Why Doesn’t Training Work Very Well?

I think that many in business perceive training to be just like the miracle utility tools we see advertised on television. Tighten the handle and give it a few cranks, and lo and behold… we create new behaviors and new skills that make problems go away. It sure would make life easier for all of us if we could do that.

For the more pragmatic, training is an instrument with a purpose. To carry the above analogy one step further, training is much more like some special purpose tool a craftsman uses as part of the finishing process. After all the rough work is complete and the basic foundation exists, then with it we can transfer knowledge and certain types of skills along with the behaviors that support those skills.

Said another way, training is rarely if ever a solution by itself and never the core instrument for instigating corporate change. But it’s tough for some people to accept that training has such limited applications. Instead of realistically acknowledging the difficulty and the scope of the planned change, and using the “hiring tool” to build the proper foundation, they chip away and chip away with a tool that is incapable of doing the job adequately.

In the corporate world, at least, changing job behaviors is something that is best done in a more elegant and personal way by mentoring and coaching. A group setting based upon the premise that everyone in attendance has the same needs and has to address the same issues, and can learn to do that at the same pace as others in a group, doesn’t hold out high hopes for success.

Even in the hands of rather experienced and patient change facilitators, working with people to help them modify their behaviors remains one of the most challenging assignments in all of business. Such change is emotional much more than it is intellectual, threatens our feelings of competency and the inertia of our careers, and requires extensive, time-consuming visioning and practice in order to have a successful influence on actual job behavior.

One mistake most often leads to training failure, especially with major, corporate-wide initiatives. That is, before the training even begins, differentiating between what can be influenced by training and what is outside the bounds of learned change.

Every year businesses invest millions and millions of dollars with abysmal ROI’s trying to do what no one before them has successfully done. What is really a hiring or a placement mistake is not something that can be corrected by training.

Training pays off when we do the right things with the right people. It has much less value and may even be counter-productive when we attempt to do impossible things with the right people. But it is a financial and a human disaster when we try to do the impossible with the wrong people!

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