in-house professional training development

What does good professional training and development look like?

Professional Training and Development in Context

A simple way of thinking about professional training and development in the workplace is in support of formal learning, while some ‘learning to learn’ skills may also help with informal learning which happens in normal daily life. Developing knowledge in an organisation requires formal and informal learning approaches to be integrated because neither will enable knowledge to be acquired if it is the only approach taken.  Therefore, the first conclusion is that formal corporate training and development should consider informal learning as both a predecessor to and successor of any formal intervention.

Formal learning

Formal learning activities have the goal and process of learning defined by the organisation. Also, it occurs in the work context to develop peoples’ skills and knowledge through a structured programme of lectures, discussions, simulations, role plays and other instructional activities.  The training is planned and directed by a professional trainer, which might seem a good thing, but a key criticism of this formality is that it occurs outside the context of daily practice.

Informal learning

Informal learning is the most prevalent form of workplace learning, integrated with daily work routines, triggered by an internal or external stimulus, maybe unconsciously, and can be both haphazard and influenced by chance.  More strictly, it is an inductive process of reflection and action linked to learning with others.

in-house business process mapping training workshop

CBMSc in-house process mapping

Formal professional training and development

Another important factor in professional training is that it applies to an adult audience. However, the literature is not complete or consistent in defining good practice.

A partial list includes:

  • Sensory stimulation theory
  • Reinforcement theory
  • Cognitive-Gestalt approaches
  • Holistic learning theory
  • Facilitation theory
  • Experiential learning
  • Action learning
  • Adult learning (Andragogy)

Current practice in much professional training and development draws on many of these areas.  For example, facilitation theory underpins much of the corporate training in developed economies by proposing that learning occurs through the trainer acting as a facilitator, establishing an atmosphere in which learners feel comfortable considering new ideas, recognising there is often resistance to changing currently held ideas, assumptions and preferences.  Reinforcement theory supports the common practice of awarding certificates of completion.  The evidence base for learning styles is not solid, but most professional training involves a mixture of activities that address preferences for learning based on Kolb’s research findings that adults learn in four ways through:

  • experience
  • observation and reflection
  • abstract conceptualisation
  • active experimentation

This post doesn’t have the space to discuss the ideas around learners emotional responses, but the influence of external factors on learners emotional states is important and their experiences will shape their openness or hostility to different learning activities.  For example, while some people enjoy role plays, others find them incredibly stressful and disturbing.

Research base

Some of the research in the field is low quality, so there is more work to do.  However, reputable sources do exist and they offer some guidelines that can be applied.  Consequently, we use these in designing and developing CBMSc training services.

For example, there are five key principles for adult training that say it should be:

  • immediately useful
  • relevant
  • welcoming
  • engaging
  • respectful

Knowles has done most in recent years to highlight the importance of understanding how adult learning differs from approaches for children.  His ideas support the five principles above by suggesting that adults:

  • Bring a lot of experience that trainers can use as a resource.
  • Expect to influence what they learn, how they are educated, and how they will be evaluated.
  • Respond to active participation, which should be included in the design and delivery of education.
  • Need to be able to see applications for new learning.
  • Need their responses to be acted upon when asked for feedback.


There is more to learn about the most effective methods for professional training and development.  However, for now, some key points to consider are:

  • Formal training and development is only ever a brief interruption to a constant process of informal learning and try to integrate with this.
  • There should be a clear goal and process
  • Trainers should act as facilitators more than teachers
  • Development should contain a mix of approaches leading to relevant, practical and actionable results
  • Treat everyone with respect

And finally, the main omission from the literature, from our perspective, is the importance of evidence-based content.  There have been some promising initiatives in the airline industry which seems to be taking a lead in upgrading their training to be more evidence-based, and the CIPD is also showing leadership in this area.  We need more safety-critical industries to follow the air transport industry lead, as well as other professional institutions to emulate CIPD.

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Improvement or optimisation?

What’s the difference between improvement and optimisation?


