- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

Training and culture change. The love affair that ends in tears.

It seems to be very hard for people to get away from the idea that, if we just put individuals in a room and train them on ‘something’, the job of achieving that ‘something’ will be accomplished. And if not, we will just train them again.

This naivety about behavioural and cultural change is widespread in business and society and cuts across a diverse range of topics. Training and communicating has gone from a measured and necessary intervention to a single, sufficient solution for many evils.

We have traditionally seen it in the area of Health and Safety where training is a requisite, and who could disagree with that. But training is a weak tool for behavioural change when compared with the copying and imitation of other people around you. Training to wear a helmet, telling people that it is a requisite and people wearing it, are three, occasionally connected, things. But if training is your key tool, and you have a Full Division for it, then the old saying that ‘when the only thing you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail’, applies well.

In this model of hammers and nails, when there is a health and safety transgression, the ‘punishment’ may be …more training. ‘Sending people back to training’ is not just a feature of Health and Safety. In recent years it has included unethical bankers sent on courses on Ethics in apparently ethical business schools. It sometimes seems as if we were following a rule: if you misbehave, we will train you a hell of a lot.

We also see it more and more in the controversial area of ‘training on unconscious bias’ as a way to fight gender and race inequality. It’s not going to stop anytime soon, until perhaps people realise that rational and even emotional training on a subject has little power in sustainable behavioural change. There is plenty of growing data on how that kind of training may be useless, yet we keep doing it. It seems hard to accept that the ills of society are not solved in training rooms.

In the corporate world, top down communication programmes aimed at ‘creating culture’ continue to be quite present even when the very same people who have an authority in dictating and constructing them, will tell you in private that they don’t expect a massive impact. It’s again and again the repeat of the old tale. Two people are talking to each other in a garden. One seems to be looking for something on the ground. The other comes along and says, ‘what are you doing?’. The first responds, ‘I’m looking for my keys’. ‘Oh, sorry to hear that, where did you lose your keys?’. The man says, ‘over there’, pointing in the opposite direction to where he’s looking at the ground. The other man says, ‘hold on, if you lost the keys over there, why are you looking at the ground here?’. The other responds, ‘because there is more light here’.

There is certainly more light in training and communicating, but the keys are usually lost in the corridors, in the day to day interactions with people and in the unwritten rules of the informal organization. There is less light (but you will find your keys) in a bottom up behavioural change approach. The one conceived not as a communication programme but as a grassroots movement. If there is any hope in addressing the ‘S’ in ESG (the Environmental, Social and Governance agenda) it’s not in top down communication and training programmes to tackle ‘culture’ but in an ‘inversion of the arrow’, from top to bottom to the opposite.

An extra and obvious problem with training in large organizations is that you soon start running out of bodies. You train (and communicate to) leaders, top and a few layers down, and them the system closes its eyes hoping that the miracle of scale will take place. This mental model suggests that large scale is small scale repeated several times, which is the equivalent of thinking that if you just put large piles of bricks together you’ll get a cathedral.

Culture change is on all tables today, corporate, society, education… It’s about time that we learn how successful approaches have managed to mobilize large numbers of people. No revolution has started in a classroom.


Company culture: a new look for the Board, ExCom and Investors

I have crafted a special webinar for Board and/or Executive Team members of organizations, and their institutional investors. Visit www.executive-webinar.com [1] for full details and to reserve your place on Thursday 13th May, 1730 BST/1830 CET.

“I get your strategy. Now tell me how your culture is going to deliver it. Also, how that culture shapes the “Social” in your ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) agenda”.

Visit www.executive-webinar.com [1] for full details and to reserve your place.

This webinar will cover:

I, along with my team of Organization Architects from The Chalfont Project [2], will explain how to orchestrate culture change successfully.