ATD Blog

When Training Isn't the Solution

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I recently found myself faced with a request from a customer to develop a training course for a topic that was already covered by several courses in our learning management system.

Enter needs analysis

Out came the toolbox, the red flags, and a desire to help the customer identify the root cause for why staff were not following through on a task that was critical to the success of the department.

A needs analysis can range from an interview with the customer to a time-consuming data collection of past trainings and events, an analysis of the status quo, and an idea of what the desired end result should be.  In this case, the needs analysis concentrated on interviewing the customer and other personnel in the same position as the customer, but operating in other facilities.

We quickly came to a consensus that enough training had already been provided. The other conclusion from the needs analysis was that we needed to initiate and develop a performance improvement plan.

Exit the training department?

Some questioned whether the training team should step back at this point. After all, we determined that that training was not the solution that fit the customers’ needs.  But, of course, we decided to stay involve.


Indeed, remember that tool box? It was the perfect time to use all those other skills a training department brings to the table.

If you are working in a full-service, solution-oriented organization, this is exactly the type of customer you want to keep. Use your skills and turn this no-training problem into a win-win solution for the customer, the staff, and your organization.

Listening to the customer/s and guiding them through a root cause analysis may net you a range of information similar to what I discovered in working with my customers, which happened to be  a collective group of co-managers.

  • The concerns had not been discussed in any detail at any department meeting. As a result, the employees were not aware of the level of importance with the actual task or that a problem even existed.
  • The customers had at their disposal data that showed progress where staff were meeting or missing specific performance targets. That data was not shared in department meetings.
  • The customers assumed that Read and Sign policies were read and understood.
  • The customers believed that any employee completing the requisite training remembered the entirety of each training course and could carry the tasks out accordingly.
  • The customers did not celebrate goals met.  Nor did the customers discuss errant employees with human resources for suggestions on how to take corrective action.

Welcome a better solution


So, if not training, then what should we do? We elected to take the route that performing a task well requires requisite training, support by leadership, awareness, and follow-up of any issues with visual and concrete examples, continuous on-going discussions as situations evolve, and celebrations or corrective actions practiced accordingly.

Our chosen primary approach included coaching the customers and managers in how to carry out these solutions. The coaching plan includes:

  • A coach’s one-time newsletter outlining steps they should take to bring each department and employee to compliance. 
  • A “kick-off awareness”  brochure presented by leadership at department meetings in all facilities that lists the goals of the department and what each employee can do to help their department reach their goals.
  • A visual aide brochure that references policies that may need to be revisited.
  • A wall graph displayed and discussed by leadership that illustrates where the department has missed its’ performance target in the past, where the department currently is in meeting its’ performance target, and where the department hopes to be in the coming months. (This graph is updated on a quarterly basis.)
  • Each manager supplies one practice scenario that gives employees the opportunity to polish their skills in reaching the performance target.
  • Employees are informed that reaching performance targets will result in group and individual recognition. Likewise, failure to reach performance targets by any individual will result in warnings and corrective action plans.  

Lesson learned

Training is not always the solution. In fact, a training solution for this challenge would have been a loss for our customers and a black mark on our reputation as a quality provider of learning solutions.

But remember, just because training isn’t the answer, doesn’t mean the training department steps away from the project. We have the expertise to develop and deliver other performance improvement solutions that can help support our organization and its employees.  

About the Author

Christan Haskin is the lead instructional designer for Learning Solutions at IU Health, and brings a wealth of information to the table with over twelve years experience in instructional design in various industries. Haskin is a Malcolm Baldrige examiner on the national level and served as team lead for her team of examiners this past year. She is a certified Outdoor Challenge Education trainer and enjoys opportunities to take team building outside the classroom and the office. 

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