What Good RA Training Has In Common

In a perfect world, everybody would get one-to-one tuition that was tailored for their every need, whenever they received any kind of education. In this imperfect world, our kids go to classes where one teacher takes a lesson for many children, students may fill large halls to listen to the same lecturer, and lots of different people will read the same book to get the knowledge they need. In this imperfect world, what is common to good RA training, and what should every RA practitioner learn?

I started out writing this post as a response to Gadi Solotorevsky’s comment on Mike Willet’s excellent post about training. It grew and grew, so I decided it would be best to just include this as a new post! In short, Gadi wrote that good training is not ‘one size fits all’. I want to rebut that assertion, partly because I do not think that is what Mike was suggesting, but mostly because it fails to address a much more serious issue in RA training. The more serious problem with most RA training is not that it fails to be specific. RA training is often very specific, sometimes to the point of not being relevant to the student. The more serious problem with most RA training is that it is overly specific. By being over specific, and lacking any common and universal principles, it does not train practitioners to be versatile and to cope with the unfamiliar. Because revenue assurance is about dealing with problems that people did not even realize were there to begin with, we cannot train people to be good practitioners by only giving them skills relevant to a few problems we now know to anticipate. The good RA practitioner must be able to adapt their skills to the unanticipated too, and must learn how to find issues even when nobody else has anticipated they can occur.

If revenue assurance is anything, then the specific instances of revenue assurance must have something in common. Shakespeare makes a similar point about dogs, because dogs can be very different but still have something in common:

“… hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves are clept
All by the name of dogs.”

Good training will be based on what is common to every situation. This includes the situations that the student is not familiar with, and even includes the situations that nobody has experienced yet because they have not happened yet. Tailoring a course for your organization sounds efficient, but how useful is the course if your organization is changing? How long will its value persist? Even if tailored, the course must be based on principles that can be applied outside of the specific examples that are covered.

Universal principles, once understood, are more valuable to the student than lots of specific packets of unconnected knowledge. However, the clearest failing in the revenue assurance world is that lots of people know lots of things about lots of particular detail, but struggle with what is RA in general. Take them from their comfort zone, and they fail. Present them with a new problem, that requires skills they lack, and they run from it and search for an old problem they have solved many times before. This observation was one of the driving motivations for setting up talkRA – to force people out of their narrow silos, get them talking to each other, and make them realize that RA is bigger than the skillset and experiences of any individual person.

At core, any training should be based on universals. Practitioners have more valuable skills is they learn methods and techniques that can be applied to any situation, instead of learning how to do just one task. It is the same as the differences in how we might teach history. I can teach somebody history by making them memorize a list of dates and events. I can teach them a lot more history without mentioning a single date or event, if I teach them how to do their own research. If the student can do his own research, he can then find out the detail that he needs, when he needs it. The most valuable kind of training ensures universal principles are explained, and then made specific and relevant to the audience, depending on what kind of audience is receiving the training.

Unless specific training is consistent with universal principles, then two specific training courses simply do not teach the same thing. If you wrote an RA training course for one telco based on one set of principles, and wrote a second RA training course for another telco based on another set of principles, then you have no consistency in what you are saying RA is. They may both be good courses, but they cannot both be good revenue assurance courses. The better the underlying the principles used to create a course, the more universal the principles those are, the better the training is for the recipient. Why? Because the student will be able to reapply those principles to new situations, if their business changes or if they move to do the same job in another business. Otherwise, they will just need to be completely retaught every time the situation changes.

As per one of Mike’s examples, you can teach people to do a job a certain way, by training them which buttons to push and how to use some software. They can do that job perfectly well if they keep pushing the same buttons, even if they have no idea why they are doing it. Then swap them over to new software, a new company, or a new product to be assured. You have to train them to push new buttons, and the training begins right back as if they learned nothing before! Better that they understand what is common between the two scenarios. It is not just about being efficient with training, it is about developing people as people – encouraging them to think and be adaptable, teaching them principles they can observe and reapply, and not just to be mindless drones who need to be reprogrammed for every new task they are set. Of course, you can make more money by exploiting mindless drones: they will be made to pay over and over again for more and more training…

There is lots of bad training in RA, and we need to identify why. There are lots of people, with very limited experience, offering to teach people who work in situations that are very different from any they understand. There are also lots of people happy to be trained in a kind of RA where they just want to be told how to push the buttons, and not to think for themselves. Those people might do okay in their job, but they do not understand RA and will be little better than a complete novice when they change job. Worst of all, this sector is full of people who know how to do one thing, and then pretend that one thing is the same as RA, and is equally powerful and relevant to every business and every situation. They train other people to do that one thing, fooling them into thinking they now understand RA as well. As Abraham Maslow said:

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

The good RA practitioner has many tools in the toolbox, knows how to use them, knows how to adapt them to be used in new and unfamiliar situations, and even knows how to make and adapt his own tools to fit the task. You cannot teach that by telling people how to bang the same nails over and over. You teach it from first principles. First, people need to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Then they need to understand the choices they have about how they do it, so they can pick the best tool for the job. That is what good RA training has in common.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.