multi-year program. One special member was brought in to be part of the team, a "big time SME consultant" from one of the large consulting firms, who was designated the program manager. However, in no time at all, they realised that this individual did not have the knowledge, experience, nor any of the qualifications required for this role, nor for the specific program as a whole. This individual, no team player, actually kept causing major issues with the program and the senior stakeholders, and the individual continuously caused real live OCM nightmares. Nevertheless, everyone on the team below this program manager was very competent, experienced and knowledgeable, and got along famously... They kept the program going, moving forward, in spite of the incompetent and toxic individual.
Now, the CIO was not happy about what he was hearing and seeing. Changes needed to be made, and fast. First, they replaced the program director, thinking this would resolve the issue. This move did not resolve any of the problems as the program director was very good, and had tried for months to remove the individual in question from the program, but could not; his hands had been tied. The powers that be wanted to keep this individual on the program for some unknown reason.
The newly appointed program director kept referring to team management and the cycles of team development, such as forming, storming, etc., in trying to deal with the program management issues, and the team, productivity and communication issues. The team members had tried to befriend and even coach the individual, to no avail. The incompetent individual actually went out of their way to harm the program itself and the excellent team members.
The new program director, a senior individual within the large firm, did not in fact listen to any of his team's concerns and suggestions, nor look at the real evidence being freely provided. He kept trying to "push" the concept of team building as if this would solve everything. For some reason, he was determined to make the team work together, rather than dealing with the incompetent person that was very toxic to the team and the program as a whole.
The program director was trying to apply the concepts of team building and team dynamics. However, he did not look at the overall team dynamics, nor at the root cause of the issues. Even tually, they did replace the toxic and incompetent individual with another consultant from the same large consulting firm, however, the damage already done was extensive. In addition, for some reason, they were not happy having had to make this move...
The program director then started to make changes in the program team, starting with the senior team members. He began to fire individuals left, right and centre. Did this help, no.... Did this harm the program, other projects and programs, the company as a whole, and the company's employee morale, yes!
The program director in fact ignored and disrespected all SMEs and consultants, and their individual contracts, giving no notice or compensation to any of the consultants fired on the spot. The contracts were "cancelled" immediately for "lack of work", or "too easy going", or too aggressive", or "not aggressive enough", etc...
In addition, as these individuals were all specialists, and therefore, consultants going through small agencies, arm’s length as they call it, and the program was for a large firm, nothing could be really done by the consultants. The consultants could do nothing, unless they penalised the small agencies, which would have had a negative impact on both the agencies and the contractors' careers and future endeavours.
Was the program director a little angry at having had to let go of his special toxic consultant? Perhaps... Was he maybe angry at his failure to resolve the problems plaguing the program? One would think, Absolutely!
In addition, every single time the program director fired one of the excellent SME and PM resources, he did it on a Friday afternoon, which is a HUGE faux pas - a BIG No! No! Did he really learn and apply the best practices in HR or OCM, some of his certifications, no he did not. It is well known that this is the worst thing that he can do to any individual.
This habit of his could have led to the impacted individuals committing suicide, going into severe depression, etc... The reason being is that they cannot take any action; they cannot talk to anyone, nor take any action to find work on the weekend. They have to wait and brood over the weekend until the following Monday... Was this done on purpose then...? Perhaps!
In this case, most of the individuals had expected this outcome and were not surprised, except at the way it was done, and the total disrespect they received for all the good work they had accomplished. In addition, as they had not expected these actions, they had not been looking for their next project, and had to start from scratch.... This behaviour of the program director impacted the income stream of all these individuals and their families. Very unprofessional, and very callous!
The company realised that they were in real trouble when the program came to a complete standstill. They had lost all of the SMEs and PMs for this program. They tried hiring more, but could not find the right caliber willing to come and work for them on the program. They ended up hiring another medium sized consulting firm to resource and manage the program as a whole. Guess who the consulting firm called first, and without success... Yes the original team members, as they were the SMEs known in the industry...
Program in trouble, delayed, and over budget... absolutely!
Therefore, did the program director really learn and apply what the whole training and concepts were on team dynamics and team building, in project and program management, in OCM? Did he follow best practices in program and project management, HR and OCM? No, he did not. Yet, this program director was a senior individual and had gone through many certifications and training programs throughout his long career; he was well versed on all the DOs and DON'Ts....
In this example, the program director did not in fact apply any of the best practices in the various domains, rather, although he talked the talk, he l ashed out and reacted out of emotions.
The team never did figure out or find out what was so special about the toxic individual, what the relationship and history had been, nor why this person had been hired in the first place. They only experienced the disastrous outcome of bringing this individual onto the program, and felt the anger and repercussions of the decision to let that person go.
Perhaps the program manager, as well as the others involved, who were all senior management and had all been certified, did not learn any of the lessons that were taught? What message was management giving all their staff? Management must lead by example, and apply what they have learned, and implement what best practices have shown to work.
What was the impact of all this on the program and the company as a whole? All staff went into survival mode; lots was hidden, lots of CYA strategies, lots of finger pointing, lots of breakdowns and sick leave, which lead to this program's failure, as well as led to many other unrelated projects' failures, and overall, all at such a high cost.
This in fact impacted negatively many other programs and projects, and was still being felt long afterwards. It took the company over 3 years to recover, once they decided to change tactics. All because of one single toxic individual, and poor management practices.
In this day and age where economies are in a downturn, companies should still respect best practices and apply them. Best practices have been proven to work. In this economy, where we are seeing more and more contract work, companies need to start respecting and valuing this segment of their workforce. Large firms need to respect their workforce as a whole, permanent and contractors alike.
Training and improving your teams really are an excellent investment. One must insure however, that they take the "train the trainer" approach; demonstrate and share what they have learned to others and within their organization. They need to primarily apply what they have learned, over and over again, until it has become the norm.
There definitely needs to be management support, follow ups after training, and opportunities to apply what they have learned, as well as having coaching and mentoring programs in place.
Management needs to practice what they preach, walk the talk, and support their staff - Companies need to think long term, as change does not come easy, nor immediately.
It takes effort and time to internalise training and lessons learned.
Value in training? Absolutely! Only if applied, supported and encouraged!
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Please contact the author directly at JGraham@JGGConsulting.ca