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Insights Newsletter: March 2014

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"The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery." 

 Mark Van Doren, poet

Training & Development

Training and development (T&D) encompasses a wide range of disciplines focused on enhancing peoples’ knowledge, skills and attitudes to generate improved individual performance in current and future areas of responsibility.  It includes elements dealing with competency description, needs analysis, curriculum design, content delivery and learning assessment as well as coaching, mentoring and experiential learning techniquesWhile training and development as a combined discipline is only one of several functions that have significant impacts on organizational performance see performance consulting.  It is certainly a basic and fundamental one.  Regardless of its business focus, with few exceptions, an organization’s effectiveness is usually directly related to the capabilities and attitudes of its workers.  In today’s chaotic business environment, the effectiveness with which an organization can instill essential knowledge and skills in its workforce and the degree to which it can favorably impact its employee’s attitudes can be critical factors for its success. In some organizations, the ability to prepare its people at all levels to effectively meet the challenges of their work responsibilities has actually been elevated to a competitive advantage.

At Symbiont Performance Group, we view training and development as complementary elements in developing people—two sides of the same coin so to speak.  Training has to do with initiatives intended to prepare an individual to perform specific tasks relating to current job responsibilities.  Development comprises initiatives aimed at preparing individuals for future roles and responsibilities.  Both training and developmental activities are important for sustained organizational effectiveness

Knowledge – Skills – Attitudes  
Knowledge can be defined as the potential to apply information for some purpose. It represents the intellectual framework supporting a person’s performance. While the imparting of knowledge for its own sake is not a primary focus, it is an essential element of T&D initiatives because knowing what to do, how to do It and when to do it is the foundation for performance improvement.

A skill represents a proficiency in applying knowledge in the performance of an activity.  Skill development evolves over time through a process in which a learner continually applies new knowledge to performance behaviors and adjusts to feedback. Since skills can only be developed through active learner participation in a “trial and error” approach, structured “practice” should be an essential component of any T&D effort.

An attitude is a collection of beliefs, feelings and values that impact a person’s behavior.  Unlike knowledge and skills, attitudes cannot be created or developed, but they can be changed through targeted T&D interventions.  Approaches to changing attitudes can include:       

  •  making new or previously unavailable information available   
  •  increasing  individual responsibility for organizational success
  • conveying the consequences of current attitudes (positively and tactfully)
  • expressing concern and consideration for personal well-being
  • providing opportunities for the safe expression of thoughts and beliefs

Explicit Knowledge vs. Tacit Knowledge 
A useful distinction to make in a discussion of training and development is that of the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge. In this context we can apply the word “knowledge” to also include skills and to a large extent, attitudes as well.  Explicit knowledge is formal knowledge that can be put into words and written down, stored on a database and easily shared with others.  It is knowledge that transmitted in face-to-face communication, through manuals and by electronic media. Tacit knowledge is hard and fast with little room for nuances or personal interpretation.  An example of explicit knowledge would be knowing how to install and operate a computer software program.

Tacit (implicit) knowledge is informal knowledge that one acquires on the job or in everyday situations rather than through formal instruction. It is practical know-how that one gains on his or her own and is difficult to put into words or define even by those who possess and exhibit such knowledge.  It is usually unspoken and conveyed in an indirect manner and does not easily lend itself to be shared through traditional training programs. An individual’s leadership ability could be based to a very large extent on personal experience and would be difficult to train in a formal a structured manner to another who did not have the benefit of such experience see knowledge management.

Knowledge & Skills Hierarchy
Knowledge and skills capabilities can be categorized into four levels:

Non-conscious incompetence -  At this level a person is knows he lacks the set of knowledge and skills to necessary to perform a task, but is not clearly aware of the specific capabilities required.  In other words a person “doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”  This condition would apply to someone who encounters a computer for the first time and is expected to use it to create and send a memo.  The person knows he can’t perform such a task but isn’t aware of what must be learned to be able to do it.

Conscious incompetence - A person at this level still lacks the necessary knowledge and skill to perform a task, but is at least aware of what needs to be learned.  In the case of the hypothetical computer novice he would know that among other things, he must learn how to do turn the computer on and off, install and operate software and use email. Such an individual can be said to “know what he doesn’t know.”

