Be more Plato

by Tim Kiek
13 Feb 2018
Be more Plato

This issue contains something of a rarity: a training company debating the worth of training. Whatever next? Donald Trump doubting the value of Twitter as a mass communication tool? Lewis Hamilton wondering if it isn’t just the slightest bit rum to claim to be a ’proud Brit’ at the same time as enjoying non-domiciled status in the tax havens of Monaco and Switzerland? Ed Sheeran questioning his ability to pen an endless supply of indistinguishably saccharine love songs?

The company to whom I allude is magazine regular RTS Group, and its latest contribution (pages 24-26) should be commended for taking a nuanced and analytical look at an area which tends to rely more on dogma than nuance. The default position – the more training the better – is the doctrine which the article cogently repudiates, arguing that unless training can be shown to accrue tangible benefit then, in almost all cases, it can be filed away as ‘extraneous’.

RTS is absolutely correct: in the context of running a business the end goal of all training should be to help the staff being trained become better at their jobs, which in turn should help the business become more profitable. Consideration of purpose and goal have been rather peripheralized in modern business mores, a paradigm which is manifestly detrimental to performance.

With this in mind, businesses would be wise to become familiar with the concept of teleology – the branch of philosophy concerned with final outcomes. In the context of teleological thinking, the telos (meaning the ‘end’, to cite the Ancient Greek etymology of the word) is all important – and one doesn’t have to possess copious quantities of business acumen to deduce that the ultimate telos of any business is to make money!

By using a teleological approach, training can be circumscribed to the provably beneficial; it might also help in other areas of business management too. If decision-making always has the telos in mind, then that decision-making becomes a far more purposeful and focused exercise. It is all too easy to be beguiled by practices and customs which have become the norm but in reality are either ineffectual or inimical to the telos. An absence of teleological thinking entails such evils as innumerable pointless meetings, hordes of parasitic consultants and, to return to the training theme, training which does little for your employees other than to obviate the need for them to bring in their own lunch on the day.

Please don’t misinterpret my argument as a flippant disavowal of training; the importance of training is incontestable; the IMI’s mission is to ensure that all those working in the motor industry are qualified to do so and this can only be achieved through training. The IMI also moderates the standard of training provision so you know that if a course has been IMI-assured it is of the requisite quality. But what the IMI can’t do is to guarantee that businesses utilise the training that best helps them and their employees. When I was employed at a previous company I once went on a two-day training course which had absolutely no relevance to me or, indeed, any of the other attendees. If this training was to be judged in teleological terms then the telos of the training was a very well remunerated trainer and a raft of very well fed delegates – and not much else. This was an unacceptable outcome; paying for the delivery of such superfluous training represented less of a sound investment and more of a charitable donation!

Avoid this situation by inuring yourself to the pervasive seductions of managerialism through 'being more Plato': judge everything you do by its telos.

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Wendy Hennessey

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