Does Your Organization Center Training on Performance or Skills?

We have new senior leadership that wants to center training and development on skills instead of tasks. Some skills are defined very generally, such as technical skills. However, these definitions do not seem specific enough to serve as training requirements and tend to take us toward content-based, rather than performance-based, training. From a return-on-investment perspective, I lean toward performance-based methods. Am I missing something? Any suggestions on how we can satisfy both perspectives? 

You are not missing anything. Taking time to truly understand work requirements and design task-specific training that lets people "master by doing" is a best practice for a reason: Performance-based training works.

Content-based training also plays an important role in longer-term employee development efforts. While performance-based training typically focuses on narrower tasks, such as how to rebuild an alternator or complete a specific form or process, content-based training often covers more intellectually complex topics where creativity or the ability to act without a clearly defined procedure is necessary, such as how to effectively manage employee performance.

Coupled together, content- and performance-based training is a yin/yang approach that helps organizations build more bench strength over time and meet the needs of diverse learners. While an employee is learning to perform specific tasks applicable to today’s job, he or she can also get needed intellectual information for future development through content-based training.

Additionally, some learners strongly prefer the content-based approach. This is the way they’ve grown up. Some have performance anxiety, or wish to think through an issue thoroughly before attempting to perform discrete tasks. The amalgam of both methods develops competency and intellectual flexibility and increases overall training effectiveness.

I think that no matter which approach you decide to take, you must define outcomes more precisely than "technical skills."

The first step is to produce a realistic, well-thought-out listing of the specific competencies your employees need to thrill your customers over the long term. If you don’t know what it is going to take, you won’t be able to deliver training opportunities to prepare your learners for those challenges.

After you develop this listing and identify available resources, you will be able to create a training program designed to match the method and type of training to the needed outcomes.

Without carefully examining your needs, you get training only for the sake of training, or programs that don’t fully prepare your employees or your organization for an ever-changing future.