“What’s the difference between improvement and optimisation?”.  This is a question I was asked by a Six Sigma Master Black Belt during a recent Business Process Improvement course. They said their managers seemed to use the words ‘improve’ and ‘optimise’ (or ‘optimize’ for our U.S. friends) to mean the same thing.

It is a good question. One of the common problems in organisations is the misuse of language. For example, a simple idea, tactic or plan can sound much more impressive if you describe it as a ‘strategy’.

Here’s the answer I gave, and it seemed to satisfy the questioner, but please feel free to challenge in the comments. I hope there may be better answers:

Improvement or Optimisation?

Improvement generally refers to trying to make something better. It is an action of some sort, either a single initiative in the form of a project, or it can refer to the continuous improvement of a process.

Within any improvement, there will be choices.  For example, if you are working on sales processes, an aim may be to increase revenue. In a not-for-profit organisation, the equivalent goal might be to achieve an increase in funding.  However, in order to do that it may become apparent that it requires an increase in cost.  In this case, the better aim might be to maximise profit.  In doing so, the work might reveal an optimum cost level for any given revenue that will deliver this.  So, improvement can deliver optimisation, as either an immediate output or maybe a long-term outcome. The improvement activity delivers the optimisation.  Therefore, the terms are not equivalent.

For most organisations, an important aim is usually to increase revenue (or funding).  This is often a target for Sales teams,  for example, but it is not a great choice of goal.    If you step back and consider the bigger picture, the reason for wanting to increase revenue is normally to increase profit. and, therefore, increase the return on investment (ROI).  Increasing profit and ROI result from increasing revenue at a faster rate than the associated costs.

The problem is that most revenue increases require higher related costs.  Typically these will be ‘costs of sale’ or variable costs, but in some cases, this will also require an increase in fixed costs.  So, a better aim might be to increase revenue with a minimum cost increase.  As a result, the profit and, therefore, the ROI will increase as much as possible. An increase in revenue that causes an associated reduction in profit, profit margin, or return on investment, is clearly an increase that is not worth pursuing.

Improvement or optimisation?

More than 100%

This leads on to settings the right goals and targets, which is a bigger topic that we will cover in a separate post.  In theory, the sales example is quite simple.  To greatest return, sales targets should be based on net profit.  However, most organisations use the revenue.  Why is this?  In some cases, it will be because of precedent which is an aspect of the “that is how we have always done it” mindset.  However, there are organisations that have tried to move from revenue-based sales targets to using profit, but it isn’t simple.  Revenue is fairly easy to establish.  It is usually defined in the sales agreement.  However, profit is more complex.  While direct costs may be relatively easy to identify, variable costs might not become clear until time has passed.  There are also debates about the best way to allocate overheads.

In this sales example, it may be that the best compromise might be to use analytics to try to identify some correlation between eventual profit and another variable such as the specific product, service or market involved.  Once the relationship has been identified, the compensation can be varied even though it is still linked directly to revenue.


An increase in revenue, funding, or delivery is only an improvement if the associated costs increase at a lower rate.  Delivering the maximum increase for the lowest associated cost is the definition of optimisation.  Understanding the difference between improvement and optimisation is important in many areas, not just operations management.  Being clear about this distinction plus what your real goals are can also help with choosing the right measures and setting the right targets.  The goals, measures and targets that managers use to assess performance will drive behaviours. Driving maximisation when what is needed is optimisation can lead to bad results.

Improvement or optimisation?

LinkedIn and Bad Science

Bad Science

I’m more aware of bad science than ever since reading Ben Goldacre’s book of the same name a few years ago. Familiarity bias and proximity bias no doubt!.  So, another day, and another LinkedIn post from a well-meaning consultant using “science” to support their argument. This post links to a YouTube video about business leadership.  It makes a perfectly reasonable point about how much interconnectedness there is in the world. The author could support their argument using ideas from Systems Thinking, for example.  However, they invoke, and then mangle, the idea of entanglement from quantum mechanics; a favourite subject for purveyors of woo.

