In a society that likes to super-size things and typically views bigger as better, we’re also fans of “more.” While we may now be more cautious about throwing money at a problem, businesses today are still likely to see performance issues and jump immediately to the idea of “more training.” It may not be the best idea.
Of course, targeted teaching to help employees learn specific skills or develop their expertise is valuable. We’re not going to dispute that. Rather, this article takes issue with the knee-jerk “more training” reaction when problems arise.
It happens over and again. Stretched because of a small workforce? Cross-train your current team! Team not handing customer service well? Train them up! Managers failing to lead? Train them to do better! Employees questioning if they have room for growth? Train them on more stuff so they feel like they’re developing!
But training isn’t the magic bullet. Blindly offering more training only vaguely acknowledges the performance problems. Having a lunch-and-learn to help people better follow work processes, for example, doesn’t do anything to actually fix a faulty process.
Looking at training as a catch-all solution may not actually address the core problem. You’ll have put your people through yet another mandatory online course without setting up any concrete change. Let’s look further at what you can do before booking that next training session to solve your workplace concerns.
Diagnose the problem
It’s easy to jump to conclusions about the causes of performance problems or other workplace issues. However, any training initiatives will be far more successful if you first:
- Analyze the status quo
- Identify the root cause of the problem
- Do a needs or gaps analysis to distinguish between performance and training issues
- Determine the desired change
- Design a training to accomplish that goal
Yes, effective training can solve performance issues resulting from lack of knowledge or skills. Add an ongoing learning and support system and you can resolve the performance problem. However, you’re not going to have much impact on factors such as job satisfaction or process shortfalls with a blanket training solution.
You might interview the individuals involved or send them a pulse survey to get a deeper understanding of their challenges. You might attribute missed deadlines to poor time management and want to train your people on the Pomodoro technique to maximize efficiency.
Yet, the people doing the actual work might let you know that the issue is actually with lack of communication among team members. Instead of adding another training session, you might instead introduce an online collaboration app such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. Yes, you might need to train them on how to use the new app, but at least it’s targeting the top employee concern.
Ask good questions
In the book Analyzing Performance Problems, Robert Mager and Peter Pipe suggest asking several key questions to determine if training is needed:
- What is the performance problem?
- Is it worth fixing?
- Can we apply a fast fix?
- Are the consequences appropriate?
- Is there a skill discrepancy?
- Are there other causes?
- What solutions are best?
Another important question? Whether you have the right person for the job. Investing in training an individual who lacks interest in the job may not make sense. “If a person does not have the motivation or the physical and mental capabilities for a particular job, the cost-effective solution is to find a replacement. If you don’t, you’ll lower productivity and increase the risk for personal injury,” says E. Scott Geller, a senior partner at Safety Performance Solutions.
Not sure where to start? Review a few professional development survey templates to kick off the conversation.
Don’t get sucked in by the shiny new thing
Workplace productivity is a priority everywhere. This means there are always going to be articles and podcasts telling you about some new thing that promises professional development. Emotional intelligence, for example, was only coined in 1990. Before that, businesses would likely have questioned the idea of training someone in social skills, social awareness, self-awareness, and self-management.
Nevertheless, just because you’ve read a cool article about the agile approach or heard an interesting podcast about resilience, you don’t want to run into the office and ask for a training on that topic.
Training should be a response to a root problem. Jumping quickly on a trend could lead to unnecessary expense of time and money, not to mention your team members’ potential frustration with being taken from their productive work to learn something that has little value to their day-to-day role.
Measure training success, too
Simply trusting that more training is the answer also doesn’t consider the efficacy of the training offered. Do you know that the training offered is producing the desired outcome? The work of renowned transfer researcher Robert Brinkerhoff shows that about 85 percent of people do not apply what they have learned to their job.
If the training isn’t accomplishing your goal, doing more of it is nonsensical. With an estimated $82.5 billion spent on training in 2020, it only makes sense to gauge the effectiveness of training efforts. The AIHR Academy suggests several measures for training success, including the Kirkpatrick Model which considers:
- Level 1: Reaction – Evaluate the learners’ reactions and responses to the training
- Level 2: Learning – Measure the knowledge and skills learned during the training
- Level 3: Behavior – Assess the behavioral change (if any and to what extent) due to the training
- Level 4: Impact – Measure the training’s impact on business goals and results
Doing more than more training
Training is often the go-to solution. It is a well-established intervention in organizations with set parameters and the obvious benefit of educating and developing employees. However, while effective training can build knowledge, skills, and capabilities, it doesn’t solve every performance problem.
Training may well be an important component of your organizational change. Still, looking at the many other factors identified in this article can help you make smarter decisions about the value of more training.