What Creativity Training Looks Like

It’s hard to convince people that they need training. All trainers know this. Every training developer on the planet has a story, some variant on the same theme. “This training is vital for my employees; they must learn these skills! Oh, but not now, they are too busy at the moment.” Yep, because they’re too busy using an axe to pick up that chainsaw.

It’s understandable. Even when training is essential, it can be put off a little longer. Even if it can’t, it feels like you can. You have to meet that customer today. You must finish that report now. Learning how to do those things, well, it’s not as urgent.

In my experience, even when there is a willingness to take training, there isn’t always the availability. That’s life. Crises happen and there’s always something urgent. But it means that even with all the support and enthusiasm in the world, getting people to your course is hard.

When the course content is as fuzzy as ‘creative thinking’, it’s even harder.

Again, this is understandable. Creative thinking can wait a day or two… right? Besides, in the back of everyone’s mind is the Really Bad Soft Skills course. Maybe it was strategic thinking, negotiation skills or empathy building. The topic doesn’t matter because the content was irrelevant. The course was full of words and empty gestures and ‘how did that make you feel’s. Touchy-feely. Designed to elicit an emotional response but learning something, not so much.

It’s thanks to these bad examples that people have a poor view of this sort of training. (The great examples, of course, don’t get factored in). This is the perfectly reasonable objection you need to overcome, before you can overcome the other obstacles.

These obstacles are why, despite every major organisation claiming to foster innovation, creative thinking training is so rare. Even if people had the time, they’re thinking that this will be their new Really Bad course horror story. In their mind, deep down, they are anticipating a course where you fingerpaint and roleplay as astronauts and do other useless stuff they can’t apply in the real world.

It’s nothing personal. It’s just that they’ve been burned before.

But what if there you could get around these objections? What if you could teach your team to think creatively? What if there were a program that taught innovation and would go down as a Really Good course? What if you could generate repeatable improvements – even when people are too busy for training?

What would that be worth to you?

In this series I’ve talked about learning creativity for yourself and teaching it to a team. This post will describe what creativity training can look like. Given the subject matter, you’d expect it to be free of the usual constraints. No PowerPoint presentations with a barely-relevant quote on slide 2. No stuffy classrooms with faulty computers and faultier chairs. No content that sounds great but is just one more thing you don’t have time for.

Creativity isn’t daydreaming. It’s action. It comes from the root word ‘create’, which is not something you can do in a traditional classroom. You can’t learn algebra or driving by reading about it – you have to do it to learn, and creativity is the same.

Of course, the difference with creativity is that everyone can already do it. It’s a skill hardwired into the brain, like sensing hunger or detecting movement. In that case, the training has to be about bringing that skill to the surface. It has to encourage the learners to embrace and accept that style of thinking in themselves and others. It’s a skill, yes, but it’s also an attitude adjustment.

All adult learning has to be relevant to the learner. Our brains crave context – why we want to learn something is more important than what it is. Teaching innovation can’t be about learning to paint or express yourself through poetry. It has to be about creative thinking in the workplace, to achieve results.

And, of course, the training must be efficient. It must be short, sharp and to the point. It must immediately produce results to crush hesitation. People give you many reasons why they can’t complete your course. Don’t let them. The training must undercut every point of resistance.

All this is a tall order. Can any training live up to it all?

Creative Thinking for Teams delivers against all these points, and more. It exists outside the classroom. I designed it to be taught in the workplace, at the learners’ desks. It turns the classroom on its head by getting the learners to work individually, then come together to share and discuss.

The course covers some theory about creative thinking. Learners profile themselves and the team to access their styles and identify shortcomings. In other words, it’s all about them. From there, it is hands-on. The learners don’t hear about creativity; they create. The first creative task is to identify a problem facing the team. The second is to develop solutions to it. Again, it’s all about them. The course overflows with relevance and value.

