Training Truths from Richard Martin
April 2, 2012
Training is critical to developing the skills, culture, and processes that will enable the organization to meet its strategic, operational, and tactical goals. Unfortunately, it is too often created and delivered as if it were an end in itself. When this happens, it is a waste of effort, resources, and money. Here is a list of what I like to call 'training truths.'
* Most training in companies and other organizations is a waste of time and money because it is done without a clear objective or purpose. Training is developed and delivered with little or no analysis of the skills and knowledge that are actually needed by the people receiving the training. I've gotten requests for training or to give a list of possible courses from which the client organization can choose. My typical answer is "What is the objective of the training?" Too often the answer is "Look, we just want some training. We have a budget and we need to improve in some area. Can you help us or not?" Needless to say, I can't help them in such a case.
* Training needs are often established by HR professionals without the proper input or interest by the line managers and operational teams that are receiving the training. This also occurs in professional associations when it comes time to create the concurrent session program for the next annual conference. I'm not putting the blame on the HR professionals or meeting planners, as they are often preaching in the wilderness. It is up to operational managers and executives to determine what the developmental requirements are for their individual employees and teams. The role of HR and training developers is to guide and assist in this process to achieve the strategic, operational, and tactical goals of the organization.
* Formal, classroom-based training is not always the best means to acquire or change essential skills and behaviour, yet that is what most people envisage when they think of 'training.' First of all, you have to determine if training is even needed. Sometimes, it's the structure and processes of the organization; at other times, it's the incentives and overall management that are deficient. No amount of training can compensate for poor management and organization. If you do deem that training is required, you don't necessarily have to sit people in a classroom. Alternatives include: online, self-paced learning; books and reference manuals; coaching; mentoring; just-in-time training; simulations, to name but a few.
* Most training doesn't get validated. This is the process of going back to the trainees, their superiors, subordinates, colleagues, clients, etc. after a certain period to determine if the training has actually been effective at inculcating the correct skills, knowledge, and attitudes in the trainees. In other words, validation is the control and performance measurement mechanism to ensure that the goals originally formulated for the training have actually been achieved. How can you know if training is truly effective if you don't measure its effectiveness down the road? And notice that validation doesn't occur in the last fifteen minutes of a workshop.
* This is where 'smile sheets' come into play. We've all seen these sheets passed around at the end of a course or workshop to assess the content of the course, the instructor, the 'environment,' the quality of didactic materials, etc. I find this exercise totally useless. At the best it is a waste of time, but at worst it gives a false sense of security to everyone involved. The purpose of training is to get people outside their comfort zone. Some people thrive on this and get jazzed up. As a result, they give a glowing review to the trainer and the training. Other people get very uncomfortable when they're challenged in this way and react negatively in their assessments. Others are neutral or somewhere in the middle. Training should be measured by its effectiveness against the objectives that were set at the beginning, not against some imaginary 'feel good' standard. A final point is that any experienced trainer, instructor, or facilitator should be able to gauge the mood of a class and whether people are absorbing the material. They don't need a smile sheet at the end to tell them how effective the training was. If they do, or if they need the positive strokes from seeing a bunch of 5 out of 5's, then they probably shouldn't be conducting training in an organizational setting.
* Training often brings together groups that are too heterogeneous to have meaningful discussions and interaction during classroom based work. There is nothing wrong with senior executives mixing with production-line employees; in fact, I think it's a great idea. However, formal training isn't the time or place for that type of activity. You can deliver the exact same training package to senior managers and line employees, but the actual content of discussions and interaction can be very different. This is just a function of the day-to-day experiences and responsibilities of the people involved. Training should be conducted in fairly homogeneous groupings so that everyone can get the most out of the exercises, discussions, and interactions.
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