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Retraining is a challenge, but worth it


Organisational change is a concept that can leave even the most hardened corporate veteran feeling unwell. Be it a new strategy, new product line or new organisational structure, the process of change is rarely one that feels entirely smooth for a company’s employees.


From a companywide perspective, it can often look like attempting to shift the course of a gigantic, ungainly container ship, where the controls are nearly entirely unresponsive and the various decks seem to be altering direction at wildly different speeds.


One lagging consideration for many is an organisation’s focus on training and development, which can get left behind in the effort to alter course. A development programme that one day appears laser-focused on future market needs can the next look pitifully ill-designed to equip a future generation of leaders with the skills they might need.


Similarly, technically focused programmes aimed at a company’s specialists can be left outdated by an innovative leap or product change. The effect can be an organisation with a finely honed new strategy that nevertheless struggles to implement it because employees are no longer prepared with the skills they need.


Some of this lag is to be expected. A properly customised, finely-tuned leadership development programme, for example, should take a while to be developed and shouldn’t be subject to constant tweaks at the whim of the board. Training benefits enormously from consistency, and participants will respond infinitely better when they are confident that the skills they acquire will have relevance at the end. If they see a programme changing before their eyes, this will not be the case.


At the same time, development training does have to operate with an end goal in mind, which means that organisations must focus on the content and expected outcomes of their training programmes, and then consider how closely they align with their company’s changed circumstances. Very often, this will involve shedding their understanding of what the company needs right away and replacing it with a well-considered assessment of the talent and skills it will need on its new trajectory.


Making certain that this process keeps pace with the change can still be a challenge. Very often, people throughout an organisation resist change out of a sense of inertia, and this applies to training. Many experienced staff will have gone through an organisational shift before, and will have probably also gone through the process of undertaking new courses to update their skills.


With every realignment, their cynicism about the process might grow, and their commitment to sitting through more training could be reduced.


The way an organisation tackles this resistance is crucial. It can involve making a concerted effort to clearly communicate a new strategy and the reasons that lie behind it. Having people buy in to a new direction is no easy feat, but it smooths the process when it comes to asking them to take on new skills and experience.


This can be supported by being cleverer about how training is provided. Rather than hurling lumps of new training at employees and hoping it sticks, a company can tailor its efforts to specific job roles and technical skills. It can also look at integrating development into employees’ everyday roles, making the process of training less of a hassle, while also connecting new skills more closely with their present roles.


Ultimately, it is an organisation’s people who will carry out a change, and it is perfectly sensible to make it a priority that these same people have all the skills they need to do it properly. Overcoming the inertia associated with change can still be a problem, but being sensitive to concerns while demonstrating the positivity of the new can ensure the organisation stays on course.


Ahmad Badr is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group


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