When is Public Sector Training a Waste of Time?

So, this morning I’ve been asked to design a half-day programme for creating a culture of inclusion in a public sector organisation. The specific issue is addressing a problem of “Snowy White Peaks”; the majority of senior managers being older white males.

My issue is not whether I can design such a training – clearly I can probably quickly design something as effective as lots of diversity training in the market. The issue is that over our 15 years of experience in organisational change we know that cultures change iteratively, in stages, and over time and that the changes need to be demonstrated by leaders and managers before the wider workforce will make the effort to change themselves.

The ideas need to be delivered sensitively, the groups need to change one another’s minds through changes in their immediate behaviour, not through a talking shop and certainly not through a one-off event.

So, I share my experience of what is required for meaningful change to occur. I share research about training transfer and what needs to happen for change to leave the training room. But I can’t help sharing my frustration about the damage that doing half-baked culture change exercises does to staff morale.

Doing a poor level intervention can be worse than doing nothing at all, especially for the people who will benefit most if the culture actually shifted.

Doing a half day diversity training may tick an HR box but it also extinguishes the hope that something can actually change in a meaningful way.

Even when they aren’t a half day, these trainings are so much about legislation and what people should and shouldn’t do as to be meaningless and to leave people with rules but with no deep engagement with their own prejudice and discrimination. People need engagement, in-the-moment, real insights into themselves and others and tools to keep on doing this long after the training has finished. Instead of “I’m not a racist but….” we need a culture of “I can be a racist and ….. here’s what I’m doing about it today”.

It isn’t necessarily a lack of intention on the behalf of those procuring training. Competing demands and limited resources mean that they can only make these half-hearted attempts to resolve real issues.

It makes me wonder how many other interventions and trainings and initiatives are squeezed through what is available or easy to sign off rather than on what evidence-based research shows will lead to a sustainable behavioural change.

It makes me wonder how much public money is actually being wasted.

Within Training Attention we aim to work collaboratively with our clients from initial scoping onwards to support them to think through the cultural change they desire and the tangible benefits it would bring. And then to consider whether they actually have resources and the will to make it meaningful. If not, we lead the process by refusing to get involved in the projects that we think will be that waste of our time and their money.

What safeguards do you have within your business or within your consultancy to make sure that public spending gets spent effectively?

These ideas and a range of Clean Language and Systemic Modelling responses to these kinds of issues can be found in the book ‘From Contempt to Curiosity – creating the conditions for groups to collaborate.’ 

Caitlin Walker

Caitlin is the founding director of Training Attention and developer of Systemic Modelling. Author of From Contempt to Curiosity, she is the architect of innovative projects that transform workplaces, classrooms and communities.

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This Post is posted by Caitlin Walker

Caitlin is the founding director of Training Attention and developer of Systemic Modelling. Author of From Contempt to Curiosity, she is the architect of innovative projects that transform workplaces, classrooms and communities.

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