Training Is Not THE Solution
I am regularly approached by potential clients who are looking to change or improve a difficult situation. More often than not, they want to send their employees through training sessions, in order to "fix" them. They hope that by doing so, employees will "get it," improve, and change for the better.
The good news is that these leaders are on the right path.
The bad news is that they are using the wrong approach.
"Training is not the right thing to do?" you might ask? No it is isn't because most training is short-lived and ineffective.
There are four reasons for this;
- No overarching goal:
employees are sent for training, but they don't know why, except that
there is a budget for training and it had to be spent. They are told to
follow a course, but there isn't an intrinsic use for the course in
their every day activities. For example, when I was delivering Microsoft
courses, I often spoke to people who were following the course "because
we use Excel at the office." But when I asked them what they did with
it, the answer was: "Oh, I don't use it but other people in the office do. They just want me to be aware of what it can do."
That is a flagrant waste of money on two fronts: the employer is wasting money by sending the employee to a course which is useless for that person's job description. Just because other people use a tool doesn't mean that everyone should learn how to use it. It is sufficient for the people who don't know the tool to be able to express and explain their needs. Then, let the tool experts apply their knowledge to attain the goal.
The other waste of money is that the employees are not spending time doing what they should be doing, but instead, spend one, two, or more days in a course which will not benefit them much. Their productivity is greatly reduced, in exchange for a minor improvement after the course... if that! Most likely, the employers will never recover their ROI.
- Not the right time:
training is only efficient if it is put to use immediately. It's a
waste of time and money to have someone follow a course because "someday
they may need it." Why? Because studies have shown that people forget
most of what they learn in a training session after a few days. There is
even a joke that goes a bit like this: 24 hours after this course, you
will have forgotten half of what you learnt. 48 hours later, you will
have forgotten 50% of what's left. By this time next week, you will have
forgotten that you were ever in this course!
It's not easy to time training with application, but in order for the training to stick, it must be put to use as soon as possible after the fact. The faster attendees put their new skills to use, the more likely they are to make it part of their daily habits and to benefit from the training.
- No followup:
this is a common mistake. Employees are sent to a course, everything
works well, they put it to use immediately, but soon after they resort
to their old habits. Yes, old habits die hard and it's not just a tired
My wife is a member of a task force that helps people stop smoking. The people who attend her workshops want to change. In order to achieve the highest success rate as possible, attendees are taken through a training program before they are asked to stop smoking. Then, they are all given a specific date and time to stop smoking: Sunday at midnight. The following Monday morning, they immediately get help and followup to get them through the first difficult days. That followup is maintained for a few weeks, before they are left to themselves. That approach is key to its success. One may think that it is due to the addictive nature of smoking, but it's much more than that.
Habits are like a form of addiction. People are used to doing the same things, in the same manner, day in and day out. Breaking that habit is like breaking an addiction, albeit a mild one. Unless there is proper followup, employers run the risk of wasting their training investments because employees resort to their usual behavioural pattern.
- The wrong people are being trained: employees are sometimes sent to training sessions when the leaders should really be the ones attending. I've seen employees be sent to anger management classes when their employers should have been the ones attending a workplace improvement seminar, or an assertive leadership training session. Changing a company's culture is much more difficult than simply improving the skills of an employee. But to manage that change, employers must be willing to start the work at the top and only then, move down the organizational tree.
One of my mantras is the following: training is not an event, it is a process. The process can be more or less involved, depending on the objectives to attain. The deeper the change required, the more profound the approach must be. Otherwise, you might as well be throwing your money out the training window.