Corporate training is a $60 billion dollar industry and growing as the economy recovers. As with any industry, significant changes are occurring. Companies spend less on fixed internal resources and are outsourcing more. Learners are changing in the way they learn, perhaps due to the generational shift. And of course, technology has made the social side of learning more available and effective. Training executives, those who manage company training resources and programs, must continue to innovate to address these changes to stay relevant.
For this month’s LAB, we will apply the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., to a training program. Our goal is to find new-to-the-world concepts that improve a company’s training efforts. The method works by applying one of five innovation patterns to components within the training environment. The pattern has the effect of morphing the component into something that seems unrecognizable or ambiguous. We take that “virtual product” and work backwards to uncover potential benefits or markets served, a process called “Function Follows Form.”
Begin by listing the major components of a corporate training program:
- Lesson Plans
- Customers (of the firm)
- Products (services) of the firm
- Learning management system (keeps track of courses, enrollments, etc)
Here are five ideas, each using one of the five S.I.T. innovation patterns:
1. SUBTRACTION: In this example, we “subtract” the trainees. That certainly seem like an odd configuration – we have all the training infrastructure and resources, but no attendees. What could be done with it? Many companies have millions invested in training classrooms and faculty that could be deployed and “rented” to other (non-competing) companies as a way to leverage and reduce training costs. By packaging courseware, classroom space, and trainers into one nice neat bundle, a company could turn its cost center into a break-even center or perhaps better. This is especially viable in areas common to most companies such as sales or customer service training.
2. MULTIPLICATION: To use this pattern, we make a copy of a component but then change it in some weird way, something counterintuitive or seemingly useless. In this example, let’s multiply the classrooms. We could envision here making the copy a virtual classroom, but that idea already exists – nothing new here. So let’s change it to something bizarre – the “multiplied” classroom is at a competitor’s site. Now that is weird. Potential benefit? Imagine having a mock up of the competition’s training complex or other facility as a way to immerse new trainees into the competitive mindset. They would learn the competitor’s products, value propositions, methods, and resources as a way to make your employee more effective at their job.
3. DIVISION: Use the division pattern by selecting a component and then dividing it physically, functionally, or by preserving (where the parts preserve the characteristics of the whole). Here is an example of an idea that is “out there” – divide the curriculum in half, either horizontally or vertically (where the flow of training changes by moving parts of the curriculum around). Trainees get the first half of each day of training, but not the second half. The second half of the training days pick up when the day 1 modules are done. It is a clever way to break the “fixedness” we have about the how training should proceed in a sequential way.
4. TASK UNIFICATION: This pattern forces you to take a component and assign it a new job in addition to its existing job. It is a great tool to help you use your resources in new ways. For this example, I assign the additional job of lecturing – to the firm’s products. Assume you make surgical tools. Imagine a way to embed a small audio device inside a surgical product that would train the new sales person on how the product works. The product teaches the rep how to sell the device. Then it quizzes the rep on retention of the material. The clever part about this idea is that these “teaching products” might be portable enough for reps to keep after their initial training as a way to refresh their understanding later.
5. ATTRIBUTE DEPENDECY: This pattern is the oddball because we use attributes of the components instead of components themselves. We take two attributes (variables), preferably one that is internal to the product and another that is varying in the external environment. We create a connection – as one changes, the other changes. This pattern has a tendency to create “smart” products – ones that change and adapt as the customer’s needs change. Here is how it applies in our LAB example. We vary the classroom technology depending on the learning style of the trainee (visual, listerner, experential, etc). Today, teachers try to do this by offering a variety of teaching methods all in one class. It might be more effective if the learner could self-select their preferred learning style and then be subjected only to that technology approach that suits that style instead of being bombarded with all the content.