Quantum confusion

Entanglement states that the way sub-atomic particles interact means their quantum state cannot be described independently regardless of physical location. In other words, a change in the spin of one entangled particle will be replicated in the other no matter how many light years separate them.    Now, this might be OK if the entanglement of quantum theory was limited to an analogy, but we are urged to believe that this long-distance connection between sub-atomic particles explains some mystical connection between all humans.  Why? Well, according to the author it is because, of course, we are all made of atoms!

Logically, this is the equivalent of stating that humans must be born from clouds because we mostly consist of water and, you guessed it, water comes from clouds too!

Scientific method

The principles of the scientific method are to test hypotheses to find out if they stand up.  The assumption is that most hypotheses will be replaced by better ones as we learn more. Sometimes they withstand testing and experiment sufficiently well to become a theory that provides a robust explanation of something significant.  A good example is the theory of evolution.  Non-Scientists often misunderstand the meaning of the word theory in a scientific context.  The misunderstanding is given away by statements such as: “Evolution? It’s only a theory”.

Free speech is important so, by all means, everyone should be free to post any idea that crosses their mind.   However, if you don’t understand the science you want to cite, please remember the quote from Chris Morris’s excellent “Brass Eye” TV series: “…there’s no evidence for it, but it’s a scientific fact”.  At least then we’d know you were only joking even if you are unaware yourself.


management and leadership commission

The Commission on the Future of Management and Leadership

Houses of Parliament


The UK Commission on the Future of Management and Leadership was set up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on management in conjunction with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). The creation of a parliamentary commission indicates that the UK government believe that high-quality management and leadership in the private and public sectors are important for the future prosperity of the country.

Today they publish their report: “MANAGEMENT 2020: Leadership For Long-Term Growth” which provides the basis for a new campaign for a Better Managed Britain, which Cambridge Management Sciences are happy to support and promote.

Open letter

The Commission has published an open letter to the press expressing their support for the CMI campaign for a Better Managed Britain:

“Dear Sirs
Over recent months, the need to rebuild trust in business and public services has been widely discussed. But a core debate which too often gets overlooked is the quality of UK’s leadership and management.
Are UK’s managers short-sighted and too focused on the near-term, or long-term, growth visionaries? As the Commission on the Future of Management and Leadership makes clear, we are at a tipping point.
We need to raise our sights to a longer-term global agenda.
Those who cut costs and overheads seem to earn more respect for such hard-nosed decisions than those who take the riskier, more innovative paths that lead to growth in revenue, jobs and profits. This approach infects the public sector and social enterprises too when financial targets are put before service delivery and creating social value.
Whilst cost and profit are important we need management to create value for all stakeholders: shareholders, society and staff alike. Our future prosperity and global competitiveness depend on this. So today, we are supporting the launch of CMI’s campaign for a Better Managed Britain.
For a Better Managed Britain, organisations need to focus on three critical areas: Purpose, People, and
Boards must refocus on their organisation’s longer-term purpose, beyond just making money or meeting targets – and to set measurable commitments to customers, suppliers, employees, communities, and the environment, as well as to investors.
We need managers who inspire and support their teams to succeed. Managers who are recruited not only
because of technical skills but because they have the right attitudes, values and ethics. Managers who are assessed and paid not only on their results but on how they got them.
We need to focus on the long-term over the urgent distractions of the short-term. We must build for the future,
by supporting our education system through providing access to the world of work, by training, mentoring and nurturing new managers and leaders.
Today we are calling on those responsible for leading businesses, public services and third sector enterprises
to start with an honest self-appraisal of their Purpose, People and Potential, identify where they could make improvements, and take action to do so.
Together we will create a better Managed Britain with long-term sustainable growth for the benefit of all.


