Posted by Caveo Learning ● December 8, 2015

Bob Pike on Performance vs. Training, Gaining Trusted Advisor Status

bob_pikeThis is part of our ongoing series, Interviews with Learning Leaders.

Bob Pike is an icon in the learning & development industry. No longer affiliated with the eponymous consulting group he founded in 1979, Bob remains a fixture on the talent development speaking circuit. He has authored more than two dozen books about adult learning, including The Master Trainer Handbook. He even has his own Wikipedia page.


How did you get started in learning & development?

Back in the late '60s, I made $60 a month as a pastor, and that wasn’t covering the bills. I went into commission sales, and after six months selling sales training and management programs full-time, I had made $150 in commissions. I was afraid of rejection. I had to decide: either I am not cut out for this and go do something else, or I had to change. The interesting thing was that I had learned all of the skills and I had all of the knowledge. I could apply it in the classroom, but because of this fear of rejection, I was not applying it in the real world.

I decided that for 30 days, I would do everything I could to succeed. At the end of 30 days, if I wasn’t making progress, I could at least say that I gave it my best shot. I did three things in that time, what I call the three V’s: I verbalized, I visualized, and I vitalized, meaning I set a goal for presentations and for closing the sale at those presentations. In that 30 days, I made a little over $1,100 in commissions, and within a year, I was always over $4,000 a month in commissions, and a lot of months it was more. For the 1970s, that was a lot of money.

With the increased sales I was doing a lot more training. I ended up heading up a new division to start a master training academy. That transitioned me to where I was spending 50% of my time actually conducting a three-way intensive training program. Over time, that just kind of evolved. But it’s been my entire career to sell and market along with designing and delivering whatever I’m going to design and deliver.

You say people need to be performance consultants, not training consultants. Why is that?

Any time I say that I’m a training consultant, it’s kind of like I’m a carpenter that only has a hammer—I have to make every problem look like a nail. In my Master Trainer’s Handbook, I actually say that when performance is the question, training is the sixth answer.

I wrote an article a couple of years ago where I asked the question of training professionals: Are we doctors, or are we drug dealers? Because if you go to a doctor and say, “I want drugs,” the doctor says, “Wait a minute. Tell me what the problem is. I will do a diagnosis, I will do a prognosis, and I will do a course of treatment.” Because prescription without a diagnosis is malpractice, whereas you go to a drug dealer and say, “I want drugs,” then the drug dealer says, “What do you want and do you have the money to pay for it?” And they don’t care.

I think that a lot of times as trainers, we’ve been order takers. So a manager comes to you and says, “My people are stressed. Give them a stress management course,” and we just salute and give them the stress management course, instead of saying, “Well, wait a minute. What’s causing them to be stressed?” Because if we eliminate the source of stress, then they may not need stress management. I actually want to do a diagnosis. As a performance consultant, if somebody says, “My people are stressed,” I say, "OK, are the systems supporting the results that you want, including the low-stress environment? Do your policies and procedures support the people? Is recruitment aligned and bringing in the right people, and are they in the right positions?" And sometimes people need coaching. If I help people go through those five things, and we still don’t have a series of solutions that we can implement, then we’ve pretty well landed on the fact that now we may have a deficiency of knowledge or a deficiency of skill. So now I’ve actually got training as a solution, but it’s also something that managers are going to support.

How can learning professionals create relationships with business partners and become trusted advisors?

bob_pike_quoteWe have to better prepare our learning leaders, because some of them come up through the training function. By the time they’re a leader in that function, whether it’s called training director, chief learning officer, or whatever it is, they have an understanding of that function. But we still have a lot of learning leaders who were suddenly just made learning leaders. We would never put somebody in charge of IT who’d never been a programmer, but we take somebody from someplace else and put them in charge of the training function. Now they’re managing something that they don’t even understand. Then we wonder why nobody in the training function has any power at the table. It’s because a lot of times, we do not have training professionals leading the training function.

They’ve got to understand what it is they bring to the table. For example, this idea I just talked about—my performance solutions queue—how many training directors could even do that training diagnostic? They might be able to call on you to do that diagnostic, but they couldn’t sit there and help people analyze. "Do you have a systems problem? Do you have a policy or procedure problem? What about your recruitment? What about your placement? What about your coaching?" They can’t even have that conversation. So it makes it much more difficult for them to sit at the table and represent: here’s what learning and performance can bring to the party. Here’s how we can help you deliver the results you want. Because they’re not even versed in that conversation.

