A Conversation with Doug Harward

The other day I had a chance to ask Doug Harward a few questions. Doug is the CEO and Founder of Training Industry, Inc. He is internationally recognized as one of the leading strategists for training and outsourcing business models. He is respected as one of the industry’s leading authorities on competitive analysis for training services and works with international companies and new business start-ups in building training organizations.

Kapp: You have been in the training industry for many years, how have you seen the industry change over the years?

Doug Harward: The biggest change over the many years is how technology is used to enable learning and performance improvement. Since the early 80’s, technology in training was predominately about how to help deliver content in a classroom. Now it is ubiquitous throughout training administration, design and delivery processes. The biggest change I’ve seen over just the last couple of years though is how we are shifting from what I call a learner centric approach to training management to a business centric approach. This is a good thing because we are recognizing that if the training is not strategically aligned to the needs of the business, it isn’t accomplishing what it is designed to do. For many years, we’ve been caught up in the idea that the training we provide should be focused on the learners needs. What we’ve most recently realized is that the training we offer must first be in line with the business needs for learners to learn – not just what the learners want to learn – then it will translate into being beneficial to the learner. This comes across as a controversial concept for many, but the reality is it conforms to how training is funded, produced and supported.

Kapp: You’ve recently written a book called “What Makes a Great Training Organization?” Can you tell me a little about the book.

Doug Harward: For the past seven years, we’ve been doing research on understanding the best practices of high performing training organizations. I found a few years ago, and in all due respect to all of them, many industry consultants and analysts have been addressing ideas on how to improve training, but lacked sufficient data or research to support the many assertions which led us to believe what they were telling was correct. So we at TrainingIndustry.com set out to understand the “true” capabilities and best practices of organizations that create transformative impact for the organization.

We call those organizations ‘Great Training Organizations’. Over 1600 training professionals from all parts of the world participated in the study. What we learned is there are 8 process capabilities that high performing, or great training organizations have competencies in; strategic alignment, content development, content delivery, diagnostics, reporting and analytics, technology integration, portfolio management and administrative services.

Kapp: You spent almost seven years writing and researching the book; did you have any “aha” moments, any findings, conversations or anything that really stood out?

Doug Harward: What stood out more than anything was learning that the single most important factor to successfully running a training organization – is its’ not about what courses you offer, or what tools you choose – success in training comes from good leadership. Good leaders make good choices. They communicate well with the executive team to understand the business’s needs.

They understand how to create solutions that have impact on the organization. They create a culture focused on solutions, not on creating events or programs. With this we learned that there is a huge need to develop leaders of training organizations. Our industry has traditionally focused on creating trainers, and instructional designers, and training consultants – but we haven’t developed leaders of training. This is our next journey.

Kapp: Can you describe one of the training processes you’ve uncovered in your research that helps drive sustainable performance improvements?

Doug Harward: Learning leaders of some of the highest performing training organizations we studied told us that the single most important process capability was strategic alignment. Without this, all other processes are vulnerable to success. It is an unfortunately taken for granted by many people in leadership positions in training–mainly because it is misunderstood.

The process of strategic alignment involves practices such as developing consultant partnerships with clients, customizing training to meet the organization’s needs, establishing agreed upon objectives with the clients, defining performance success metrics, and adapting training to the organization’s unique business culture. These practices seem almost as no-brainers, but we found many organizations do not do them in a structured way. And they fail in their mission to create sustainable performance improvement.

Kapp: If you are interested in Doug’s fascinating book, you can GET A COPY HERE.


Kapp: What do you like most about what you do?

Doug Harward: Great Question! I’m one of those guys who love our profession. Mainly because I get to go to work everyday with finding ways to help other organizations and other people get better at what they do. Most importantly, in that process I get to learn every day. I think one of the signs of success in life is that we never stop learning. When learning stops for us, we stop living a rich life. And this profession allows me to do that.

Kapp: Any advice for my graduate students relating to the field based on the findings in the book or your experience in the industry?

Doug Harward: Probably the best advice I can give is to believe in the idea that to succeed in this or any profession, is to be a student of that profession. The oxymoron is the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know! Our profession and our industry continue to evolve because the needs of people change. And the methods and tools to help people learn continue to change as well. How we managed training and professional development a few short years ago is quickly becoming passé. And if you lose sight of the idea that the market will move faster than you if you don’t keep up, you will find yourself getting passed by. I’ll close with a philosophy I learned many years ago. And that is, ‘we have to be getting more better faster than our competitors are getting more better, or else we’re getting less better and more worse!’ Improvement isn’t good enough if we are not doing it at a pace better than those we compete with.

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Karl Kapp
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