Conscious competence - As one learns how to operate a computer, he begins to develop the necessary knowledge and skills to accomplish specific tasks.  However, since this is newly acquired knowledge, each task requires conscious thought in order to be completed correctly and the computer operator at this level is very much aware of each step taken.  To type a capital letter for example, the operator would have to think about and deliberately press the shift key to accomplish this task.  This is “conscious competence.”

Non-conscious competence - After an operator has repeated the basics steps for using a computer many times over, conscious thought becomes less and less necessary.  The steps become automatic. To create spaces between words in a document, the operator doesn’t consciously think about pressing the space bar any more each time a new word is started. Through practice more and more of computer operation becomes automatic, and because conscious thought is no longer required for each step, we can refer to such a learner as being “non-consciously competent.”


The function of training is the development of relevant knowledge, skills and attitudes in individuals to prepare them to effectively perform a specific task or set of tasks. Training usually imparts basic, foundational knowledge necessary to bring learners up to a minimal performance competency level.  Training usually involves a formalized curriculum and a structured learning environment and can be applied to an unlimited range of disciplines to prepare individuals to effectively carry out job responsibilities, facilitate the accomplishment of personal performance goals and to prevent and solve problems.  Training initiatives fall into the realm of explicit knowledge.  

To be effective, training initiatives should be straightforward, well-organized and have planned curriculums with clear expectations. Such programs can be systematically implemented throughout an organization, and it would be reasonable to expect that the training content would be adopted in a uniform and consistent manner by all learners who were exposed to it. Workforce training whether provided by an employer or acquired independently by an employee is clearly required for all but the most basic of job tasks. 

In most successful organizations, training is ongoing with organization members systematically exposed to continual knowledge, skill and attitude training initiative to increase individual effectiveness leading to enhanced organizational productivity.  Ideally, such training programs are accompanied by continual developmental initiatives including coaching and mentoring along with other developmental interventions. Such an approach to employee development has the power to provide employees not only with improved capabilities to perform their current responsibilities, but also prepares them for future roles and challenges. 

Training in organizations is often improperly designed and ineffectively applied.  When training is not designed to address recognized, clearly defined performance improvement opportunities, trainees tend to discount its relevance and little if any change will occur in their performance. As a result resources are wasted and the needs of the organization, trainees or both are not met. Organizations quickly tire of training that cannot demonstrate value in the form of a profitable return on investment.

Effective training must factor in not only the of the "learning opportunity " sponsor; it must also be designed and delivered with the needs and expectations of he learners in mind. Such factors as learner motivation, participant learning styles and the learning climate of the organization also need to be considered. Training initiatives should also include components for reinforcing and solidifying learning since a significant amount will be quickly forgotten if preventative steps are not employed more about learning retentionA well-structured training program can significantly increase an organization’s return on its employee’s business activities and pay for itself many times over in increased productivity.

An effective training program development consists of the following six basic phases:

  • Competency description – defining what the desired performance should look like
  • Needs analysis – identifying the gaps between current and desired performance
  • Curriculum design  – identifying the specific elements of the training
  • Content development  – creating the training content
  • Training implementation – delivering the training.
  • Learning Evaluation – assessing the effectiveness of the training


Development initiatives center on enhancing capabilities associated with current roles as well as preparing people for future responsibilities. As with training, there is a focus on positive change in knowledge and skills, but unlike training where the emphasis is usually on well-organized, short-term learning opportunities with specific, immediate outcomes, development centers on more gradual, less-structured, experience-based learning over time. While the approach of development is more long-term than that of training, the objectives of both disciplines need to be specific and based on accepted, recognized performance improvement needs. Developmental programs are sometimes better suited to changing attitudes than training because they can leverage the advantages that time, experience and exposure to organizational culture can convey.

Development activities are usually experiential and include hands-on exposure to situations that require and/or demonstrate the kinds of enhanced knowledge, skills and attitudes for which an individual is being developed. Such activities also  include contact with individuals who currently exhibit those attributes.   Development activities can be effective vehicles for the  transfer of tacit knowledge since this kind of knowledge cannot usually be effectively trained.  Effective development methods include coaching, internships, participation in teams and mentoring.

Training and development initiatives serve as major vehicles for knowledge and skill creation and for attitude change but they are not the only methods available to organizations. There are also many other channels through which knowledge and skills can be captured, shared, retained and leveraged see knowledge management.

Why choose  Symbiont as your "training & development " partner?

Contact us to discuss your organization's Training & Development needs.

860-283-9963 |



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