I have been in the training industry since 1976, and there’s something I know that you may or may not know: Most training fails!
Far too often training makes no difference. It adds no value, creates no change—and in the end, is a cost rather than an investment. Why? Because both buyers and sellers make mistakes. And in the current economy, we can’t afford mistakes nor can we afford not to train existing staff.
On the “selling” side, more often than not, the training rep is anxious to make the sale so he or she caves to the request of the buyer. This leads to the seller selling the client the wrong training, just to make a sale. Many years ago, a major retailer purchased a customized retail sales program from me. Why? Their CEO wanted one! What they really needed was a Leadership course. They had just gone through a major turn around and even the President of their apparel group said it takes a different mindset to lead a company than it does to turned it around. He was right, and I knew it but the CEO was demanding it, so I sold the custom sales course. It failed and it was my fault because I failed them.
Also, some training suppliers don’t just sell the wrong product, they sell a bad product. There’s a lot of junk on the training market, and when it doesn’t work, it gives the industry a well-deserved lousy reputation—and is a waste of the customer’s time, energy, and money. Often it is simply hype or motivational and does not build the skills people need to succeed.
On the buying side, even when clients purchase really great content, they too can make really big mistakes. Once I sold a substantial amount of needed training to a company who a year later had lost it and never implemented it. This wasn’t just about misplacing paper and plastic, this was also about changing priorities. Their business was doing well and they were simply too busy succeeding to implement the training they paid for. Today, that struggling company needs the training, but “can’t afford it.” A buyer’s mistake!
To make training worthwhile, here are several “Do” and “Do Not” recommendations.
Do not buy training only “if it can be measured.” If you believe a statistical return on investment can be applied to the development of people, then you are sadly mistaken. This desire to measure is often an excuse used by executives to not spend money on training. The truth is, senior managers either believe in training or they don’t. Training can only be measured by the actions people take after the course, and leaders must observe recognize the good actions and re-train where necessary.
Do not rely on the outside trainer for success. Just as Mom and Dad—not the school, church, or scout leader—are accountable for the success of the child, it is the client organization’s job to create change in people and culture, not the outsider’s.
Do not believe there are panaceas. Events, books, audios—these are just tools; tools that need to be used correctly. Single events need to be followed by repetition to effect change. Books require a commitment to study, discuss, and apply. As I once heard executives “backed up the truck” to load up on mega-seller “Who Moved My Cheese?” and pushed it at their people saying CHANGE! And then they all wondered why nothing did. There is no silver bullet.
Do not do “executive overviews.” What could be more arrogant than buying into the myth that the senior team only needs the short version?! Want to tear down walls, build trust, and engage employees? Have everyone go through the same program and mix the top folks in. And no sending the CEO and Team to the warm weather golf resort while the staff does it in the company cafeteria, either.
Do not allow “auditing.” If someone from another department or group wants to “check the program out,” have them pull up a chair and get involved. People watching from the back of the room, with an evaluation mindset hurts the group, the program, and themselves.
Do not s-t-r-e-t-c-h material. Don’t do in three days what can be done in two, or in six hours what can be done in four. Stretching content kills people’s desire for the next training program.
Do not cancel training! Short of a natural disaster, stick with the scheduled commitment. If you don’t, it wasn’t ever a commitment—and the people know. Oh, and Mr. or Ms. Executive, if you’re scheduled to be there, then be there. That’s real leadership. The worst thing any executive can do is introduce a course and leave, it devalues the training in the student’s minds.
Do decide that people can change. This is a belief held deep down, where we really live. If your organization isn’t there, don’t buy/do any training. It will only fail.
Do provide for repetition. Repetition is the motor of learning and without it higher percentage of the content is never applied. Schedule reviews at regularly scheduled meetings. It will make a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of the training.
Do follow up on actions taken. Reinforce positive actions taken. When people try new ideas or techniques for the first time they feel self-conscious. If they feel the ideas/techniques didn’t work, they have a tendency to stop the action. If we reinforce and praise them for the use, the will continue using and become more comfortable and natural in it’s use. We do not learn to ride a bike or drive a car in one lesson so how can we expect people to master new skills in one lesson.
Do understand the four levels of learning. When people first try a new skill they feel Extreme Discomfort, by continuing to try they move to Discomfort, Comfortable and finally Reflex Action. Studies have shown people usually fall in-between Extreme Discomfort and Comfort with new content. Only through reinforcement and repetition of content use do we stand a chance of getting people to the Reflex action level. That is where they use the content naturally without having to think about it. That is true effectiveness in training
Do use training to solve a problem. Example: If sales are down, bring in some quality sales skills development. Don’t train just to train. It’s not a “To do” that we do just to check off our list.
Do implement training in bite-size “chunks.” People learn best when exposed to material they can apply now. As the wise farmer said, “I may have a barn full of hay, but I don’t feed it all at once!” The purpose of training is to get action, so give people small amounts and let them act.
Do acquire practical “how to” content. If the ideas presented don’t cover the what, the why, and the how, then don’t do the training. Life is not theoretical, so don’t give learners just a bunch of theory.
Do buy less stuff. The axiom “less is more” truly is true when it comes to training. Many a credenza is loaded with 3-ring binders that were never opened again after the class.
Do create ownership in-house. The best learning comes from one’s boss. Give the manager the tools required to do the training. Yes, he or she may not be a polished, professional trainer, but it speaks volumes when a leader engages with people in this way. And if the manager doesn’t own the training, it will die anyway.
Do stick with what you buy (unless you bought the junk). Avoid doing the blue program one quarter, the yellow program the next, and the purple one after that. This creates confusion and cynicism—the latter being a disease that’s hard to eradicate. Effecting change is based on a commitment to constant and consistent communication. Mixed messages never work.
There you have it. What else is there to say, other than training does not fail when we do it right! At Accountability Plus, Inc. we are committed to doing it right! Please feel free to explore our Process and our courses on Leadership, Sales Management, Sales and Personal Accountability.
Jim Strutton, CEO
© 2011 Accountability Plus, Inc.
Please forward this information to your executives, managers, and HR/training people.