How to Train an Executive: Quick, Relevant Content and Meaningful Conversations

Posted by Rich Mesch on May 27, 2010 6:15:00 AM

by Reni Gorman and Rich Mesch

55 and Older Execs Don’t Like Training

reni gorman 092412Reni: I read an article on The Economist titled: Executive education and the over-55s: Never too old to learn. The focus was about the trend that older executives are shunning corporate training. The reason? To put it bluntly: They are sick and tired of going and sitting in training. Why? Many assume they will not learn anything earth shattering, while others just don’t have the patience/time away from their job. Training has to be “worth it”. The article goes on to discuss what does work, one being sending executives to prestigious schools. They won’t go to internal executive training, but they will go to external training at reputable institutions. Why? Probably because they feel like they will really learn. So, it is not really that they don’t like learning, rather they don’t like corporate training.

The Generational Lie

RichM 001Rich: I attended several learning conferences this year, and at each one, I heard some variation on this message: it's time to get past old school training models, because the generation of 20-somethings entering the work force don't learn that way. We need social media for the 20-somethings, because that's how they learn. We need virtual environments for the 20-somethings, because that's how they learn. And every time, I wanted to scream from the back of the room, "HEY! I'M A 40-SOMETHING, AND I LEARN THAT WAY, TOO!"

Where on earth did we get the notion that because employees of a certain age have greater exposure to "traditional" learning methods that we like it better? Or that we're somehow resistant or techno-phobic? Every generation has its share of resisters, but most of us like trying new things, and we especially like making good use of our time and being successful.

55 and Under Don’t Like Training Either

reni gorman 092412Reni: I don’t know about you, but all of the above applies to me and I am not yet in the over 55 category. Perhaps the under 55s “fake it” better and at least show up to training but most of the time don’t you want to run screaming? I know I do—and I admit that even though I am a learning and development professional. Yikes! What does that say about most corporate training? I also know when I go to internal training events I am antsy and can’t wait to get out and go back to work, but I am attending graduate school at Columbia University’s Teachers College and, most of the time, once I get there, I really enjoy what I am learning and am really focused and “present”.

Henry Mintzberg and the Role of the Manager

RichM 001Rich: The driver behind the article in The Economist is researcher Henry Mintzberg. I might have guessed that we'd find Mintzberg at the bottom of this. Mintzberg did a groundbreaking research many years ago about what managers actually do each day. Prior to his research, there was a general belief that they sat in big offices, smoked cigars, and made big strategic decisions. Mintzberg followed managers around for weeks and recorded everything they did. Ultimately what he found was that a manager's day is a series of meetings, most of them 5 minutes or less, and that they are generally focused on dozens, if not hundreds of things at once. For us today, that seems pretty obvious; but when Mintzberg originally did the research, it was startling, since it didn't fit the perception of the role. He effectively changed the perception of management, and a lot of the way we perceive management now can be traced back to Mintzberg. Glad to see he's still trying to change our perceptions.

So How Do You Train an Executive and What is the Role of Training?

reni gorman 092412Reni: Short bursts/chunks of training, making content really relevant to the workplace, and learning from peers such as through mentoring and communities of practice. I don’t know about you, but when I read this bells went on and my experience and intuition said: YES, but not just for 55s and older—for the rest of us too! At the end of the day we all want the content quick and relevant, and the conversations (with peers and SMEs) meaningful. We learn from each other best and most of all. My first thought when I am stuck is to ask a peer and/or expert. The content snippets are just an appetizer. So, what training professionals could best do is provide the short snippets of content and help put learners in situations, where they can have the conversations. Mentoring meetings, communities of practice gatherings are perfect for such things. Perhaps give people a learning guide to spark the conversation and then let it go where inquiring minds want to take it and learning will surely flourish. 

What does this come down to? Highly interactive, excellent, out of the ordinary instructional design. It is possible, just ask yourself: would I run screaming from what I am designing or would I get into it? Be honest with yourself and great design will flow and flourish too!

Topics: Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Leadership, Talent Management