The problem with management training

Observation #49

carpedia-observation-49In the relatively early days of our company, a few partners took a high-speed driving course on an old Formula 1 race track just outside Montreal. The conversation over dinner on the first night was not about how interesting or exciting it was to drive open-wheel race cars — it was about how good the actual training approach was. In a nutshell, the instructors broke down racing into two things: driving in a straight line and driving around corners. To be a good driver, we had to master these two skills.

The instructors broke down each of these skills into specific steps. For example, driving around corners consisted of breaking on a straightaway, turning at a steady speed to the apex, then accelerating to the corner exit. They would teach one skill in the classroom and then take us out to the track to practice. Gradually we learned how to combine the skills.

Good athletic coaches use a similar technique to teach athletes where to position themselves and what to do while their often chaotic environment swirls around them.

The problem we have found with most management training programs is that they don’t use this approach. They tend to overload managers with PowerPoint slides that tell them, in technical terms, what they should do and what to expect. They rarely break down management skills and get managers to practice those skills in pieces before trying to put them all together. One of the results is that many managers know what to do, but they don’t always know how to do it. There is a lot of training about problem solving for example, but it’s largely academic. It may instruct managers to identify the problem and look for root causes. But how exactly does a manager do that? Where and how do they learn about a variance? How do they look for root causes? What studies do they need to do? How do they do those studies? Who should be involved? What should they be trying to achieve? These are the questions that management training needs to address to be helpful.

The driving course left an indelible impression and made us go back and change the design of our training programs. We’ve still never achieved the clarity of the original course, but they are certainly more useful as a result of that experience.