By Werner Erhard
THE ATLANTA CONSTITUTION
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 11, 1989
SAUSALITO, Calif. - Jobs, a healthy economy and an improving quality of life
are high priorities for Americans in the 90's. Our ability to achieve these goals
will depend in no small measure on an effective response by American
businesses to tough new challenges - a shrinking work force, rapid
technological advances, rising global competition and a cultural diversity in our
work force unlike any we've seen in the past.
These challenges have already placed unfamiliar and critical demands on
employers and employees alike. Already, we face a growing need to develop
entry-level skills among workers from an ever greater range of educational
backgrounds, ethnic traditions and abilities. As technologies change, we also
need to retrain and re-educate even skilled and experienced workers to enable
them to keep pace with new methods and new demands.
Businesses that flourish and excel in the years ahead will be those that
recognize employees as one of the key variables in building a competitive edge.
Most businesses have policies and programs to promote the training of
employees; and most employees view such training as a pathway to
advancement and success. Yet, the notion that advancement depends on
training has, in many cases, helped foster a climate of grudging acceptance
among the very employees who have most at stake.
Often, training programs have been perceived not as an opportunity or benefit
but as a condition of the job -another in a long series of demands placed on a
work force that already sees itself as overtaxed. Where such a climate is
allowed to persist, training programs have little hope for success.
The success of any training depends on the environment provided by the
managers involved. Those training programs that produce outstanding
results-that serve both organizational and individual needs - are those that
respect each employee's autonomy and freedom of choice.
In fact, it is largely on the basis of the employee's request or desire for training
that such training can be of real value to the individual and the organization.
Only when we're free to say "no" can our "yes" be said with power, dignity and
The concept of voluntary participation is not a new one. Yet, until we have
altered the corporate climate in which training occurs, managers will often be
seen as exerting subtle, or even direct, pressure on employees to accept such
training; and employees will continue to resist such training.
To address this climate, American business must make significant progress in
the way it motivates, develops and engages employees. To be effective, managers must elicit the request for training and development directly
from the employee.
Fundamental to generating this demand is the perceived advantage that
training has for helping participants reach their own personal and organizational
goals. It is the responsibility of both employer and employee to be clear about
the nature, content, objectives and methods of the training programs, as well
as the benefits they provide.
The greatest successes are achieved when employees request training, and
not just agree to attend, on the basis of their own confidence in the
opportunity it provides.
Effective training must recognize and build on the contribution that each
worker already makes while providing the opportunity to move even further
Guaranteeing the employee's right to such initiative honors his or her
individuality and freedom of choice. Moreover, it allows for maximum value to
be produced from the training and invites employees to serve as models to
By Werner Erhard
Reprinted from the Atlanta Constitution, Wednesday, October 11, 1989