12 Oct Just Do More Training – Rarely the Solution

When many organizations find internal problems; whether they are anecdotal evidence of a cultural problem poor results in a functional area or a desire to change how the business operates; the first response is often to suggest, “let’s do some training”.  Often someone in HR is tasked to find an organization with training materials, a series of training sessions is organized for the target audience, attendance at the training sessions is tracked and then months after the training program is completed, very little has really changed.

We would suggest that training is a powerful tool. Training is essential as an enabler for change and performance improvement. However, we see two problematic training trends in business today, which are: Trying to use training to solve an unrelated problem, and even where training may be appropriate, the way training is done often undermines its potential value.

Inappropriate training typically occurs when the organization has failed to effectively diagnose the condition they are trying to resolve.  Training then becomes an easy form of activity that management can throw some money at to fill an action plan.  Far too many employees have been subjected to corporately mandatory training courses only to discover that the content is a re-packaging of material they had already seen.  Then, since a lack of training was never the root cause, the problem persists.

The second set of problems with training have to do with the way it is typically done.  Too many training courses are sponsored by groups like HR and not the course participant’s leaders, and then insufficient follow-up is done to support people in the application of the new skills.  For anecdotal evidence one only has to listen to the participants of a typical corporate training program as they discuss the course content during breaks. What is seen in majority of cases is that the participants talk about the parts of the presentation they “agreed with” and the parts they “disagreed with”.

In other words, when positioned incorrectly, training tends to reinforce the knowledge that people already have and fails to shift established beliefs.  By the time a typical employee in a larger company reaches middle age they have been exposed to numerous failed training and change initiatives.  These employees are universally guarded and skeptical and openly talk about another “flavor of the month”.  This skepticism is different from what happens when people voluntary sign up for something like a wine appreciation course, and therefore corporate training requires a more effective delivery approach to be impactful.

To help an organization that is experiencing some of these training challenges an intervention involves; stop doing more training, seek to understand the true nature of the problem (not just the symptoms), determine the root cause of the problem, leverage the training that has already been done and design an improvement plan that tackles the core issue.  This approach is typically faster, less expensive and less disruptive than trying to do another round of training.