Putting Credibility Back Into Training and Professional Development
In Western Australia, a state recognised for its innovation and creativity, one sector that has managed to avoid much change over the past 20 years has been the training and professional development industry. Here the clock seems to have stood still with a plethora of suppliers, courses and programs all seemingly offering much the same thing. For sure, in times of boom and generous training budgets, it’s been a feeding frenzy for large and small providers alike where for clients, finding the available time has often been the only barrier to self-improvement and gaining better skills for success and increased productivity.
But something is fundamentally wrong with traditional non-technical or ‘soft skills’ development. There has been no innovation, no real challenge in the content or delivery, and as a result, there’s often been little if any change in the subsequent performance of participants. As a consequence, more and more businesses have come to see training as a large black hole in their budget where any ROI is difficult to identify let alone have any tangible feel to it. Companies may do some cosmetic tweaking, but most are still trying to put lipstick on what is clearly a pig.
Firefox Academy seeks to introduce a real alternative to a moribund and impotent training industry. Academy Director, Nick Sutton admits to turning from poacher to gamekeeper in order to deliver what he sees as the future of performance skills training. Perhaps trading on his own military past, Nick sees the need for training to be demanding, challenging and confronting if it is to have any real value or deliver positive and lasting change. Perhaps that’s why he so dislikes the ‘soft skills’ label.
‘Business is tough’, he says, and therefore training for success in business needs to be tough too. It needs to push people out of their comfort zone and the performance bubble they’ve often lived in for years. Too much soft skill development is just that - ‘soft’. It’s bland, it’s pitched too low and it’s often delivered in a very pedestrian and ‘safe’ fashion. Nobody wants to put anybody on the spot these days. Everyone's performance is deemed to be ‘fine’, OK’ or even ‘great.’ Few however are actually willing to tell it like it is, or give tough and critical feedback. In a tough market environment people need to understand that being 'OK' isn’t good enough.
Raising The Bar – Pushing Back Boundaries
Against this background, Firefox Academy has deliberately set out to be a disruptive force within the traditional training sector in Perth. ‘For us it was never going to be about just offering more of the same’ says Nick Sutton. ‘We wanted to offer Perth business a fully-loaded package that provided the depth, and most importantly, quality and the results that participants actually wanted. In short, we needed to raise the bar’.
To that end, the Academy firstly constrained itself to focus upon just 3 key areas: Leadership, Communication and Business Development. ‘We were never going to be about offering dozens of courses that were a mile wide and an inch deep’ says Sutton. We’re very focused on our core market of leaders, achievers and rising stars. To that end, the only programs Firefox deliver are those relevant to people working at the sharp end of their business: e.g. those in leadership roles, those who are client or people-facing, and those who have to go out and win business against tough competition. More often than not, we find our clients have responsibilities across all three of these areas'.
Understand It, Test It, Embrace It
Apart from being too soft and ineffectual, too much training never gets properly tested. As a result, whilst the course participants may see new skills and approaches as being entirely robust and practical, without putting them to the test they will quickly revert back to their comfort zone and their old ways of doing things. Like the golf pro who tells you to hold your club in a different way, there is a huge reluctance to do so once he’s walked away and you’re back on your own again. This is a failure to achieve behavioural change.
The Academy, aware of this need, went about recruiting a pool of ‘Dragons’ – senior and successful business leaders drawn from across the Perth business community. The ‘Dragons’ now join in with Academy programs to provide a live and totally realistic audience to role-play the part of clients, stakeholders or Board members etc. ‘They make you test and prove that ‘new grip’ on the club. You see and feel the ball fly further, straighter and on towards its target’. The Q&A that follows is demanding, delving and occasionally confrontational, but the subsequent feedback, advice and direction serves to reinforce learning, increase confidence and above all, embed the necessary performance change. As a result Academy clients do change, they do use the new skills and they do get better results.
A Fully Loaded Package
With Academy clients automatically becoming members of the Academy Alumni they are immediately exposed to a meaningful network of like-mined business people who are genuinely interested in helping, guiding and referring. High quality events produced by the Academy provide an outstanding opportunity to meet with business leaders and listen to and discuss key business issues of the day. the Academy’s ‘Star Chamber’ links individuals to a network of career professionals who can assist, advise and mentor Academy alumni in their career track and progression.
Overall the Academy has set out to be the ‘argent provocateur’ to shake up the training and development industry. It now offers Perth businesses a real opportunity to access frequent, high quality and transformational training that actually makes a difference.