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Training myths (part four)


There is a very common myth that clients are particularly prone to believe - that is, that training someone is all about what goes on in the training room.  It’s understandable they might believe that: the workshop is the most visible aspect of the training and tends to be the only one, as we’ve seen, that anybody bothers to assess.  But here’s myth-buster number three - the training course is not the only part of training; it’s not even the most important part.

By definition, when you’re training people it’s because they need to achieve something they haven’t achieved before.  As the saying goes, to achieve things you haven’t achieved before you have to do things that you haven’t done before.  What, exactly, are those things?  As a trainer, you have to work with the client to carefully identify the critical few new behaviours and use that to guide the content of your training.  In addition, the delegates have to understand why they’re being asked to go on some training; they have to understand what’s expected of them so that they don’t show up on the first morning for no reason other than because their manager told them to.

But anchoring the learning in advance is only one art of the equation.  The second, and arguably more important stage, comes afterwards, when they get back to “the real world” and try to apply their new skills.  The conditions have to be correct - there must be support from their managers and it must be clear to delegates that their application is being monitored.  Not in a heavy-handed way, as a form of punishment, but to ensure they get the maximum chance to apply what they’ve learned and see the benefit from it.  Whatever their new skills or knowledge are, rooting that teaching deeply into a business need ensures that delegates can see the relevance.  The whole point of the teaching is to help them achieve this new business need so it makes sense to ensure that (a) the learning is being applied and (b) the application of this learning is moving the delegate/team/organisation in the right direction.

Let me give you an example; a few years ago I did some time management training with a medical research company.  They went all-out on the training - posh hotel, bought the attendant software package, trained up 30 staff members, which was probably about 50% of the company.  They were a good group - engaged, interested, funny - and I enjoyed running the workshops.  After six weeks or so, I went back to the company to do a little on-the-job evaluation; the idea was to check on their progress, help with any questions, see what results they were achieving.

With one exception, they’d all given up.  The one exception said that applying what she had learned had “changed (her) life” but the others had gone back to doing what they did before - the very behaviour that caused their managers to send them on the workshop.  Undaunted, I listened carefully to the reasons why people weren’t applying what they’d learned and I put together some suggestions on how the company could overcome these obstacles and get the thing back on track.  After several weeks and a lot of chasing, I finally got a reply from the HR Manager.

They were very happy with the work I’d done and especially with my suggestions, which had impressed them.  However, the leadership team had discussed the situation and come to the conclusion that “in this company it is the responsibility of the employees to either take on board the learning offered or not, depending on whether it is right for them. So the fact that some people have dropped the tool doesn’t bother (the management team) too much, the choice is theirs.”  I was dumbfounded.  The training had cost them, in total, somewhere around £30,000 - money which was, essentially, wasted.  

Without anchoring the workshop to the delegates’ job, even the best training won’t “stick” - the most engaged delegates will do their best to apply what they’ve learned but are likely, eventually, to fall back into the old patterns dictated by their environment.  Buying into the myths of training and taking a laissez-faire approach like that adopted by the company I cited above merely results in no results.

One Response

  1. Crusade against training myths (part 4)

     Thank you for an insightful post. Couldn’t agree more. If I am asked after a program (classroom or online) if the training was successful, my response is always the same – “I have no idea. Ask me 6 months from now.” The success of a training intervention can only be assessed in the “real world” of work, by looking at measures of on-the-job behavior and performance outcomes. To do that, however, requires that we view training as a process, rather than an event. I’ve found that ‘Coaching Guides’ with behavioral observation checklists and pull-through suggestions for the supervisors or managers of those who participated in the training can go a long way in supporting the transfer of training in the workplace. 

    Tim Martin

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