The Downside of Being a Trainer

Exercises in futility

Exercises in futility

I love helping others gain knowledge that makes their lives easier. I love exploring topics aloud in group settings to increase the  collective insight of an organization. I love learning new things and relating them to relevant issues. I love watching someone take newly developed skills an apply them in a way that helps their career and the company.

I hate wasting time and effort.

Sadly, I find every once in a while, this is the result of a training engagement. I’ve either agreed to facilitate a class that was not needed or I’ve given skills that are not able to be used because the system does not support them yet. In either event, I’ve done my audience (and my client) a disservice. In times like this, I think of Sisyphus. You know, the guy who’s personal hell is to push a rock to the top of the hill only to watch it tumble back down again so he can push it back up. When I provide a training that has little or no result in performance, I have done just that – spent a lot of time and effort only to realize I am no closer to the top of the hill than when I started. And it is disheartening.

This is what separates training from performance improvement. When training is sought as a solution, I get queasy. Because it rarely ever is. Well, that’s not exactly true – it’s rarely THE solution. Training is an intervention intended to provide new knowledge, new skill, or new perspective. It does not change systems, motivation, or culture. And changing behavior has more to do with the last three than the first. In fact, the University of Minnesota conducted a study of training effectiveness and found that forces that outside of a training event have a greater impact on behavior change than training itself.

Common performance analysis methodologies, including Mager/Pipe’s seminal work, take a more systems view of performance problems. In those methodologies training tends to be the last in a long list of options, and for good reason. Not only is it typically not the only issue, it is often the most expensive (both in hard costs of the actual training event but also in the productivity lost by taking people out of their workflow.) Clear expectations, access to resources, effective consequences, and  effective feedback structures are all a part of the mix before training becomes a solution.

So before you call your trainers, mak sure you’ve addressed all the other solutions. They may take a little longer to investigate and challenge your ability to lead to solutions but they may yield you more effective results. Training delivered at the wrong time or inappropriately can do more harm than good if you are unwilling to explore the other causes to a performance problem.


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