Like many learning and development professionals, I have received numerous and continuous requests throughout my career for training on topics that, with just a little motivation and creativity, people could learn on their own. Without being too scientific about it, the most popular among these requests seem to be Microsoft Excel, conflict resolution, time management, business writing, and general tips for how to be more efficient on a computer.
We sometimes get caught up in addressing learning wants, not learning needs. In this Chief Learning Officer piece, Address Learning Needs, Not Wants, Dave DeFilippo and John Rogener address this very topic. In other words, sales managers say they need training for their people because closing rates are falling. An operations managers believes she needs Excel training because productivity is falling. A managing director requests that his managers attend conflict management training because he received a complaint from an analyst that his manager, "Just told me to stop worrying about those stupid little things and get back to work."
These are wants, not necessarily needs. Instead of focusing on how to find out what the needs are (you should read the Dave DeFilippo and John Rogener piece for that), I'd like to focus on our possible role in addressing the wants.
What If You Don't Address the Wants?
Organizations are expected to provide more and more of people's education needs. Employees are demanding it and expecting it. The problem is, an organization cannot possibly keep up with the demand, and do it in a cost efficient manner. Providing learning is expensive. On the other hand, the cost of not developing people is likely to be greater if you consider the costs of low performance, replacing people who leave, and the opportunity costs of missed opportunities.
The real solutions lie somewhere in the vicinity of turning the tables on who is responsible for learning. Of course, the learning organization should be responsible for the learning needs of the organization and the individual should be responsible for learning wants. Although the learning organization should not allocate resources to address learning wants, it can certainly help create an environment in which people can discover and address their own learning wants.
But I Need Excel Training
One should be honest in response to requests for learning wants and say, "We do not provide Excel training. However, here are some ways in which you can learn those skills. For example, here are some excellent links to YouTube videos. And, you should talk to Sandy. She is an Excel wizard. I bet if you asked her, she'd help you learn a few things." Perhaps then, you could provide this person a link to this Amy Gallo article on how to master new skills.
By offering alternatives to corporate-provided learning, you keep the door open and reinforce the culture of continuous learning in your organization. In other words, we need to address this issue by putting more responsibility on individuals to learn the skills they want in order to be more effective at work.