Improving Training Health

During a discussion on how to improve a human being’s health, I discovered a direct link with improving the health of the training functions in our organizations.  Even though I wrote The Training Physical with constant references to our human physical, I missed this insight into why our training functions become ill in the first place, and remain ill years later.

The discussion was about how if we spent more time in prevention of illness in our human bodies there would be less to treat down the road.  The opinion was that we should first focus on preventing illness, and if we cannot prevent it we should find a cure for it, and as a last resort spend the time, money and resources on treatments.

Yet for most of us we focus little on prevention, and instead we wait for the illness and throw every treatment possible at it hoping to remove it.  We spend so much more money trying to treat illness than we ever would have trying to just prevent it.

My “Uh-Ahh” moment came when I realized that training departments often work the same way.  The ones that are in the worst shape are running around trying to fix performance problems.  They train people when things go wrong, not before when it could have prevented a problem.

Management Development training is by far my best example.  Companies are not preventing the numerous issues that come from managers that are unable to communicate well with staff, or problem solve, or know how to coach, motivate and create great working environments.  Rather than spending time preparing managers to manage, training dollars go to fixing the problems caused by inappropriate comments, high turnover rates and lagging sales or service goals.

It may sound like I have a new drum to beat, but it is just a different version of the same song I’ve been singing.  Training must be both proactive and reactive.  Only the best training departments are being proactive, the rest are spending too much time and money putting out fires.

Training Plans Demonstrate Value

Since I wrote The Training Physical 3 years ago, I have become an even bigger supporter of a documented training plan for every training function.  However, when you are building a training function from scratch, it is vital to your job to demonstrate the value you are providing right from the start.

Last week I learned the sad news that a friend is losing her job as training director due to downsizing.  A new employee charged with building a training function from scratch is being laid off because her function after less than 6 months is deemed unnecessary.  The shocker for me is that this talented training professional should have known better than to jump in with both feet, begin working on projects without communicating the plan first.

She is kicking herself now because it seems a little late to convince management that what they deemed a good idea 6 months ago in hiring her, is now a waste of future expense dollars.  No longer is training considered an investment, but just another expense that can be eliminated.

When I hear that a company is planning to build a new training function where one did not exist before, I immediately encourage management to draft a first year training plan.  Not only does it provide interviewers with practical goals to test applicants ability to implement, but it sets the stage for why we are hiring and what we can expect.  Without a training plan there are more varied expectations than there are employees in the company.  Everyone has a different idea of the purpose of training, so people can get very disinterested quickly when they don’t see what they want happening.

So as I continue to beat my drum on the need for a training plan to provide focus, I will be adding a couple more beats to the need to retain your job in training.


Training Didn’t Work This Time

If training is supposed to create behaviors that were not present in an employee before they were trained, what do we say when months after the training event the behaviors are still missing?

While I may get shot down for saying this, I must insist that honesty is the best option for the training function.  Sometimes training does not fix the problem and sometimes it does not work.  For those of us that live in the performance improvement world we know that training is only a fix about 50% of the time so we first need to understand its limitations.  However, when it is considered to be part of the solution process, it is vital that we design a training solution that will achieve results.

When we choose a training solution we must be willing to endorse its limitations in the performance process, but we must be responsible to make sure it will do its share.  If you are training management communication skills, and the learning process is all information and no application, we know our chances of success are limited.  When managers continue to say inappropriate things we can’t sit back and say, “well we trained them” and walk away.  We must acknowledge that our training solution did not work and we need to fix it.

In many companies there are lists of skills that we assume employees arrive with and therefore do not train.  My favorites in addition to management communication skills are customer service and sales skills.  Never are any of these learned in school and/or at home.  To assume that they learned it from a previous employer admits that you want several different versions floating around the organization.

In some retail and restaurant environments this skill building is being left to the local manager.  OMG, have you interacted with a retail store or restaurant manager lately.  It is literally hit and miss if you find one that possesses these skills.

When I evaluate a performance issue, I will always lay blame at the foot of training if it does not exist and the skills are to be learned through some osmosis process.  When training exists and yet is flawed, I go back and challenge a redesign of the learning process.  When training is correctly designed and implemented, 9 times out of 10 it is the lack of reinforcement by management that allows the behaviors to disappear.

Sometimes training does not work, and sometimes it should work and it is being derailed.  If you are leading training, it is important that you are doing your part to deliver good training.  Don’t agree to flawed training design, and take the blame when you do come up short.

A Trainer’s Heart

In my book The Training Physical, I discuss the core of any good learning professional as having a trainer’s heart.  In my mind the core of any facilitator, instructional designer, OD / performance consultant, manager and director is that of a trainer.  Someone that can take what they know how to do and help someone else learn how to do the same thing.

Yet having a trainer’s heart means that you freely give of your talents to make sure other’s are learning.  You care, have passion or maybe like I have, get labeled with the tag a “purist” because you fight hard for following adult learning principles.

Over the past 22 years I have had the honor of working with a lot of people in the learning profession, and many of them have a trainer’s heart.  I mentor and coach these people because it is a rare characteristic in a lot of trainers so I wish to help them see and understand the value they bring to their operations.

Last week I launched a Twitter account.  You may wonder why I have not done this sooner, and it was because I didn’t see how I could possibly say anything in 140 characters.  Yet I was coached into doing this as another way to create conversation.  It has been a challenge to talk in sound bites, but I hope to get the hang of it soon.  Coming up with a unique name was a challenge until I remembered my core; having a trainer’s heart.

So if you twitter, follow me at