As for efficiency, the pilot course I ran speaks for itself. The course took about five hours (two hours face-to-face, plus time spent outside these sessions) over about two weeks. The learners overwhelmingly agreed that they learned things they can apply in their jobs. And to sweeten the pot, the course produced a series of recommendations for improving the way the team operates.

This is how you teach creativity – by getting the learners to create. This is how you convey concepts – by making it about them. And this is how you sell the course – by producing immediate and unique value. Creative Thinking for Teams is powerful enough and flexible enough to help any organisation perform better. It is simple enough that anyone can run it. And it’s valuable enough to be repeated again, and again, and again.

Embrace creative thinking today. Change approaches at unfathomable speed. Those teams that can harness creativity will thrive, while all others will falter. The opportunities and threats are stronger than ever. Now, more than any other time, such a small investment in creativity can lead to incredible results. Your organisation deserves to unlock its creative potential, so be sure to do it right.

This post is part of Creativity Month over at Mindwalker Training.


Teaching teams to be creative

You can learn anything, given enough time and dedication. You can learn to be rich. You can learn to be smarter. You can learn to be an expert tennis player. You can learn to be kind, gentle and wise.

The old view of intelligence was that you were born with it, or not. All education and training could do is bring you to your natural limits. Success was a matter of learning your talents and developing them as best you could. The new view, backed by the latest psychology and neuroscience, blows this out of the water. The brain is flexible and plastic. At any age, any part of it can be rewritten and repurposed. If you feel as if you have peaked, it’s only because you’re not pushing yourself smart enough, or hard enough.

Creativity is a skill. It’s one that you can learn. It’s different from learning algebra, but only in the details. It’s about nurturing a particular way of thinking, practicing it and defending it. I spoke about how to do this in the last post. Then I raised the question: how do you do this for teams?

An individual can learn to think in new, exciting ways. Sometimes all it takes is a little motivation. For groups of people, it’s harder. Your own habits can be replaced. For groups of people, it requires rewriting the rules on how that group operates.

Fortunately, I have a lot of experience on that subject. I have been in the business of transforming organisations my entire career. I started as a data analyst, hunting for new connections and opportunities for people. It was satisfying to see colleagues change the way they worked and scoring huge wins.

My first encounter with training was developing a course around revolutionary tradecraft. This tradecraft – at the time, my greatest achievement – has transformed the way organisations around the world think about data. I fell in love with training, this mystical process where you directly altered the behaviours of people. It has been the focus of my career ever since.

The question of how organisations change – and how to control it – has been the common link across my working life. It’s a question I never intent to stray far from. The answers are powerful. Transforming a workplace’s culture can have an impact that’s impossible to foresee.

How does a team learn a new skill or way of thinking? If it’s a technical skill, that’s relatively easy. Good training will transfer knowledge. Applying it in the workplace will develop the skill. If you have the chance to both learn and do, technical skills are easy. This isn’t because they are simple to learn (I’d never say that!). It’s because they are easier to measure and often seen as more important than ‘soft’ skills.

Training isn’t always the best way to develop any skills, especially less technical ones. But it can be. It’s an uphill battle, certainly. People need to be convinced that they need these skills, that the training is the best way, that it’s worth the investment, and about a hundred other points along the way. It’s worth it, though.

If you are in a position of influence, you can apply the advice from my last post. You can nurture creativity by changing the environment and rewarding experimentation. You can practice it by shaping tasks to include space for innovation, reflection and failing. You can build energy by reminding your team of the impact their work has on the organisation, the community, maybe even the world. You can support focus by containing distractions and given them the space to think.

But maybe you can’t do any of that. That would be too easy. How do you encourage a culture change to embrace creative thinking?

Learn the organisation’s expressed values

Most organisations claim to support creativity. Few actually do, but don’t let that stop you from using their slogans against them. When the corporate strategy includes a throwaway line about “harnessing the innovative potential of employees”, leap on that. Reference it in your reports, meetings and emails. No one is going to deny that innovation is important and no one is going to admit the strategy is meaningless. It might not convince everyone, but it will open the door to your message.

