Why Training Employees Is Always a High-Wire Act

Rick Wartzman

In his latest column for Bloomberg Businessweek online, Drucker Institute Executive Director Rick Wartzman springs off the news that pilots at United Airlines are questioning whether they’re receiving an adequate level of safety training.

Although United has insisted there isn’t a problem, Wartzman writes, “the clash raises a larger question, whether you run an airline or a more earthbound business: What are the characteristics of a good training program?”

[EXPAND More]Wartzman explains that Peter Drucker believed 21st-century companies “have to do two things at once: provide people with highly specialized knowledge and ensure that they don’t lose sight of how their specialty fits with an array of other specialties to meet the overall mission and objectives of the business.”

Today, however, managements are “busily working at creating departmentalization, specialization and tunnel vision,” Drucker declared. “To be sure, there is a good deal of continuous training. … But in all too many cases, the emphasis in these programs is on a man’s becoming more specialized” and not learning to appreciate “the other knowledges, skills, and functions” that his colleagues focus on.

“As a result,” Drucker added, “he soon comes to consider the other areas as so much excess baggage,” making it more difficult to accept new ideas from outside his particular discipline.

Another hallmark of the best training programs, Wartzman says, is a proper balance between theory and practice. In addition, he writes, training systems must be flexible enough to, as Drucker put it, “fit the person rather than the bureaucratic convenience or tradition.”

“Getting training right—by designing courses of sufficient depth and breadth, building in both theory and practice, and tailoring programs to individuals—is difficult and expensive (and often among the first casualties of corporate cost-cutting),” Wartzman concludes. “But there’s no better way to make your business take off.”[/EXPAND]