Steve McGrady, Managing Director of Cambridge Management Sciences (CBMSc), and a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute is a co-signatory of the open letter.  “I am pleased to be able to demonstrate our support for this campaign”, said Mr McGrady, “it is important to highlight that organisations should focus on their long-term commitments to all stakeholders and move away from over-emphasising cutting costs to increase profits and shareholder returns.”  CBMSc provide training and consultancy to help organisations increase their effectiveness and efficiency through the application of evidence-based methods and tools.

Board room table

Corporate governance reform needed

Corporate governance has been reformed and improved, but recent evidence suggests there is more still  to do.

Financial Services

As Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC join Barclays in the rogues gallery of banks that have suffered severe failures of corporate governance, the reputation of commercial banks can, surely, only be recovered through fundamental reform of corporate governance rules, and the associated regulatory bodies for the financial services industry.

Other industries

Today’s revelation that Oracle Software will pay $2m (£1.27m) to settle federal civil charges of failing to prevent secret payments in its Indian sales operation and the recent fiasco here in the UK surrounding the inability of G4S to fulfil its contractual obligations to give security for the Olympic Games suggests that corporate governance issues extend to businesses in other industries beyond financial services.

Corporate governance regulation and culture

There have been number of actions in recent years that should have improved things. In the UK, for example, there have been changes to the regulatory bodies responsible for financial services, but the evidence suggests that there are too many cases of the FSA having to ‘cure’ problems and not having prevented the problems in the first place.
Our consulting experience tells us that, in many cases of systems failure, the cause can be attributed to lack of commitment of people to, in this case, the regulatory regime and, therefore, the principles underpinning it.
Cleaning up the behaviour of people inside businesses requires significant change to the culture of many corporations. The culture is informed by the values which, in young, small firms are set by the founder and in large, more mature corporations are set by the Board. In both cases, the existence of a culture that allows, or in extreme cases, condones bad practice is a failure of leadership.
Reinforcement of the standards expected by society can be addressed, at least partly, by fines and regulation. In this case, the failure of regulation could also be a failure of leadership which, in this case, means political leadership. However, as the financial and political strength of corporations grows alongside their international reach, political failings aren’t always attributable to political leaders. In many countries the ability of national regulation to control global businesses is severely limited.  This is often due to the relative political and economic weakness of small nation states relative to large, global corporations.
If we take banking as a defined segment of the financial services market, it might be time for national governments to recognise that co-operation towards a unified international corporate governance framework of principles, regulation and enforcement backed up by co-ordinated action from national governments is overdue.

Sustainable profit

Tim Cook told climate-change denying investors to sell their Apple stock

In the same week that Apple CEO Tim Cook told climate-change denying investors to sell their Apple stock, strategic advisors lavery/pennell publish an interesting, and challenging, report.  They suggest that a new, sustainable profit model for industry has emerged.  The report estimates it to be worth €100bn in additional profits for European companies. This approach also has the potential benefit of creating 168,000 new jobs and, most importantly, a 14.6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable profit model

The new model is a response to today’s business challenges involving three stages:

1) Improve non-labour resource efficiency.
2) Reinvest some of these efficiency savings in sustainable inputs (materials & renewable energy).
3) Develop innovative new products and grow market share.

The report cites a carpet tile manufacturer (Interface) as evidence of the success of this approach. The company has cut its energy use by 40 percent since 1996. They also recycle 43 percent of their raw materials.  It has reduced its emissions of carbon dioxide by 90 percent, sends zero waste to landfill, and recycles all its water. As a result, Interface is now the largest carpet tile company in the world, with revenues of $1 billion.

Strategic implications

Large corporations, such as Unilever, are also pursuing a goal of delivering sustainable profit, but there seems to be a long way to go.  Our strategy courses explore Richard Rumelt’s contention that ‘bad strategy’ is often no more than a set of, what he describes as, vaporous goals.  Our strategy consulting practice builds on his ideas to help organisations focus and coordinate their policies and actions on their biggest challenge, which is a good way of developing ‘good strategy’.  Organisations that are serious about achieving sustainable profit must put this goal above all others if they want to succeed.

