New Paradigms in Training & Development

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What does the future hold for specialists in the field of training and development? The jury is still out, but one thing everyone seems to agree on is that workplace learning and organizational development are in transition.

"We think the field is at the mature end of its life cycle and that some outcomes are predictable," say Stan Davis and Jim Botkin in the May 1994 issue of Training & Development. "Mature industries tend to consolidate; expect this to happen to the training Field Very mature a euphemism for declining industries are generally supplanted by a new way of doing things." The consolidation and the creation of new ways of doing things, say Davis and Botkin, "will result in career and business opportunities related to learning that are both monstrously large as well as potentially frightening."

Where will the opportunities lie? Again, it's hard to say. But several trends in training and development have been gaining momentum in recent years.


Many businesspeople think of the quality movement as something that sprang up, full-blown, in the 1980s. In reality, the roots of total quality management, often called TQM, stretch back to the post-World War II era. That's when American experts W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran began working with Japanese companies to spread the word about quality improvement-a message that American organizations weren't yet ready to hear.

In the 1970s and early 1980s U.S. companies began their own versions of the "quality circles" that had been so successful in Japanese firms. Quality circles were teams of employees who met to address quality improvement in limited areas of an organization. The circles never really caught on in the United States, mainly because most companies grafted them onto archaic organizational systems that didn't support them-in other words, they weren't part of an integrated approach to quality improvement.

In the 1980s those early forays grew into total quality management, a systematic effort to continuously improve the quality of organizational products and processes. TQM involves "soft" elements such as the development of an organizational culture that values excellence. At the same time it emphasizes the use of hard data to measure quality. Employees tend to work in teams to make improvements, and customer satisfaction is integral to TQM efforts. "Continuous improvement" is a key concept of TQM; in fact, many organizations use the two terms synonymously.

In 1987 TQM received a seal of approval from the U.S. government, when the Commerce Department instituted the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The award is administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Baldrige competition has categories for organizations of various sizes and in all sectors. The award criteria are "continuously improved" from year to year, but they tend to include such categories as leadership, strategic quality planning, information and analysis, and human resource utilization.

The Baldrige selection process includes exhaustive compilation and examination of quality-related records. Applicants for the award receive detailed critiques from the Baldrige examiners. The critiques can be a helpful benchmark for companies trying to board the quality bandwagon. In fact many corporate officials know their firms can't win, but apply for the award simply to receive an evaluation of their TQM progress and suggestions for further efforts.

But quality hasn't disappeared from the U.S. business landscape; it's simply faded from center stage to become part of the scenery. In an extensive 1995 study by Training magazine (October 1995), 58 percent of the 982 responding firms said they have TQM initiatives in place. According to that survey, TQM is particularly prevalent in the manufacturing sector and in the public sector.

The Role of Workplace Learning Professionals

Because the scope of TQM is organization wide, the impetus for successful quality efforts almost always comes from the executive level. But once the decision has been made to pursue total quality, the training department has a major role to play. TQM relies on extensive training, usually for teams of employees. Employees need training in the fundamentals of TQM and in the use of statistical tools for measuring and tracking it. If employees aren't experienced in working on teams, they'll also need training in how to contribute as a team member or leader. Problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, negotiation tactics, diversity management, and interpersonal relations may also be on the training agenda. If TQM is part of a major shift in organizational values, employees will need to know what's expected under the new paradigm. TQM is likely to bring changes to such organizational institutions as performance appraisals, new-employee orientation, and compensation systems. Employees and their managers will need training in the new processes and procedures that result.

Who does all this training? It depends. The training can be designed and delivered by in-house training or HR specialists, by line managers, by a dedicated quality department, or by consult-ants or contract trainers. Often a company buys packaged or customized training in TQM and trains its in-house trainers to deliver the instruction to employees. A Training magazine poll also examined the types of training organizations offer their employees. Of the 821 respondents who answered the question, 58 percent said their organizations provide quality improvement training-and that doesn't even include the teamwork skills, negotiation techniques, and other types of training that may be vital to TQM success. As for the sources of quality-improvement training:
  • 13 percent of respondents said they provide quality-improvement training that is designed and delivered exclusively by in-house staff,

  • 7 percent of respondents said they use outside providers for TQM training, and

  • 39 percent said they use a combination of internal and external providers for quality-improvement training.
No matter which scenario is chosen, training specialists in the area of TQM are likely to have their hands full.
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