More Training Won’t Solve Your Company’s Problems

More Training Won’t Solve Your Company’s Problems

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Companies devote 16% of their budget on average to training, and that training often isn’t measured for effectiveness. Without addressing the core problem directly, setting clear performance objectives, and prompting managers to reinforce desired behaviors, issues will persist. The author outlines why training alone doesn’t fix problems, advises how to identify the root of those problems, and presents three questions to ask when determining whether or not to invest in training: 1) What is the gap you think training will bridge? 2) What’s causing the gap? and 3) Is training necessary to fix the gap?

The go-to response for organizational issues is typically some form of reactionary training. The mantra goes like this: Design the training. Deliver it. Move on. 

Unfortunately, successful training doesn’t actually work that way. Although it might make you feel like you’re doing something, this method rarely solves the underlying problems. Rather, it becomes an expensive line item. According to Training magazine, companies set aside 16% of their budgets to train staff. This is a huge percentage considering that most organizations don’t measure the effectiveness of their training efforts.

Still, training remains many organizations’ first line of defense because it’s easier for senior leaders to authorize it instead of spending time evaluating core issues or mentoring colleagues. But a Band-Aid isn’t a long-term solution. Without proper ongoing treatment, the wound won’t heal — and your problem will persist.

Why Training Alone Doesn’t Work

According to a Forrester report, about 40% of employees and managers are unsatisfied with on-the-job training. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure every program is relevant and achievable. If your employees have enough on their plates to keep them busy every day, they might view training as an interruption and pay less attention to it. Similarly, participants won’t be engaged if you’re reusing the same dated videos from years back. Ultimately, training won’t be effective unless you address the root of the problem directly, set clear performance objectives, and prompt managers to reinforce desired behaviors. 

While most training does include performance objectives, resulting in designs with lots of information and skill-building exercises, these objectives typically focus on the competencies needed to fill a gap only. What’s missing is the component that creates the motivation to use the skills employees develop.

At HPWP Group, we address this by defining what we want people to competently do, what we want them to think post-training, and how we want them to feel post-training. Additionally, it’s essential to reinforce any new skill or behavior. This includes providing constructive feedback if mistakes are made (so they don’t turn into habits) and encouragement to drive more of the desired performance.

As an example, one large company had its managers and directors attend our High Performance Leadership Workshop. The COO met with those participants immediately post-training, arranged for refreshers, and included the desired behaviors and competencies as part of their feedback and development process. This training, along with the supporting reinforcement, substantially changed the culture of the company.

To Train or Not to Train?

To begin revamping your company’s approach to training, the most important thing to consider is whether it is even necessary. Here are three questions to consider before sinking resources into a training program.

1. What is the gap you think training will bridge?

Typically, training occurs due to a difference between a desired and actual performance or behavior. You’ll want to define that gap before searching for solutions. For example, if the gap has been caused by new processes, upgraded equipment, or revised policies, formal training could solve the issue.

Just remember that people need to want training for it to be effective. If they’re not affected by the gap you point out, they won’t be invested in fixing anything. The participants must be curious and want to learn. When they are, they’re more apt to listen carefully, ask questions, and apply knowledge.

2. What’s causing the gap?

After identifying the gap, explore it further. Not all gaps are performance issues. Consider the case of overcomplicated workflows, which is a big concern among remote and hybrid workers. As this Harvard Business Review article explains, employees who telecommute often lack the resources, infrastructure, and information enjoyed by their in-office colleagues. You can throw all the training you want at that problem, but you won’t fill the gap because it has nothing to do with worker knowledge.

Remember that many gaps happen because of a breakdown in communication or a flawed working environment. A mere 7% of respondents to a Gallup poll strongly agreed that the corporate communications they received were reliable, on time, and transparent. Similarly, other Gallup research suggests that fixing employee engagement by retooling rewards systems can have a stronger effect than just putting managers through training.

3. Is training necessary to fix the gap?

Training is always expensive, even when it’s the best way to solve a problem. In most situations, there are more effective solutions that can be implemented.

Case in point: Our team members advised a general manager who wanted training to tackle pervasive bullying, favoritism, and a lack of teamwork. After diving deeper, the general manager realized the obstacle wasn’t that supervisors didn’t understand how to lead; the obstacle was that the right people weren’t in the right seats. Rearranging duties stopped the brunt of the dysfunction. Further training could add a bit of polish, but it was no longer essential.

Critical thinking takes time, which is a limited resource for busy leaders. However, investing in an unnecessary training program can cost even more. Before you jump on what you think is the right solution, break down the problem. It’s always best to address the core issue.

Get Managers On Board

If you do decide training is necessary, it’s vital to get the support of managers. Recently, our team worked with the chief human resources officer of a large company. The executives wanted managers to actively develop the next generation of leadership, so the learning and development department moved forward with creating a training plan. But nothing in their plan focused on managers allocating the time to make this task a priority.

So, before taking action, you should also ask:

  • Why aren’t our managers doing more to further develop employees for advancement? It’s probably not a priority based on their current workload.
  • Why isn’t it a priority? It’s not what their managers ask them about.
  • Why don’t their managers ask them about what they’re doing to develop employees? They assume managers are doing it and know that it’s important.

Even if providing an employee development process through training is a good step, it will not result in major implementation unless senior leaders clearly and repeatedly express it as a priority. You must always encourage managers to schedule follow-up meetings with team members who’ve attended the training. Have them ask questions to prompt reflection and implementation, such as “What have you learned?” and “How would you apply what you’ve learned?” When it comes to training for professional development, these conversations must revolve around career progression.

In the past, senior leaders habitually thought, “Training can fix that.” However, in most cases, training isn’t the answer. As a senior leader, you need to do some probing and critical thinking to uncover what the real problem is. It may not be a performance issue — it could be due to poor staffing decisions, unclear directives, or other business concerns. Because training is costly in terms of time and money, managers should look at it as they would any other investment: with an expected ROI.

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