I've worked as a training director in two companies. In my previous role, I managed a group of 13 trainers and instructional designers. But in my current role, I am what many would call a "department of one".
I never really cared for that label, as it almost seemed to imply that one person is only capable of running a small-time operation. But I've spent the better part of my three years in this role leveraging resources and maximizing my own focus so that the organization measures our learning and training programs without thinking about it as a "one-person show."
Perception is Reality
In order for that to happen, I needed to change the perceptions of the company's employees and stakeholders. A lot of that has to do with language. For example, organizational communications that reference training don't say, "Please contact David regarding the training." Instead, they instruct people to contact the training department. My personal communications do not use "I" or "me"; they use "we" and "us," as in "we are pleased to announce details about a new program..."
This may seem like semantics, but language is important to me. I feel making this distinction helps change perceptions — namely, that the resources for learning and performance support in an organization go well beyond what any single person may be able to deliver on their own.
At a recent meeting of managers, one of the newly hired managers asked me who else was on my staff. I told him I had no direct reports, but that my team consisted of over 50 people in the organization. This confused the group a bit at first. When I explained that each and every supervisor is essentially an "authorized deputy" of the training department, it clicked for them. That's the reality.
Managers are Trainers, Whether they Know it or Not
Every manager that has a direct report in a learning and performance program is, in effect, a partner in that employee's learning and performance. They become part of the training department as soon as one of their employees participates in training.
So really, it's not a question of how many people appear as part of the training group within your company organization chart. It's a question of how many people in your organization realize their role includes support of learning and performance initiatives. If they understand and buy into that part of their role, then even a "department of one" can have an entire team supporting its efforts.
Even One-Person Training Departments Have Peer Groups
My primary advice to professionals working as a one-person department should also serve as a warning: If you look at yourself as a one-person department, you’re already behind the eight ball.
Networking is a necessity for the one-person training department. You need to network within your organization to make people aware of your value, and to give them opportunities to use you as a resource. At the same time, you also need to gauge the skills and willingness of your internal network as potential partners that you may be able to use as resources for the organization’s learning and performance initiatives. Internal networking is important, but it’s only half of the networking puzzle.
A person working as a one-person department must also network externally with learning and development peers outside the organization. This is important not only for your personal development, but it also benefits the organization as a whole. It’s easy to get comfortable in your own habits, and the habits of the organizational culture. Exposing yourself to the learning community at large helps a one-person department head keep his or her skills sharp, which helps increase the value they bring to their workplace.
More: What Angry Birds Can Teach Us About Instructional Design.
David Kelly is the director of training at Carver Federal Savings Bank and ember of the ASTD National Advisors for Chapters. He is also the author of the blog Misadventures in Learning, where he discusses the future of the learning field and curates the backchannel of learning conferences.
Image used via bit51.com.