I often teach classes on improving human performance, leadership, and consulting on the inside. One thing I can state in all of these courses is that managers often treat their employees’ lack of performance as they treat their dirty laundry: They would prefer to drop the problem off in the morning at the laundromat and pick it up at the end of the day, all cleaned and fixed! 

It is not that they are bad managers, but more that they, like most of us, would like to have their problems fixed with the least amount of effort and stress. I daresay all trainers have received a request from an earnest manager requesting a training course that “will fix the problem.” 

In a previous blog post, I stated, “The manager calls and says: ‘I need a (fill-in-the-blank) training for my (fill-in-the-blank) team so that they can (fill-in-the-blank) better.’ A typical example: ‘I need a sales course for my widget sales team so that they can sell more widgets.’ What the manager really wants is the improved performance (more widgets sold), not the training. Training is her default solution for the performance problem. If there was a pill that would induce the salespeople to sell more widgets, then that is what she would ask for!” 

So, how do trainers participate in the “dirty laundry” problem? For one thing, they have a training department that has trained managers to request a training solution. What? That cannot be so, the trainer might say! We did not train them to request a training solution! Oh, yes you did. How? 

Trainers have forever taken orders on the kind of training performers need, how much, when, and how long. Just look at your own history. Honestly, has a manager ever come to you and asked for training and you responded with an enthusiastic “Yes, we can do that. When do you need it?” Well, that is accepting the manager’s training order, or dirty laundry. When a trainer or training department accepts the order, they are in effect buying into the premise that lack of knowledge has caused the lack of performance. If this premise were true, then the training course would always lead to improved performance. It does not. 

But training, while an excellent solution to a performer’s lack of knowledge, cannot and does not affect performance when the root causes and influences are not related to a lack of knowledge. 

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How can trainers and others in the learning and development department transition from a laundromat to a performance partnership with the business unit manager? They become performance practitioners or consultants eager to help the manager uncover the various influences and causes of the poor performance. They work with the manager to find the key performer and discover what influences the key performer’s behavior, striving to identify what’s right to fix what’s wrong. They answer the request for training with an enthusiastic, “We can help you with that. When can we meet to discuss the project?” 

In the meeting, the trainer or consultant needs to ask questions. Here are a few to get started:

  • Tell me a little about what the performers are doing now?
  • How do you measure their performance?
  • What do you want the performers to be doing? Start doing? Stop doing? Do more of? Do less of?
  • Do you have any metrics that will help us track performance improvement?
  • What is it costing you that the performers are operating at the current level?
  • What might be hampering the desired level of performance?
  • Who is currently meeting your desired performance levels? 

These and other questions will help you to identify and fix the real impediments to high performance! 

Want to learn more about becoming a performance partner in your organization? Attend ATD’s Improving Human Performance online course starting June 1. I’m the facilitator, and have been teaching human performance improvement courses for 17 years. You will learn how you can partner with the manager to improve performance!