A long time ago, when I was in my first supervisory position, I reported to a man called Eric. He had a command and control approach to management that had served him well for years and was typical of the time, the area and the organisation. I quickly learned that he expected the same from me.
Much to Eric’s discomfort, a more senior manager had identified in me some potential and had arranged for me to study for a certificate in management. Every Thursday, I went off to college where I was introduced to wonderful new ideas. I loved it. It was here that I learnt some of the basics of management such as motivational theory, and where I first heard about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Hawthorne Effect and Theory X and Theory Y (I immediately recognised that Eric and I clearly held different views on this one).
Thursdays gave me an introduction to a magical world of possibilities; Fridays however were completely different. Fridays saw me returning to work, eager to try out some of the approaches I’d just learned, only to have Eric slap me down and remind me who was in charge. As so often happens in these cases, I stuck the year out, gained my certificate and used it to help me get a job somewhere else.
Looking back, my desire to change everything was naïve and my enthusiasm probably very irritating. Over the years, I have become more sympathetic towards Eric, who had learnt everything he knew by doing the job, not from attending college. I have also grown more critical of my sponsor, the senior manager who originally sent me on the course. I might have been low on their list of priorities, but without making sure there were opportunities for me to apply my learning (or indeed removing or minimising the obstacles that would prevent me doing so), they failed to ensure the organisation gained any return on its investment in my development.
I have met many Erics during my career, most of whom are far more sophisticated than the original model and rarely set out quite so deliberately to block application of learning. I have also met many people like my younger self, who hungrily accept whatever opportunities are offered, but quickly realise that they need to move on to make anything of them. The people I have met most of however are the managers who send their staff on courses without planning in any detail how learning will be used to benefit the company.
Newly trained people are sometimes handcuffed to an organisation through contracts obliging them to repay the cost of development if they leave within a certain time from completion. In most cases this is unnecessary – what’s needed instead is a little more thought about what happens the day after the training… and the next day, and then the next.