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When evidence suggests stand-alone interventions are almost useless, why do companies still invest in them?


I was asked to create a proposal for a one-day training event recently – and whilst it is always nice to be asked, my instinctive first question is always around how the desired learning will be supported after the training day. 

Nine times out of ten I get a vague response about ‘on the job support’, follow up questionnaires, and a variety of non-committal and unspecific measures.

Now, having been a trainer, run training departments, and been responsible for learning and development for large organisations I freely admit that I was one of those people – very happy to respond to a business need with a nice contained one day course… and very little thought to supporting knowledge and skills acquisition, or attitudinal change.

But over my twenty years involved in L&D, training and coaching I have learned a couple of things.

In my view it is unreasonable to expect that a day in a life can have any meaningful impact on behaviour.  Even in the simpler areas of knowledge and skill acquisition the ‘decay’ is staggering post-event – and when more complexity is present the picture doesn’t get any prettier.

Now here is a dilemma for an external company, invited to ‘pitch’ for business.  It would be easy to just do what the customer is asking, but it is much harder (and risks the business) to challenge the customer’s thinking.

So what did I do?

I put aside my economic driver, and brought forward my creative thinking.  Probing a little further on what ‘on the job support’ would look like - the response was that the team would be coached.  Great!  That’s one excellent intervention that could support the training day.

The only problem is that there are so few managers who are trained, competent and capable of coaching.  Does that sound critical?  Well let’s examine this a little.

If you were employing an external coach, you might have a list of criteria that constitute a credible coach, maybe:

·      A coaching qualification from a recognised body (probably PG. Cert as a minimum)

·      Professional association (EMCC, AC, ICF)

·      Working to a code of ethics

·      CPD

·      Supervision arrangement

·      Coaching evaluation systems

It’s interesting that the standards applied externally are often nowhere near achieved internally – and yet this is the mechanism by which training investment is supported.

My solution… to offer the training day free of charge – with the proviso that we coached participants after the event.

Sometimes what people ask for runs counter to everything that we know works – so you can either be a ‘yes-person’ or a ‘yes-but person’…

By the way, I have not had the work confirmed yet – but here’s how I see it; do good work which has impact, or don’t do it at all.

Now I just need to have the conversation about evaluation… any thoughts?

2 Responses

  1. Hmmm

    When evidence suggests?….

    Where is your evidence and which subject area do you refer to?

    Maybe trying to develop leadership skills through use of PPT in a day might not be the most effective driver of change, a full seven hours of coaching as part of a brand marketing course does empower and grow businesses.

    — Carl Duncker Trainer, Chartered Marketer, Entrepreneur For one day courses by

  2. Hi Carl…

    Hi Carl,

    Thanks for the post – nice to have a response –  and yep, a valid challenge – who says?  

    Rather than cite a list of references it might be more useful to explore what it means to hold a ‘reasonable view’ – which might not be one that you hold (given your chosen method of training delivery) nor does it mean that it is unreasonable to hold an opposing view! 

    I guess one place to start would be with personal experience – in my experience of attending training as a learner, running, leading, commissioning internally and providing externally over twenty years plus my experience tells me that ‘one off’s’ without some kind of follow up support fails to maximise the investments made (at best, and at worst is a waste of resource) – so who says… I say. 

    So then is that view in-step, or out of step with what others think, what are their views – do others hold the same beliefs? (the consensus view of ‘truth’) – in a vast range of industries, skills, and applications the impact of training has been researched using a myriad of methods – including the ubiquitous Kirkpatrick levels (from individual reaction, to organisational impact).  An interesting place to start might be with Arthur et al in Human Performance (1998) whose meta-analysis across 53 articles of differing training contexts and outcomes.  Their research and findings were around rapid and significant skill decay in non-use (hence my point around doing something with the training – and not simply treating it as a ‘one-off’).

    A Simple Google Scholar, Jstor, Swetswise, or Business Source Premier search will provide you with literally hundreds of articles on knowledge and skill decay, impact and outcomes research – some of which look at training alone, training plus coaching (as well as a great deal of work on blended learning, e-learning and the list goes on almost endlessly). 

    I’m sure your courses are great (and I could do with some of that knowledge, I’m sure)– but the point is that it would be difficult to argue that additional support and activities for individuals post ‘one-off’ training events would not strengthen their impact, embed the skills and knowledge provided and maximise investment? And by the same token – knowledge and skills left dormant and unused post training will rapidly decay into oblivion…. never experienced that?

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