My last blog post reflected on reflective practice, and the power that could have in improving performance. One of my own personal forms of reflection-on-practice has been writing down what I do. I've always found this to be a very useful if challenging process, trying to capture in some form of systematic way what has often felt to be very ad hoc in the moment.
So it was that two years ago I started on the process of writing another book, this one on how to incorporate systems thinking approaches into training needs analysis and training evaluation activities. Writing a book is a long and lonely process, and one which constantly makes one question whether what you are doing is worthwhile, will it help anyone, will anyone be interested, would it be better to focus on fee-paying work? The fundamental question is therefore why do it, and one answer to that comes from thinking about what value I personally see in utilising systems thinking in these areas: why does a systems thinking approach leads to better training solutions?
A fundamental reason has to be the importance that systems thinking places on context. The interaction between the operational environment and people in the workplace is crucial to high levels of performance, and systemic enquiry makes this interaction fundamental, by making us think about how much variety there is in the environment and how what people do has to be able to manage this variety. Often training programmes are about standard, centralised processes and procedures, and not enough attention is paid to the kinds of skills needed to be able to monitor what is happening in the environment and adapt to it.
This means that training should be giving people more analytical skills in the ability to monitor the environment and adapt as necessary. This is often overlooked in conventional approaches to needs analysis, which develop objectives for a set of skills which will help to enable some sort of standardised approach, but which may not help people to deal with micro-variety (day-to-day differences) or macro-variety (trends over time).
The trends over time point is important, because the environment changes, and a needs analysis carried out today may identify solutions which are not appropriate tomorrow because things have changed. Again, an awareness of the principles of systemic enquiry can make us sensitive to these potential problems.
And thirdly, systemic enquiry forces us to think about the role that informal learning plays in managing performance. Informal learning, such as unplanned coaching and discussions between colleagues, plays an important part in helping to manage variety, but if the needs analysis process fails to look at how existing channels for informal learning work, it is less likely that support mechanisms will be built into any training plans that are developed.
So I guess that is a reason why I have pushed on with the project to write the book. I am certainly relieved that it is almost finished now, and that I should be able to deliver it to my publisher on time!