Learn the organisation’s actual values

If you want to change the culture, you need to learn what the culture is. For a laugh, read Enron’s code of ethics. Then never again make the mistake that a mission statement has any link to a company’s culture.

Mission statements, strategies and the like are all just words. To understand a culture, you need to see what people do. When does the organisation celebrate and commiserate? Who do they hire, fire and promote? What gets the most attention? Which valuable projects wither and die?

That is the culture. Anything else is a paintjob.

Tap into these. If the mission statement goes on and on about providing quality products, make a note of that. If the sales team is rewarded for pushing known lemons, act on that. Link your training to boosting sales while paying lip service to improving quality. It allows people to buy into the lie to save face while giving them what they really want.

Produce value

And prove it. Measure everything before and after the training. Find a metric that improves and build a story around it. Your training genuinely added value, but softer skills are harder to measure. Find what data you can and make it work for you.

The best thing is to link your training to some major, visible project. Don’t take credit where none is due – people can smell the crap a mile away. Genuinely help a major project, then milk your contributions as much as you (honestly) can. If you can’t feed into a high-visibility project, create one.

Never stop pushing

One iteration of the training won’t change anything. Chances are, you’ll be lucky to get even that. Don’t let that stop you. Never stop striving for organisational change. Take feedback and act on it. If people say they’ll pick up the course when things are “less hectic” (ie, never), streamline it. Make it more accessible. When events shake things up, point out that your training is well-suited to take advantage of/deal with the opportunities/threats. Don’t allow people the luxury of pushing your training from their minds.

I like to attach an unusual word or phrase to my initiatives. When people repeat them back to you in other contexts, that’s how you know you’re in their head. While you’re there, take advantage of it. Keep the training alive. Only when creative thinking is a habit can you let your guard down.

Organisations rarely change willingly. Encouraging change is an enormous task. But by understanding how culture shapes thinking, you can bypass their objections and encourage a gentle transformation. It’s not easy. Culture has a way of resisting change. It’s worth it, though. Affecting change is proof that you are alive.

What does creativity training look like, though? And how do you convince people to embrace it? Stay tuned for my next blog post answering these questions and more.

This post is part of Creativity Month over at Mindwalker Training.


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How to learn to be creative

I used to struggle with creativity. I mean, really struggle with it. Which was devastating. It was a genuine blow to my self-image. Like a lot of you, I dream big. I’ve always wanted to achieve wild success, for the products of my mind to transform lives. But it was always a dream, a fantasy, as I had no real way of making that happen.

The truth was, I had plenty of ideas. Ideas come to me. I could stay busy for decades on the ideas I already have, let alone the new ones that fly into my mind. The part I struggled with was getting the ideas out there. I’d be so full of energy and enthusiasm while thinking of the idea. When it came to developing it, even writing down vague notes, that energy bled away. Getting the idea out of my head was a struggle.

Your struggle might be different from mine. Some people are more industrious… but can’t develop ideas to be industrious about. I know how it feels. I know the pain of unrequited creativity all too well.

I’ve come a long way since then. Maintaining a project, any project, would have been a tall order. Yet here I am, developing content at a rate I never dreamed of. Ideas flow from my mind to the screen unhindered. I’m scratching the creative itch like never in my life. I’m crackling with energy. I need to be to put in the hours every day after work. Never have I felt to satisfied.

How did I do it? It helps that, over the years, I’ve developed an obsession with creativity. I study it, research it and experiment with it. I tweak, test and poke it. I read about neuroscience, psychology, successful people, mindsets and philosophy. Over the years, I’ve developed a large body of knowledge on the subject.

Should you do the same? Absolutely. But supposing for a second that you are busy or have different interests, I can share with you the tips and tricks I’ve picked up.


If you want to live a creative life, you have to nurture creativity. This is about open your mind up to creative experience and letting the thoughts flow. Creative thinking can’t be willed or forced any more than your height or eye colour. Realising that you have to work with your mind opens up entire mental realms.

