When management finds that staff are not engaging in work behaviors desired by the organization, they often turn to training as the response for "fixing" the problem. But training frequently isn't the answer.
In this post I want to share 5 situations that won't be resolved by training:
1. To Make Up for Poorly Designed Work Processes--Many organizations have poorly designed work processes and customer flow. These processes have often been jerry-rigged to meet regulations or accommodate some shortcoming. Staff have often developed work-arounds that take them closer to their goals or that can be done more quickly and it is these work-arounds that management doesn't like.
But generally the reason that staff aren't adhering to a work policy or process is because the process isn't working. They know perfectly well what they SHOULD be doing, so lack of skill isn't their problem. Instead, they find that the process is not working for them, so they devise some other way to get their job done.
2. As a Replacement for Corrective Action
Several years ago when I was the HR manager for a large manufacturer, we had some serious problems with a couple of managers who were engaging in sexual harassment. Rather than disciplining the two offenders, my boss insisted that we needed to run a training for all of the managers in the company (over 50 people). Since they had never done sexual harassment training before, running a session wasn't a bad idea. But it wasn't the complete answer to the problem, either. What was really needed was to use a corrective action process with the offending employees.
I've found that many organizations are uncomfortable with confronting an employee who is not engaging in desired work behaviors. If a few people are having a problem with coming back from lunch on time, the next thing you know everyone is in a training on "time management." Training should never be a replacement for corrective action. It's frustrating to the people who are behaving appropriately and the staff with the problem generally don't believe that the training is directed at them.
3. To Satisfy a "Requirement" for Professional Development
One of my clients contracts to a large government agency that requires periodic staff development. Although in principle this is a good thing, in practice what happens is that managers realize at the last minute that they're supposed to be doing staff training at certain times during the year, so they run around trying to find a topic and a trainer to satisfy the requirement.
Ongoing professional development is very much a necessity in today's economy. But it can't happen just to prove that you're providing training to staff. It needs to be part of a larger professional development planning process that has clearly identified specific skills that staff need. And arranging for the training should be done thoughtfully, not haphazardly.
I've written previously (here, here and here) about how performance expectations are the real drivers of staff behavior and how they must be properly formulated to be effective in encouraging staff to engage in the work behaviors you desire. People respond to the systems in which they operate--they tend to do what they are rewarded for doing and to not do the things that are ignored or punished. I can train until the cows come home, but if staff are not going to be rewarded for using the skills I'm teaching, then it's unlikely that they will actually use them on the job. Before you get someone in to do a training session, first make sure that you've set the right expectations for performance that will encourage workers to use what they're being taught.
5. When You Don't Have Management Understanding and Buy-In
I can't tell you the number of trainings I've conducted that supervisors and managers had no clue about. This is invariably a recipe for frustration and confusion because staff don't understand why they've been sent to a training about which their managers have no real knowledge. They know that the skills they're learning will not be used or reinforced on the job if their managers don't know anything about these skills, so to them, the training becomes "nice to know," rather than "need to know." And in most organizations, there's no time for "nice to know."
As I said earlier, training only works when performance expectations have been clearly articulated and the training supports those expectations. For this to be the case, managers must know what's going on in the training sessions their staff are attending. And they must be able to incorporate what staff are learning into the daily work of staff. Without management understanding and buy-in, there will be little transfer of training to the job. Which means that training has pretty much been a waste.
So when IS training the answer?
For training to be effective, these conditions must be met:
- Staff must lack skill in the area in which training will be provided. If people don't know how to properly perform a task, then training can teach them how to do that. But if there's some other reason that staff aren't behaving in a certain way, training won't help.
- Performance expectations have been clearly set and the training that's provided clearly leads to staff being able to meet these expectations.
- Managers have a clear understanding of what is being taught in the training.
- There's a plan for ensuring that staff have the tools, resources and supports to use the new skills when they return to the job. How many times have you participated in computer training three months before the computer arrived on your desk? How much did you actually remember? 'Nuff said."
- Work processes have been adjusted to incorporate the use of the new skills. If staff are being taught how to use new tools, then the use of those tools should be embedded in their daily work. If they are being taught specific ways to engage with clients, then work processes should support staff in being able to engage in those behaviors.
If you can meet these conditions, then it's time to offer training. If not, then you need to rethink what you're doing and make some adjustments to your plan.