It’s Not (All) About The Training

Written by: Alan Rodway - Your Coach Online


It’s too easy for businesses to think that training can overcome a lot their problems and take them forward. Of course training is important to situate people to perform well but it won’t overcome many high performance barriers. Businesses too often want to provide training (programs) as the solution to many challenges but development of people is a lot more than training. It’s quite ridiculous when training becomes the norm whenever a performance issue arises. Training should fall second to real world experience, so the first question to be asked should be ‘’What real world situations can we put our people into to develop them?” and then ask what supportive training would be useful, not the other way around. Development is largely about the experience people are having … experience in the real world, not in training rooms, role plays, classrooms or online learning.

A classic example of misguided training is leadership. Businesses send people off to leadership training courses or bring in leadership trainers, often at significant cost, thinking it will develop leadership behaviours, only to find that leadership doesn’t always improve significantly. Most people can listen, watch, role play and learn, but doing it on the job is an entirely different thing, when real emotions are at play, time demands kick in and there are actual consequences. If a business lacks leadership or would benefit from higher levels of leadership behaviours then the first question that has to be asked is whether the right people are in the business? No amount of leadership experience or training is going to elevate leadership behaviours in the wrong people. The second question is then whether leadership behaviours are actually being encouraged, rather than (subliminally) discouraged through, (some) senior people feeling threatened by the possibility of leadership growth from underneath them or owners wanting to keep control or that mistakes are punished so people aren’t willing to lead by example in case they get it wrong. If and only if the right people are within the business and leadership behaviours are truly being encouraged should the business then deliberately put leadership experiential development paths in place.

Clearly there are situations where people can not be thrown into leadership roles because the consequences would be too dire if mistakes are made (e.g. where anyone’s personal safety are at risk). It should also be pointed out that this article is not talking about technical training … that’s just necessary and whilst it might aid leadership behaviours, it’s training and not strictly leadership development.

The platform for improvement in performance should comprise the following:

  • The right people must be in place (or the rest is a waste of time);
  • Clear and genuine messages within the business that development of people is crucial to success;
  • Clarity of purpose, direction and strategy for the business;
  • Aligned goals between people and the business itself;
  • Honest and open communication (absolutely vital)
  • Giving people ongoing development experience.

Training is an event (important yes, but just an event) and too often results in interesting sessions but little or no lasting behavioural change. True development of people comes from what they experience and what they are involved with in the real world. This means:

  • What they are exposed to;
  • What they try (and don’t try);
  • What they do about their mistakes;
  • How they deal with people’s reactions;
  • How they deal with actual problems;
  • How they deal with different personalities;
  • How they are helped;
  • How they help;

All of these are actual and form the basis of the development experience. Sitting in ‘training rooms’ discussing how to handle different situations, learning the theory or role playing the perfect behaviour is not a proven technique to drive the desired behaviours. Too often people come out of the training to continue past behaviours.

Another classic misuse of training is in communication. Many people in business have been through a myriad of training programs on communication skills but fail to truly improve their communication in the real world … because the learning is theoretical. They know how to communicate well but still don’t. Communication skills improve not through knowing about them but when they have to be used in the real world.

Another misuse of training is time management. Who doesn’t know to manage their time well! Delegate, empower, work urgently, do the high priority tasks first, have effective systems for task management, and so on. So, if so many know how to manage time, why is it still such a prolific issue for (key) people in business? Because the training sessions on time management miss the point … poor time management is a lack of discipline to implement what we already know and no amount of training will overcome that. The experience people are allowed to have must change. Attend yet another training session on time management or having another discussion with someone else about how they manage their time will not help. A change in the experience must be forced, somehow.

It’s such a waste of resources that so many training programs lead to little uplift in performance. Worse, not only do businesses engage training programs as their default mechanism to improve situations and behaviours, they then spend money on measuring the impact of the training when it’s almost impossible to measure anyway!

The point is this … put people consistently into real world situations where they have an ongoing experience that will develop them further. Don’t just put into training programs. The experiential development can be supported by training and that gets the best of both worlds.

How many businesses do surveys within to be told that communication is poor, leadership is lacking, change is being handled poorly, declared values aren’t being lived or that morale is low … to almost automatically put training in place to overcome these problems? How many of those businesses then get significantly better results a year later when they do the same survey? We would argue not many … because learning the theory and putting things into practice are entirely different things.

There is another point to this notion. High level development only comes from ongoing experience. Improvement is a continuous process. Too often businesses start something and stop it six or twelve months later, either because it’s not perceived to be working or that it has ‘worked’ and has fulfilled its purpose. That doesn’t work … people and the approaches they are taking will too easily revert to previous habits if the continuous improvement experience is not continued, forever. Businesses are too quick to want to tick something off as having been done or accomplished. It doesn’t work like that.

Improvement is a journey.

The ongoing experience people have within a business will shape their performance. Make that experience developmental and back it with training where necessary.

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