  • Fill your workspace with inspiration. Hang beautiful pictures on the walls or tape motivational quotes to your computer. (Why do you think my Twitter account has so many quotes about learning?)
  • Learn how your creativity flows. If you get fired up by conflict, court it – but be smart about it. If not, avoid it during your creating time.
  • Take a moment to appreciate something beautiful each day. Be grateful for what you have. Remember that the world is abundant, teeming with opportunities made especially for you. It will put you in the right frame of mind for creating masterpieces.


Like all things, creativity is a skill. If you take the time to develop it, you’ll notice the change.

  • Carry a notebook and pen everywhere you go. Phones aren’t fast enough for scribbling random thoughts. Keep paper and pens at key locations – your bedside table, your workspace, your desk at work. If you get an idea, write it down then move on. Revisit your notes when you are free from distractions.
  • I can recommend Choose Yourself by James Altucher for so many reasons. One is his strategy of writing ten ideas a day. Treat your brain like a muscle by stretching beyond its comfort zone. Because, like a muscle, it will grow.
  • Speaking of book recommendations, read Your Creative Brain by Dr Shelley Carson. Practice the exercises for brainsets you are weak in. Practice switching between brainsets. Practice everything.


The biggest boost to my energy triggered my biggest increase in creativity. Suddenly I was able to work for hours, not minutes. I was producing quality material, not garbage. I was thinking all the time, not feeling frazzled. All because I had the energy to sit there and work, work, work.

  • Fuel well. Your diet determines most of your energy. If you often experience food comas or sugar crashes, you are crippling your creativity. Unique insights are one of the highest quality processes your body can do. It needs fuel it can burn cleanly to reach these peaks.
  • Exercise a little each day. It doesn’t need to be much to give amazing results. Light cardio and weights for half an hour can prime your brain to function superbly. You probably won’t start craving exercise every day until you stop doing it.
  • Look after your mind. Your brain desires rest, sleep, stimulation and a sense of purpose. Among other things. If these fall out of balance, you can endure for a while. If the balance persists, it can send your brainpower crashing.
  • Develop a mantra. Make it action-based and aspirational. Figure out what you want to do, what your ultimate success looks like, and write “I will achieve ”. Hang it in your workspace. Keep it in your wallet. Think of it often. It will give you a sense of purpose and that will drive you. Good TV and a case of the blahs are no match for a sense of purpose.


Energy without focus is hyperactivity. Focus without energy is passivity. Together, you stride powerfully towards your objectives. Nothing can distract you. Nothing can stop you.

  • Buy decent headphones and listen to binaural beats. Binaural beats send different frequencies to each ear. They throw around claims about elevating your consciousness and giving you incredible focus. Unlike most such claims, these are true. YouTube has many great channels – one I like is Audio Entrainment HQ.
  • If you are struggling, use the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer for, say, 20 minutes. Promise to focus on your task until the timer goes off. No matter how flat you feel, you have 20 minutes of effort in you. When the timer goes off, reward yourself.
  • Make your workspace as distraction-free as possible. Binaural beats help by drowning out sound. You’ll want to be disciplined with your phone, social media and chores that can wait.

Creativity is a skill and a state of mind. You can’t achieve it by forcing it, but you can reach it by following your brain’s rules. You are in control, which gives you the power to cultivate creative thinking.

These techniques work brilliantly, no matter who you are. But have you ever been motivated to innovate, gotten to work and been sucked in by the soul-crushing culture? Most organisations say they like creativity while actively suppressing it. How do you express creativity in a team that kills it?

It takes more than learning creativity. You must also teach it. How to do that is the topic of the next blog post.

This post is part of Creativity Month over at Mindwalker Training.


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Learn to learn or…

I talk a lot about the benefits of focusing on training. Many people agree, which is heartening, but many are sceptical. At first, I was surprised. For me, the benefits of making training Priority Number One are intuitively obvious.

But that’s the danger with intuition – when it’s wrong, you are blind to it.