A lot of times, the way our learning leaders become trusted advisors is by actually leaning more on those people in the department who have the years and years of experience that perhaps they don’t. That’s another reason to work with organizations like Caveo. If I’m an internal learning leader, I may not have the depth of experience in my training department. But I can actually go to somebody like Caveo, that can give me 150 or 200 years’ experience and have them be the trusted advisor, where I get the credit for having found them and having brought a solution, rather than having to cobble together a solution.

How does participant-centered learning apply in a virtual environment?

That’s a really good question. The answer to that question is in identifying who’s participating. The thing we overlook the most in the design and delivery of our training is who’s the target. For example, when we design a face-to-face training, our whole focus is on the content that I’m delivering. We never think about how does the person that is sitting in that classroom or who’s going to be watching online learn the best? When we do the training needs analysis, it’s all about content. It’s not about analyzing how this group of learners learns the best.

Having profiled 75,000 people in 25 countries, I can tell you that 75% of all learners are participative learners versus reflective learners, meaning they learn better with other people and being involved in the learning process than with reflective passive learning—reading, for example, or just watching a video. So whenever I deliver a webinar, I’m looking at how to better understand the audience.

In the classroom, I use the 90/20/8 rule. Adults we know from research, listen with understanding for 90 minutes; they only listen with retention for 20 minutes. In the classroom, we need to involve them every 8 minutes because of television. The average high school student in America, by the time they graduate high school, has been in the classroom for 14,000 hours, but has watched 19,000 hours of television. Commercial television never goes more than 8 minutes without breaking for a commercial. So you have 19,000 hours of exposure to a medium that says, I’m never going to make you pay attention for more than 8 minutes before I give you a break. Even if you look at video games; kids play video games for hours, yes, but they never go for more than about 4 minutes before they level up. You’ve got a break. You’ve got a change of pace before the gamer re-engages.

So online, I use 90/20/4. I want to engage people at least every 4 minutes. Regardless of what webinar platform I’m using, there are going to be three, four, or five tools that I can use to engage people. And so maybe the first time I engage people, it’s going to be a poll. Maybe the second time, it’s going to be a chat box, where they’re going to ask a question and I’m going to take two or three questions. And maybe the third time, I’m going to show them something on screen and say, "One of these things is wrong. What is it? Type it in the chat box but don’t hit send yet. I’m going to give you 10 seconds to answer. Hit send." Now all of the answers are appearing.

Oftentimes, I’ll say, "We’re going to do this webinar. For people in the same office, sit with a learning partner and share the same computer during the webinar." That way, when I say it’s time to discuss something, even though I may not be able to put them in a chatroom because my webinar technology may not allow for that, people can discuss it before they type the answer in chat. There are just a lot of little ways that can create engagement, to adapt what I know worked so well in the classroom and get more and more engagement on the webinar.

How has L&D changed in the past 40 years?

That the more things change, the more things stay the same. A couple years ago, I was asked to be the 50th anniversary speaker for an ATD chapter. I thought, "Wouldn’t it be interesting to talk about the differences?" At that point, I’d been in the field for well over 25 years. So, I asked the audience what were the burning questions on the minds of the training and performance field 25 years ago? They said, "How do we get training to transfer? How do we get management support for training? And how do we deliver training in less time?" Then I asked, "What do you think the burning questions are today?" The answers were, "How do we get training to transfer? How do we get management support for training? And how do we get more training done in less time?" So in 25 years, we have not answered that question in a definitive way.

One of the reasons is that only a fraction of us in the training and performance improvement fields have this as a career; probably 90% of the people in the field are kind of passing through as a part of job rotation, developing themselves. For example, in much of the pharmaceutical industry, you’re not allowed to be in the training department for more than two years, three max, because they’re using that to get you ready to be a district manager. If you’re a lawyer, you’re a lawyer for life. If you’re an accountant, you’re an accountant for life. But many trainers are trainers for two to three years, so you have all of that experience churning and leaving every two to three years. People aren’t around long enough to find the answers to these questions and institutionalize them, and that’s why you have this whole idea of knowledge management systems.

In the '80s, IBM came up with this genius thing where they gave highly compensated people an out to reduce their costs. They had 8,000 people leave IBM, and then they realized all of the intellectual capital that walked out of the door wasn’t embodied anywhere. That was a setback that took IBM a decade to recover from.

The real change in our field is actually coming now, where people are getting serious about the fact that we need to show return on investment from training—that training actually needs to be an investment, not a cost. Training directors have been afraid to measure the results of training because they are afraid of what they would find. So they wanted to stick with the smile sheets because it’s like, "OK, we know what we need to do to make people happy by the end of a class." But they didn’t deal with transfer strategy. Why would I want to measure results six months after class? I have no impact over the person’s environment after they leave my class.

Topics: Performance Improvement, Interviews with Learning Leaders