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Identify why training is needed to avoid wasting time and money


“The majority of training is a waste of time and money”, according to a report on an HR website last week. The article was provocative, challenging, and some of the content I agree with. Not all of it though.

I do think that a large part of the training that is delivered in many organisations does not have the impact that one intends it to have - most of all, however good, it’s frequently not sustainable.

I don’t believe there’s anyone involved in HR who does not get frustrated by people who attend training programmes, say it’s great and that they’ve learned so much, only to recognise that 80% of the learning is forgotten within six weeks.

However, I would suggest that it’s entirely possible that those skills are required and even correctly identified – but - what I do think is that it is the wrong type of training and doesn’t address the real needs of the individual which is why it then doesn’t work.

Let me give you a real example that applied to one of our clients - a large retail organisation. They were getting complaints, lots of them, and basically these complaints were being generated by two things: Firstly the staff were rude, did not listen and spent more time chatting to each other than demonstrating care for the customer. Secondly, the customers complained that the stores were dirty.

Now these complaints had escalated to such an extent that it had reached the point where the board were discussing these issues and what to do about it. I was observing this meeting and saw HR getting a considerable verbal beating. They were being told that the customer service training was inadequate and obviously the systems did not support a good enough understanding of what a clean store was supposed to look like. So what was being recommended was more training and more systems.

At this point I interrupted to ask a question: “Are you seriously telling me that you employ people in your stores who are so stupid that they don’t know how to keep their homes clean or how to greet a new visitor to their home and give them such a great experience that they want to come back another time? Is that seriously what you are telling me?”
Their response was, naturally, that they were sure their people knew how to do that. I then asked why they were about to put in systems and training and systems that clearly told their staff that they were stupid.

The reality was that this was not their issue as each person clearly knew how to do this - they were just choosing not to do it. They were not taking responsibility. So the issue at the heart of the problem was connected to something different than the board had expected, and to put the wrong training in would have been both a waste of money and unlikely to achieve the desired results.

I believe that the challenge is not that there is too much training being done - it is just the wrong type of training that frequently addresses skills in isolation and does not address true leadership, which is about the whole person - how they think, how they understand responsibility and how they communicate.

These three things link together, and unless this is understood and trained in a way that is simple, effective and, above all, sustainable, then it almost certainly is a waste of time and money. Once you get this right then the training becomes embedded in a way that it is driven by line managers and not by HR - it does not need governance! It becomes part of the DNA of the business and ownership is taken at every level.

Penny Ferguson
The Living Leader

One Response

  1. Learning Needs Analysis or common sense?

    Like your post Penny and it highlights the need for a solid learning/training needs analysis on the root cause of business pain. As you mention, the knee-jerk reaction is to run a quick training course when there is an issue. I am interested to know how you came up with the diagnosis that a lack of responsibility was the root cause? Was there a learning needs analysis process that you used – or was it just common sense?!


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