So I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Gathering the evidence, teasing apart the logic, following the mental path that invisibly leads me to that conclusion. This article is one small part of that process.

How would you convince someone that training should be your organisation’s focus? I started with three questions:

  • What are learning organisations?
  • Are learning organisations successful?
  • Are successful organisations also learning organisations?

Point (1) is important – there’s no point discussing it if we have clashes in terminology. (2) and (3) together get around the correlation is not causation argument. If a focus on learning has no benefit or success leads organisations to focus on learning, both won’t hold.

Ready? Let’s go.

What are learning organisations?

I found a great definition of what a focus on training looks like courtesy of the Association of Talent Development. They define that learning organisations have the following qualities:

  • Learning has an enterprise-wide role—involved in the executive team, creating solutions to business issues, and setting organizational strategy.
  • Learning has value in the organization’s culture—learning opportunities for employees, C-level involvement, learning for growth of the organization, and innovation.
  • Learning links to individual and organizational performance—alignment with the business, efficiency, measurement of the effectiveness of learning, and success with nontraining solutions for business needs.
  • Investment is made in learning and performance initiatives.

Well, that seems to capture the gist. From this, I see four key strategies:

  • Everyone is involved in learning opportunities,
  • Learning opportunities are valued,
  • Performance is measured in relation to learning opportunities,
  • The organisation invests in learning opportunities.

I’ve made recommendations along these lines before. The wording is different but the principles align.

How well do most organisations do against these strategies? I don’t have the perspective to answer for entire industries. I do know how many businesses function:

  • Is everyone involved? Many organisations have a training strategy. For many of these, the strategy is no more than a vague declaration: “we prioritise investment in our employee’s skills.” This declaration does not translate into action – at least not well.
  • Is learning valued? Learning is seen as important but not as much as “real work”. That seems to be the common attitude. If you’re lucky, you’re given money for training… but not the time.
  • Is learning performance measured? How many skilled employees are told ‘great work, but you need to teach more’? Some organisations have precise requirements (for example, training that’s mandated by law). They do well at measuring these. Outside of these requirements, though, training is seen as a burden and distraction.
  • Is there investment? Maybe there’s a training budget. But no training strategy, no coordination, no investment in time. Training is a box that gets ticked so leaders can pat themselves on the back.

As the ancient internet expression goes, your mileage may vary. But the above model of training and development is painfully common. Training deserves to be a core strategy; it’s usually an afterthought.

But, okay, so what? It’s not like most organisations don’t learn at all. Do they all need to be awesome at training? Can’t we live with ‘good enough’?

No. Not if you want to be successful. Or even survive.

Are learning organisations successful?

I got the definition of a learning organisation from the Association for Talent Development. The Association runs a yearly contest looking for the best examples of them. What does winning an award mean for an organisation’s future?

There were 28 winners in 2013. The winners throughout the years include charities, companies and government departments from all over the world. These organisations are self-selected, which skews the data. Still, what these tell us is quite illustrative.

I went back to the 2013 winners to see how these companies have fared since winning an award. It was hard to find information on some of these organisations, but highlights include:

  • All 28 organisations seem to still exist. That’s reassuring.
  • The winner, Cognizant Technology Solutions, scored well in earlier and later years too. They have climbed the Fortune 500 ranks from 484 in 2011 to 230 in 2016.
  • #9 on the list, Cerner Corporation, won many awards since then. Among them, #1 World’s Most Admired Company in Health Care: Pharmacy and Other Services (Fortune, 2015).
  • #21, ESL Federal Credit Union, has appeared on the Great Place to Work – Best Small and Medium Workplaces list in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Organisations aren’t good learning organisations only at their peak. As the years since 2013 have shown, most of these winners had a lot of growth and success ahead of them.

Are successful organisations also learning organisations?

Success is harder to track in the public sector than the private. I can offer all sorts of anecdotes about public learning organisations being successful. But for simplicity, let’s look at the world’s top companies.

