“We must expect to fail… but fail in a learning posture, determined not to repeat the mistakes, and to maximize the benefits from what is learned in the process.”Ted W. Engstrom
There are three management issues that cause training to fail: (1) training is used in lieu of effective performance management; (2) training is given to employees when the real problem is organizational policies, procedures or systems; and/or (3) managers do not reinforce the training: they see no value in the content, they do not know what their employees learned, and/or they do not know that they should reinforce the training.
1. Training is used in lieu of effective performance management.
Too often, a training program is scheduled with the sole intent to address the performance deficiencies of one or only a few employees. Using training in this fashion rarely solves the problem it is intended to solve and actually creates additional long-term problems.
First, training alone is unlikely to solve the performance problem. The employees’ manager will still need to set clear performance expectations, monitor the performance, and provide timely and effective performance feedback (all of the performance management activities that the manager hoped to avoid by sending the employees to the training in the first place).
Second, the employees who are already performing satisfactorily will be well aware of the reason for the training and feel resentful that they were forced to attend. This will:
a. negatively impact their perception of the manager’s credibility and effectiveness;
b. have a detrimental impact on their morale; and
c. contribute to a suspicion of any future training.
Avoid this misuse of training:
When performance is in question, keep in mind that training is only appropriate if there is a skills deficit. If the employee already has the necessary skills and organizational supports, but chooses not to perform satisfactorily, take the necessary coaching or disciplinary actions.
2. Skills training is given to employees when the real problem is organizational policies, procedures or systems.
Training programs to build employee skills are often scheduled when the real culprit is the organizational policies, procedures or systems that are supposed to support the employees’ performance. This is a case of the obvious problem not being the real problem. It is very easy to blame employees for unsatisfactory performance.
This is much easier than asking the hard questions about what gets in the way of their performance. If the employees already have the appropriate skills but are unable to properly perform them, then something beyond their control is causing the problem:
a. Is it due to a policy that is: unreasonable, outdated, inappropriate, or ambiguous?
b. Is it due to a procedure that is: ineffective, convoluted, duplicative, or time consuming?
c. Is it due to a system that is: difficult to use, prone to breakdowns, inefficient, or has outlived its usefulness?
Avoid this misuse of training:
When employees have the skills but are still unable to meet performance standards, the underlying problem will typically be organizational. As Dr. W. Edwards Deming said, “Eighty-five percent of an employee’s ability to perform successfully depends upon the system.” Investigate the situation to find the real cause, which will either be a policy, a procedure, and/or a system.
3. Managers do not reinforce what is learned in the training program:
There are three major reasons why managers may not provide follow up support after training program:
a. They see no value in the content.
If the training content is not directly related to the skill sets required for the employees’ specific positions, they may question its relevance. This may be particularly true when their positions are highly technical in nature.
b. They do not know what their employees learned.
The managers may not have been involved as subject matter experts in the design of the training, so they have a first-hand knowledge of the program. Possibly no one took the time to communicate the training goals, learning objectives and take-away job aids to the managers.
c. They do not know they should reinforce the training.
There is a misperception that training stands alone. Nothing can be farther from the truth. New skills need to be continually reinforced for them to be retained. Managers are the obvious and best choice to provide this reinforcement.
Avoid this lack of reinforcement:
a. Keep in mind that the purpose and value of all training programs need to be communicated to both the targeted employees as well as their managers.
b. Make sure that managers have a good understanding of the training that their employees will receive. Whenever possible, involve them in the design of the program. This will increase their investment in the training outcome.
c. Clarify that the training is intended to support employee performance and needs reinforcement to ensure that the new skills adequately transfer back to the job site. Once the employees are effectively applying their new skills, the manager should see clear benefits, such as increased productivity, quality, and service.
Training cannot take the place of effective performance management. Training is not the solution if policies, procedures or systems are the cause of the problem. Managers need to reinforce skills learned in the training program. Do not let these three management issues cause training programs to fail.