The problem-centered approach, the third learning and development dimension, is based on problem-solving; that is, being more effective at solving work-related problems. The focus of this approach is developing the employee’s ability to analyze and resolve problems at work. With more capable problem-solving skills, people can make better decisions on-the-job. The argument for using this learning method is the direct and indirect connection between problem-solving capacity and perfor?mance. The primary motive for investing in problem-centered learning is to improve the employee’s decision-making aptitude to cope with the escalating and unpredictable challenges they face in their work.
People are able to make better decisions in their day-to-day work if they have the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitude to deal with random problems, challenges, and dilemmas. Besides, with greater problemsolving capabilities, employees inevitably exercise greater autonomy in dealing with ambiguous issues affecting their work. This increased independence reduces the employee’s dependency on their supervisor.
Topics such as creative problem-solving techniques, research skills, or analysis of real world case studies are examples of problem-centered learning.
It remains a mystery to me why this approach isn’t more rampant in workplaces. When you consider the obvious relevance of problemsolving today, why isn’t there more of this type of learning? When it’s applied, this dimension of learning is based on the belief that by developing people’s problem-solving capacity, it stimulates faster and better decisions.
What’s more, you no doubt recognize problem-solving as one of the seven dimensions of organizational agility, which I covered in Chap. 3. And inevitably, quicker performance and better problem-solving will progress customer responsiveness; another core dimension of the Organizational Agility model. Apart from these obvious benefits, the more confident and self-sufficient someone is, the less the strain on their leader.
Like the other two dimensions of learning, the employee benefits from learning to problem-solve. Specifically, the incentive to learn better problem-solving skills is largely to be more autonomous. The employee is less reliant on their boss to make decisions affecting their work. You’ll recall that autonomy is one of three intrinsic motivational forces we discussed in Chap. 8. The capable employee—one who can solve a wider array of work problems—has more freedom and greater assurance to make decisions and choices. Learning to problem-solve also enhances a person’s employability prospects. Although slow to take hold—even with its obvious benefits—problem-centered learning experiences are gradually gaining prominence. The complex and less predictable working environment we face guarantee its ascendancy.
Where the rubber meets the road ...
Problem-centered learning in the bank
Julie—executive manager of learning and development for a large, well- known bank—was charged with the responsibility of revamping the bank's approach to inducting customer service representatives (CSRs) in retail banking services. After looking at the turnover rates and gathering information from a series of conversations she had with CSRs and their managers, she decided it was time to act.
From what she'd heard in these conversations, the bank had a challenge to reduce the high rates of turnover in CSRs in the first 12 weeks of their employment with the bank. Employees had told Julie in their conversations that they lacked confidence in their skills and product knowledge. Changing the learning approach in the induction program was the place to start, she concluded. Most of this training had in the past been too prescriptive and procedural and hadn't taken into account the ambiguous circumstances CSRs were often put in on the job.
From a learning perspective, the new approach enabled participants to better analyze situations and source information more effectively. This policy, supported by a continuous coaching component, involved a partnership between the participant, their branch manager, and a "buddy" who was an experienced CSR. With this support, participants were required to take ownership of their learning and complete a series of tasks. In addition, they worked with their branch manager to identify strengths and areas of improvement through daily check-ins, debriefs, and feedback sessions.
Collaborative learning occurs through the use of problem-based learning, simulations, and research. During the off-the-job learning periods, participants work in learning sets or groups and explore customer situations that they'd encounter in real life. They were encouraged to analyze the situation, explore how they would respond, and complete any customer transactions using simulations.
To date, the CSR induction program has been able to deliver an 8 per cent reduction in voluntary turnover in the first six months of its inception.4
The problem-centered approach should be jointly considered and applied with the person- and job-centered perspectives. In the working environment we participate in, the ability to think laterally, creatively, and flexibly is paramount. Intense global competition puts pressure on treating every customer’s request as exclusively as possible. This entails abandoning stock standard problem-solving approaches that frustrate the fickle customer. Being able to take an extraordinary situation and deal with it proficiently is a skills-set that benefits everyone: the customer, employee, and company.
The myth that a technically superior workforce is a pathway to a high-performing business overrates job-centered training and underrates person-centered and problem-centered learning. While personal development and problem-solving are well establish dimensions of learning, I think—as I alluded to earlier—they account for less than 20 per cent of learning and development expenditure. Which means, of course, that 80 per cent of many enterprise budgets are devoted to job-centered learning. Yet being agile depends, to a large extent, on non-job role performance (Chap. 6). It also relies upon the ability to solve problems quickly and successfully for the customer (Chap. 5). So my recommendation is to shift from a narrow job-centered focus to a multi-dimensional learning approach. Doing so, utilizes the strengths of all three dimensions of development.