Fortune’s list of top companies by revenue gives us a decent measure of private sector glory:

  • Walmart
  • State Grid
  • China National Petroleum
  • Sinopec
  • Royal Dutch Shell
  • Exxon Mobil
  • Volkswagen
  • Toyota Motor
  • Apple
  • BP

How many of these companies are learning organisations?

Walmart has a surprisingly detailed training strategy. They conduct training needs analyses, design programs and deliver training through a range of methods. The details around each of these steps are fairly detailed – way more than I’d expected from, you know, Walmart.

It’s hard to assess from the outside whether training is valued in the organisation. On paper, it certainly seems to be. Everyone is involved, there is strong investment and learning links to performance. They sound like a learning organisation to me.

Sinopec has its own training philosophy. I assume it sounds way better in the original Chinese. Their “three training projects” are:

  • Tens of thousands of key talents training project (an effort to improve the skills of managers and subject matter experts),
  • Talents on key positions capability upgrading project (improving the capabilities and innovation from business managers, researchers and other key roles),
  • All staff upgrading project (baseline employee training).

They developed this training with higher education organisations, and deliver it online and in person. Again, how much of this translates into real-world training opportunities, I can’t say. But I can say that their strategy is both detailed and ambitious. If they’re not a learning organisation, then they’re doing a great impersonation of one.

Royal Dutch Shell was the topic of a research paper (‘Learning at Royal Dutch Shell’, Strategic Direction, Vol 18, Issue 7, p10-12). They researched the company, concluding that they are a classic example of a learning organisation. The paper even traces their significant losses in 1998 to a failure in this. They had drifted from a learning organisation to one with dysfunctional strategies and priorities. In other words, they had grown complacent, but their complacency wasn’t fatal and they have recovered.

I couldn’t find any details about Volkswagen’s learning strategy. I did find some Glassdoor reviews talking about how much they value learning. Still, I promised data, not anecdotes.

Next is Toyota. The company that invented 5 Whys thinking. The company where frontline employees, not management, are recognised as the experts. The company where they took one of the most dysfunctional plants in the world and made it one of the best – without replacing employees. There’s a reason why Toyota has a golden reputation among learning organisation enthusiasts.

From the outside, Apple feels like it should be a learning organisation. A paper (‘Organisational learning and lean supply relationships: the case of Apple Ireland’, Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, Vol 3, Issue 2, p96-107) used them as a case study on how learning organisations solve problems where others don’t.

Finally, another paper (‘Organisational Learning’, Management Learning, Vol 32, Issue 2, p181-196) analysing how learning organisations work and why they succeed used British Petroleum (BP) as one of their key examples.

I couldn’t find much relevant information on State Grid, China National Petroleum or Exxon. And the evidence for VW wasn’t great. Even so, six out of ten of the highest earning companies are definitely learning organisations. That’s pretty compelling, isn’t it?

Learn to learn or…

What can I say after all this research?

  • Learning organisations are successful,
  • Successful organisations learn,
  • Your organisation is probably neither.

Do you know why learning creates success? It’s insurance against the changes of the future. Instead you can focus on doing your tasks now, even as the ground moves under your feet. Suddenly you blink and the terrain has shifted. What you were doing is now pointless. You can either learn to shift with the terrain or scream into the wind.

Teaching and learning aren’t burdens. That’s backwards. They are the only things that make the tasks possible. Being ‘good enough’ at learning makes you ‘good enough’ at your job. Then when the tasks change, and change again, you are left behind. It takes a community that excels at learning to keep up.

Learn to learn or die trying.

Why Focus Creates Success

The story of Paul O’Neill is the stuff of legend.

Alcoa was a struggling giant. It was old, large and successful. Like so many organisations, it was on shaky ground. It was vulnerable to agile competitors. Threats to the business model sprouted like weeds.

In 1987, Paul O’Neill took over as the chair and CEO. Other CEOs focused on revenue, profits or sales. He took a different approach. He focused on employee safety. Safety was Priority Number One. Profitability and the rest were a distant second.

