There is an old saying that “to a young boy with a hammer, everything is a nail.”
Unfortunately, for some managers, training is a hammer and every performance problem is a nail. As we all know, however, there are many different causes of performance gaps. Training helps only when the core issue is a lack of skills or knowledge. It’s useless—or worse—when the real issue is a lack of motivation, inadequate feedback, muddled goals, abusive management, and so forth.
Every time we agree to implement a training program when training is not the right solution, we shoot ourselves in the foot. It’s one of the reasons that training gets a reputation for not being very effective—and it contributes to headlines like “So Much Training, So Little to Show for It.”
How big a problem is it? For the past year or so, we have been asking participants in our 6Ds® Workshops to answer this question:
“Of all the training your organization conducts today, what % is for issues where training is not really the solution?”
Write down your own answer before reading on.
We have been shocked to find that training professionals, even in some very well-known and respected firms, believe that 15 to 50% of the training they do is misguided. That means that 15-50% of their efforts are doomed to failure from the get-go. Learning how to say “no” to training that won’t work would dramatically boost our overall success rate and sense of accomplishment.
What can we do?
In Transfer of Training, Broad and Newstrom gave us a good starting point when they wrote: “Training is expensive to design and deliver; it should be the last, not the first, intervention the HRD professional and the organization should consider in order to improve employee performance.” Business managers understand the meaning of the word “expensive” and are interested in suggestions that will save them time or money.
So when we are asked to deliver training, we might respond along these lines: “I can certainly help you, and we can certainly design a program. But because training is expensive to design and deliver, I want to help you be sure there isn’t a quicker or less expensive solution first.”
Bob Mager (Analyzing Performance Problems) proposed that the critical question in trying to decide whether training is warranted is: “If their lives depended on it, would they still not be able to perform?” That is, if an employee could not adequately perform a task if his or her life depended on it, then that suggests a lack of skill or knowledge that training can help close. On the other hand, if people can perform but simply aren’t (they answer “no” to the “Will I?” question), then the problem is environmental or managerial, and training won’t help. Indeed, it could make the problem worse.
Corporate training is an important source of competitive advantage provided it is directed toward improving performance where a lack of skill or knowledge is the impediment. It is a waste of time that generates learning scrap [link to blog on scrap] when it is applied to the wrong problem. We can improve the overall success and reputation of training by avoiding misapplication.
Want to learn more about how to increase learning transfer, reduce training scrap, and improve business impact? Attend the pre-ICE Learning Transfer Certificate Program, May 17-18, 2013.