4 – ‘Public service spendathon is destined to increase emotional intelligence’ The Age, 4 January 2015

This article caught my attention. Apparently spending by Australian government departments on emotional intelligence, lean thinking, clear conversations, transformational leadership, yoga, and building resilient teams is seen by some as ‘dubious’ training exercises and potentially a form of waste.

I am not sure that these training courses will provide a return to the Australian government but they are typical of the training being provided in local government today. The investment in people seems to be driven by the belief that this is where the public service performance problem, and its solution, lies. There seems to be a common search for new ways to help move employees towards different ways of thinking and behaving at work.

Much of the training I have witnessed in recent years has focussed on awareness of self, leadership, communication, and team work. The primary focus is on the individual and their skills. In some ways, it is almost an employee benefit of working in the local government. Indeed, some councils compete for staff on the basis of training and development opportunities available. The questions I want to ask are what is the specific benefit to the organisation from the training, and is the return on the investment in training being measured?

In a nutshell, what impact is the training having on performance?

This is a good question when much of the training is high level and relatively conceptual. It is provided almost as an act of faith – train them and they will improve. When the training becomes more practical, it is often not in the systems or processes used by the organisation to produce outputs. I would argue that the effort to understand, document and improve processes will yield more benefit than training for most councils. Once this has been done, training will make sense and be less likely to be seen as dubious or a waste of money.

Colin Weatherby