Now, Alcoa was already a pretty safe place to work. They had accidents, sure, but keep in mind they dealt with molten metals. Given that, their safety record was impressive. So it’s not like their safety programs were bad. But they weren’t perfect. Paul O’Neill wanted to do better.

Safety became the focus of the organisation. All employees were encouraged to report safety issues to their bosses… or to O’Neill directly. Rewards and accolades were given for improvements to safety over improvements to productivity. O’Neill instituted a policy that required managers to report every incident, no matter how small. These reports included the cause of the incident and proposed solutions. They had to arrive on O’Neill’s desk within a day.

This approach seems bizarre and counterproductive. Yes, safety is important. So is income. These things need to be balanced… right?

O’Neill stood down in 1999. During his time, Alcoa’s net income rose from US$200 million to nearly US$1.5 billion. Focusing on safety, rather than income, caused income to soar.

How did this happen? Managers engaged with front-line employees, looking for innovative safety ideas. In order to submit incidents on time, communications were streamlined. Alcoa embraced the internet early because it was the best way for a global company to submit safety reports. Safety ideas from one area spread across the organisation.

Communication in all directions were streamlined. Employees of all kinds and levels contributed ideas… that were acted on. Is it any mystery as to how this lead to greater profits?


Other organisations also place one value above all others. Netflix’s strategy is to increase the talent density of their organisation. Valve tells its employees that hiring is everything – if you are involved in the hiring process then all other work is a waste of time. Everything they do – literally, everything – is in service of one core value. Their obsessive myopia has paid off for them.


Many organisations are like Alcoa. They are old, large and successful. Their products are excellent but they are trapped by policies, traditions and even their successes. The threats are many. They have power but lack agility.

Paul O’Neill chose safety as Alcoa’s keystone habit – the one habit that enables all others. What should your organisation’s keystone habit be? There are many valid answers. One is the training and development of your staff.

Imagine that your organisation embraced employee skills as Priority Number One. What would the organisation look like?

  • Every team would define the skills they have and the skills that they need. This simple exercise is often neglected. When done en masse, it provides valuable insights into the health of the organisation.
  • Managers would prioritise knowledge sharing. Performance evaluations would focus on this key achievement. Is the employee teaching courses? Mentoring staff? Sharing analytical techniques? If so, how effectively?
  • Training would be the core duty of subject matter experts (SMEs). Currently, SMEs are hired to perform valuable tasks for the organisation. That would continue. But any SME that is not developing other employees is being wasted by the organisation.
  • The organisation would release staff to give and receive training. In too many organisations, staff are expected to do their jobs during course breaks or participants drop out at the last minute. This will always occur; stuff happens. But each time it does, it robs the organisation of a chance for training. In the spirit of Alcoa, a manager that pulls an employee off training would submit a report to the CEO explaining what happened and how to address the situation.
  • Each team or section would have dedicated skills coordinators. Skills coordinators would identify skills gaps, recommend solutions and work with the training team.
  • Speaking of, the organisation would invest in the training team. This team would work closely with the skills coordinators and engage with their customers. Employees would rotate through this team to contribute to courses and learning materials. They would use the best technology and educational theory to achieve outcomes.
  • Hiring and promotions would value training above all else.

This hypothetical organisation doesn’t seem so far-fetched. It does sound incredibly successful. Valuing skills over everything else is a powerful, long-term strategy.

Paul O’Neill faced opposition from his Board of Directors. They wanted to focus on the traditional business. If they had, the traditional business could have fallen away. He strengthened the organisation – every aspect of it – by focusing on safety. Anyone can do the same by focusing on skills, even when there is pressure to focus on tasks.

The link between safety and profits isn’t obvious. The link between skills and success is. If you make training a keystone habit, people will resist. But, in the end, you will succeed. Organisations that don’t focus on a core value are like the hunter that chases two rabbits and loses both.

This article was inspired by Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. It was cross-posted on LinkedIn.