Intuitively, this kind of approach makes sense, but intuition is a bad guide when faced with important decisions.  This report is a valuable contribution to building an evidence base.  It helps demonstrate the value that well-planned and executed ‘green’ initiatives can have.  The benefits will be felt by people and the environment.  The interesting incentive is that they might also build business models that can deliver sustainable profit.  This is an area that needs more evidence to help inform public policy as governments struggle to reconcile the need for long-term investments with demands for immediate fixes.

strategy science - promising new journal



As a consultancy practice that uses Management Sciences methods we have an interest in the more specific area of strategy science.  We, therefore, like the section in the book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The difference and why it matters by Richard Rumelt that describes how we naturally adopt a scientific approach to strategy.  This doesn’t appear to be a widely held view, although we use it in our practice.  So, it is interesting to see that the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) Board of Directors has approved the creation of a new journal called Strategy Science.

Strategy Science: the journal

This new publication is being launched under the leadership of Daniel Levinthal from The Wharton School. It will publish outstanding research directed to the challenges of strategic management in both business and non-business organisations.

The subjects will range from relatively macro-level concerns of industry dynamics and the institutional context in which organisations operate to more organizational-level focused work, such as processes of organizational change, and work that links the organization to its external context, such as questions of firm boundaries and strategic positioning.

The journal will be open to a variety of disciplinary approaches including economics, operations research, political science, psychology, and sociology providing the work enhances meaningful understanding of substantive issues in the strategy domain. The journal encourages authors to take chances to produce work that pushes the field forward.

This is encouraging.  Strategy and Management Science are broad disciplines.  They are also relatively young areas for academic study, so a broad scope is helpful in finding what works as academia in conjunction with practitioners develop the body of knowledge.

The first issue is scheduled to be published in 2015. For more information see the submission guidelines at

We welcome this new journal and look forward to finding out what insights it will give.

Lazy Management development

Lazy Management development

Body language is often included as part of management development programmes.  It’s easy to see why.  Telling people that crossed arms indicate resistance to what you are saying seem reasonable based on ‘common sense’.  However, as with many favourite topics on training courses, the evidence to support a lot of this stuff is either flimsy or non-existent.

The problem for management development

An excellent April 2013 New Scientist article “Lost in translation: Body language myths and reality“, by Caroline Williams, highlights a number of myths about “reading” body language.  Sadly, many of these myths are presented as ‘facts’ in management training and development programmes.  The giveaway is that they are presented with no evidence to support them. This lazy repetition of assertions that make the trainer sound insightful or that are simply attractive sound bites is bad practice and could cause damage by perpetuating myths that are either untrue or,at best, half-truths.

An example

For example, how many trainers involved in management development will admit to repeating one of the canards cited in the article rather than checking the evidence first.  Maybe you have heard it or used it yourself.  The assertion is that 93 per cent of our communication is non-verbal, and only 7 per cent is based on what we actually say. This figure came from research conducted over 40 years ago by Albert Mehrabian, a social psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. He found that if the unspoken message conveyed by tone of voice and facial expression differed from the word being used (for example, saying the word “brute” in a positive tone and with a smile), people tended to believe the non-verbal cues over the word itself. From these experiments Mehrabian calculated that perhaps only 7 per cent of the emotional message comes from the words we use, with 38 per cent coming from tone of voice, and 55 per cent from other non-verbal cues.

The source of the myth

The article explains that Mehrabian has spent much of his time in the past forty years explaining that he never meant this formula to be generalised, and that it only applies to very specific circumstances — when someone is talking about their likes and dislikes. Mehrabian claims that “unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable” and so the oldest stat in the body language book isn’t quite what it seems. As Williams points out, if we really can understand 93 per cent of what people mean without using words, we don’t need to learn foreign languages and we would never get away with telling a lie.

Needless to say, we believe this is another reason to support the value of evidence-based training as part of management development.