When I saw the topic of last week's #chat2lrn Twitter chat - "Is this a training problem?" - I knew I had to make space to participate. I was glad I did: what unfolded was a discussion that sparked new thinking (and new questions) about how we distinguish between board training and performance needs and how we better address the latter.
I've written about this topic before here. Rather than open with a rehash of that earlier post, I'll instead spotlight some of the tweets from that chat that caught my attention and insert a comment or two on how they affirm or expand my thinking about the training vs. performance question. I also invite you to share your reactions to what is represented in what I am about to share.
Training is an event! Learning is a process! Tech supports both! Performance Improvement is the goal! #chat2lrn— Brent Schlenker (@bschlenker) July 16, 2015
I'll start with this one, because it offers an excellent framing for the entire question for me. One, the bottom line is performance improvement: we want our boards to be as effective as possible in fulfilling their governance responsibilities. Two, training by itself is not automatically "learning," or "performance improvement," even though we often assume that it is. Three, nonprofit board learning is an ongoing process that includes, but is not limited to, formal events. The tech reference could be a throwaway line in the larger point I'm making - except that technology can help us offer some of the performance support that boards really need.
A8 Don't design training, design solutions to problems. In fact reject training as the answer at first until proven correct. #chat2lrn— Nick Leffler (@technkl) July 16, 2015
How many times have you - or someone representing your board - uttered something along the lines of "We have a problem. Let's schedule a training." How many times have you gone to someone like me and said, "My board needs help with XYZ. Will you do a training for us?" How many times has that person automatically said, "Sure. When and where?" without probing to see if training really was the right path to addressing your need? (Raises hand. Many, many times.) In some cases, especially when the topic is new to the learners, training may very well be a component of improving board performance. But in many more, it may have no effect on your real issue. We must be open to the very likely possibility that training is not at all the answer to your performance problem.
A4) Training is only for one thing: lack of skills, need for new skills, need to renew skills. (notice repeating word?) #chat2lrn— pattishank (@pattishank) July 16, 2015
Patti's right. If it's a matter of skills or basic education, yes, then talk to us about training. But if it's a broader performance or motivation problem, be open to exploring other paths to reaching your desired changes.
Lack of communication all around. RT @npmaven: A6) Non-articulated expectations place too many boards in position of failure. #chat2lrn— Shannon Tipton (@stipton) July 16, 2015
Many of the issues underlying the needs expressed in training requests start with a disconnect between expectations and board awareness of those expectations. There still may be training needs. A facilitated formal event may provide an environment where communication that closes the expectations gap can take place (a very common scenario, in my experience). But the bottom-line performance issue may be one of communication that is not solved by training in and of itself.
A6) When people are trained to do one thing, but expected to perform in another way. #chat2lrn— Andrea May (@AndreaMay1) July 16, 2015
This may be less of a specific issue for nonprofit boards than the learning audiences that my fellow chatters support, but the potential always exists. If you are not having a somewhat probing conversation about the performance problems you want to change, if the board development professional is quick to offer a pre-fab workshop on "topic ABC," your potential for actually effecting that change decreases significantly.
A9) Start by wondering what you can leave behind with the learners after the training is finished to support them on the job. #chat2lrn— Chad Lowry, M.S. Ed. (@ChadSLowry) July 16, 2015
Because many boards are looking for quick - if not easy - answers to their perceived challenges, and because time and funding for board development can be limited, there is the temptation to have someone like me parachute in for a couple of hours with a straightforward solution. What Chad calls for here - support that sets learners up for success once the event is over - should be a core element of what we board trainers and consultants offer. Realistically speaking, this may not be coaching or other "live" post-event support - at least not without an appropriate fee attached. But we should be at least offering resources and helping boards to identify manageable next steps to move them forward in confidence. We shouldn't bomb them with PowerPoint slides and handouts and call it good. (I'm assuming that the vast majority of my fellow board developers don't actually do that, but clarifying for boards who may not know to expect this.)
Qwrap) Keep in mind the question we should be asking - Why this, Why now? Get down to the root cause, that where find true issue. #chat2LRN— Shannon Tipton (@stipton) July 16, 2015
I'll close with Shannon's parting advice as we ended the chat. If you find yourself seeking a board training solution, step back. Ask these two simple questions, within your board and with any consultant you may approach for help. Develop some clarity about what you really want to change and whether a formal training event has the potential to help move you toward that change.
As with other posts in this year's nonprofit board learning environments series, I'll close with questions for your board's reflection - questions that I'll "steal" from Shannon's tweet above:
- Why this?
- Why now?