To Train or Not To Train?

Is there really a serious question in whether to train or not to train your employees?  Is there really a time you would avoid training skills?  Of course there is, but most companies that limit training or are avoiding certain skill sets are usually not doing it for the right reasons.

Back to the basics.  We train employees to perform skills they do not possess but need in order to perform job tasks.  We train employees when processes change, regulations are tweaked or we want everyone to refocus on a particular job function.  In other words, we should be training and learning all the time.

We should not train people we plan to terminate soon.  We should not train a workforce in any company we are planning to close or sell soon.  We should not train anyone if our plan is to lose money or get our stockholders to sell off.  We should not train if we don’t have retention goals, or we want people to quit as soon as something better comes along.  We should not train if we are striving not to be an employer of choice.

So if your goals need to be achieved, you want to retain good employees and attract new talent why is your training function lacking, uh, training events?  Why is the training department one or two people trying to do everything?  Why are training budgets often just salaries, and nothing for training materials, platforms, consultants, and workshops?

Yet my biggest alarm for folks that find value in having a training department, is why don’t you require them to have an annual training plan, and one they are accountable to implementing.  How are they allowed to accomplish minimal tasks week after week and you continue to pay them?  Do you want a training function, or just a window display for recruiting purposes?

if you lead the training function you have two choices as I see it.  You can either start leading a productive function that is out there making a difference, or you can work on your resume.  Because it has never been more certain today then ever before, “when things get tough, the first thing to go is training!”  Unless you are doing your job correctly!

Training Leader or Manager?

I know a lot of companies get caught up in titles more than they spend time with the role, responsibilities and objectives.  Yet is there any real difference between a training manager and a training leader?

In my humble opinion, a manager is capable of managing projects and implementing solutions.  They manage people and processes to get things done.  A leader is one that can inspire and take people and ideas on a journey.  They can paint a clear picture or vision of the future and how we are going to get from point A to point B.  When it comes to the head of training, you need both sets of skills or you are going to fail, and fail badly.

A gifted training manager can evaluate a workplace challenge and match appropriate performance solutions to fix a problem.  Yet it is necessary to sell others on what you know deep down to be the best path to success.  This is where your leadership skills come into play.  This is why knowing the value you provide is only half of what you need, you also need to be able to articulate to others why they need to come onboard with you and join your support for the direction you are heading.

Some training managers believe their very existence and wonderful insight is all that is necessary, and when you team this up with managers that don’t connect the dots or even see value in the training function the lack of leadership skills in the training manager make for a double edge sword that is dull on both sides!  Dull, and not about to be sharpened anytime soon will make for a tough time cutting anything.  Things are going to get worse and not better.

Mentoring leadership skills in your line of work is about the only way to learn the visionary side of the job.  I wish there was a workshop, eLearning course or book to train training managers how to become training leaders, but at most, all they offer are ideas.  I thank my lucky stars for the excellent mentors I grew up with.  They worked under the same roof and I learned without even knowing it.  Because of them when I first became a training manager, I was also prepared to become a training leader too!

Training Costs Money

I’m a big Harry Potter fan, not only for the well written story, but for the fact that everyone has a wand that casts spells.  Rarely does a day go by that having a wand would make fixing employee performance easier and faster.  Not to mention it would remove that ugly little secret that training actually costs money to provide.

This secret is often so well hidden in companies, that many completely ignore its very existence when they speak of “supporting the learning function” or “we are very big on learning here” and yet talk about not having money to devote to training employees.  They have grand goals for the learning function, but even salaries are lower than industry norms.

The truth be told, that training can and should return on the money it gets to improve performance, yet unlike Harry Potter, the training manager does not have a magic wand to waive to change performance or make money appear to purchase programs and systems.  I often as a consultant need to be the barer of bad news when the person across the table from me is giving me their wish list, and then shares the lack of money to spend.

I was meeting with an HR manager a few months ago as she in quite some detail, listed off everything she wanted in a training department, and then gave me her budget.  While I’ve been known to pull off a few miracles in my past, I would need a magic wand this time.  It was time to help this company realize they had two choices.

  • First was to prioritize the list, and attach a realistic dollar figure to each project.  If they were willing to fund the money, we could make these things happen.
  • Second, was to admit that training is going to cost money, and if they didn’t budget for it with real numbers, they would need to remove those items from their list until the financial resources became available.

I took the list and attached the dollars it would take to make each thing happen.  I then took their current budget, and asked them if they intended to keep the staff.  The answer was yes, so I subtracted that from the budget and highlighted the balance.  They had enough to do one thing on this list and that was it.  We discussed the highest priority, and I crossed everything else off the list and I handed back the sheet of paper.  Silence.

After letting reality set in, her response was, “well that was blunt.”  I responded that this is just were they are today.  It is no longer a list of things to be done, as until more money was allocated to training they only had one project they could do.  I know I popped their balloon big time, but I’m not doing them any service in getting everyone excited about launching management training, getting a talent management system, bringing in social learning platforms, and revitalizing service and sales skills when there is no money to do them.  Although these were all very targeted learning initiatives, no money means no training.

People wonder why I am such a big fan of a documented training plan, that is meshed with an approved budget.  It is because although it is relatively easy to obtain support for a targeted learning initiative, without money to pull it off it is not going to happen.  Training costs money and no amount of wishing will change that reality.

Should I Replace Our Training Manager?

applicationTheir Training Manager resigned, and she asked me if they should replace the role.  One part of me wanted to quickly say, of course you should, but her question gave me pause and I began to wonder why she was asking this question.

When someone leaves a position in nearly every company, the first thing the manager usually does is to contact HR and in a single breath is telling them that an employee has resigned and we need to hire a replacement.  The same pattern happens most of the time as soon as someone is terminated for poor performance, as it is now time to find a better performer!

Yet there was something interesting in this apparent pause that captured my attention.  I decided to check on some of the more obvious situations that would require me to say no to rehiring.

  1. Are you going out of business soon?
  2. Are you filing bankruptcy protection?
  3. Are you being acquired by another company?
  4. Or, is it your desire for one of the above to happen?

With none of these yielding a yes answer, I realized that the doubt about replacing the role had a lot to do with how well training had been perceived as meeting business objectives under the past leadership.  It was time to figure out what had happened that was not pleasing to management.

  • “Tell me about the role of training the last couple of years”
  • “What happened or did not happen that has dampened the support for the training function?”
  • If they resigned, “Do you know the real reason they resigned?”
  • If they were terminated, “Will you share with me the reasons for termination?”

These questions yielded a ton of information, and in a very short period of time I realized that the training function had become quite ill under the previous leadership.  I knew I needed to tell this person in no uncertain terms that, NO you should not immediately replace the Training Manager.

Getting to the root of all the problems the training function has for it to be healthy is the premise of my book The Training Physical.  Once this company could list what was working and what was not working, they would be in a better position to find the right training manager from all the applications they would receive.  When everyone that is interviewing understands what the ideal candidate looks like, they ask better interviewing questions.  And, there is no need to create hypothetical scenarios to test how a candidate would address things, you simply spell out a current problem and ask the “what would you do” question.

This conversation, subsequent Training Physical, and the hiring of a new training manager happened over a year ago with a company that I am proud to say has a very well run training department now.  The lesson we all learned is to pause a little between someone leaving and the beginning of the hiring process.  Learn what has been going on, and the kind of employee you want to move forward with and you are destined for success.