Are You Afraid of Training Employees?

afraid Have you ever wondered why your company offers such little employee training?  Sure they offer the required compliance training, and a catalog of assorted eLearning courses, but real skill development is absent.  Heck, an actual training function is absent from the organizational structure of the company!

In my 26 years working in the world of Learning & Development, I have had the opportunity to hear every excuse for not training employees that the human mind can conceive, and not a single one is worth the effort being made to disguise the real reasons we are avoiding the skill building process in so many organizations.  I will admit there is one legitimate reason to not training employees, and that is that the company is closing in a few months.  Yes this is a reason to avoid training.  But other than, we are closing up shop, the rest of the excuses are useless.

First I would like to acknowledge the many companies that are spending time and money on real development and processes that build their employees.  For the past 4 years I have had the honor of being a judge for an international search for the CLO Learning Elite Awards and I have reviewed some over the top, outstanding learning organizations.

So today I am not talking about the companies that are closing, or the ones that are building learning up in everything they do.  I am talking about the rest of the companies out there that are either faking the effort, or convincing themselves they don’t need to train employees.

Many companies offer some training, but it is what I call Swiss Cheese Training, because there are a lot of holes in the offering.  It lacks any testing for results, and claims of having a training function are only claims.  They are believing what they want to believe, not what actually exists.  These are companies that can improve because generally they want to have what they think they already have.  A Training Physical offers the company the ability to document what is working and document the missing pieces.

Companies that don’t fit into the above categories and are not providing training are afraid of the results:

  • “If we train our managers on employment law, they will know when we are failing to follow the law”
  • “If we build internal competencies, we will retain employees and reduce our ability to constantly hire unskilled employees at the lowest wages.”
  • “If we train communications skills then we will reduce the need for HR to intervene and solve problems.”
  • “If we train employees and they see it as a benefit they are apt to stay longer, and thus HR will not be as involved in recruiting anymore.”
  • “If we spend money on training, we will have less for management bonuses and stockholder dividends.”
  • “If we train employees they will know more than management, and that could cause accountability to get out of hand.”

In a nutshell, many companies are afraid of training their employees.  They think by withholding skills they will win, and yet they never do.  Companies that don’t have comprehensive learning strategies are setting the stage for failure.  In my 26 years, I have yet to see a company without training succeed.  Have you?

Training Development NOT Needed?

no trainingEvery company that employs people should be training these people in the skills necessary to perform their job responsibilities, Right?  Well evidently it is no longer necessary to develop the whole individual, and most companies only develop an occasional skill.  Sadly, there are an awful lot of companies that believe training development is Not Needed at all!

Look at your own company.  Do they have methods, workshops and programs to develop all of the skills you need?  Or do they leave it up to you to obtain the skills yourself?  And when people fail to perform their jobs, are they quickly terminated in the hope of finding a replacement that can do the job, again without training?

I have spent the last 10 years consulting with companies about improving their training function.  I’ve learned a simple truth about which companies put a value in the learning function and which ones do not.  It all begins and ends with the personal experience of senior leadership and the impact of training on their careers.

When a leader can tie their success to the effects of corporate training to their ability to rise up, get promoted and perform well, they are avid supporters of continuing training in their company.  Those that feel they got to where they are on their own efforts likewise feel that everyone should rise up the corporate ladder with the same path.  And while I can understand this kind of support, it does not mean that it is the right reason to proceed with either path.

What leaders need to realize is that training is an investment in your people.  If you provide poor training or even zero training, the odds of you getting a return on that investment are also poor to zero.  When you invest in accountable training that targets specific skill development, it has a better chance of producing the return you need for success.

Today’s millennial generation is receiving far less training than their parents did, and are even beginning to obtain leadership roles.  Unless they see a value in training development, I am predicting that training will continue to recede into the history books of corporate strategies for success.

Training Development is needed in every company, but for how much longer will that be the prevailing school of thought?

What Happens Without Training?

Just because you have a Training Manager and/or a Trainer on staff does not mean you have a training function that will make a positive contribution to the success of your company.  In some cases, this training function can be so poorly managed that it actually is contributing to your company’s future demise.

Nothing gets under my skin more that a company that believes because they have people on staff dedicated to “training” that somehow they have a strategic partner that makes a positive difference.  Maybe they do, but in too many companies, these training functions are actually hurting efforts and misleading management.

I have had the honor of being a judge for CLO Magazine’s Learning Elite Awards for the 3rd year now, and the applications this year had me in awe for how they contribute to the bottom line.  Two of the companies I am judging are so vital to the success of their perspective companies that if they were reduced in scale or shut down the companies would follow soon after.

And then there are the countless companies that operate without any training function at all.  They are ticking time bombs for how not to run a company.  CEOs that simply don’t take the time to understand the value of a solid training function, and Directors that allow the company to run without employee development should all lose their jobs.  The sad truth is they all will in time.  Just watch and companies that don’t use training well eventually close their doors.

I support a lot of financial services companies.  The banking industry is made up of mega banks, regional banks, and smaller community banks.  There isn’t a single mega bank that doesn’t have a solid learning function and is also a strategic partner.  Most if not all Regional Banks have pretty solid training functions.  Yet small and mid-sized community banks either go completely without a solid training function, or convince themselves they are doing okay.  The key to their common success is the degree to which the training function is part of the strategic plan of the bank.

If there is a single function within a company that will make or break the future success of the company it is training.  But equally important is a roster of leaders that know the value of training and how to leverage it to their advantage.  I look forward to the day that the dinosaurs that are leading companies without solid learning practices retire.  Yet we must look to advance better leaders that are better trained to replace them or the story will never change.

Thankfully I Received Training

With Thanksgiving in mind, and this blog being about the Training function, I realized that my career would not be where it is today had I tried to learn it all on my own.

From my early days in banking as a teller, without training, all of those transaction would never have happened.  There is no way I would have learned the platform, operations and lending side of banking had there not been a ton of training to enable me to perform those roles.  And if compliance training had not existed, I would have been terminated for not knowing all of the regulations I needed to follow.

Like so many I was promoted into management because I was a subject matter expert, and I struggled with the communications side of managing.  I had both good and bad role models in upper management over the years, and styled my own methods.  It was years later when I facilitated management and leadership training that my skills developed.  When I returned to a management role to lead a training organization as a CLO, I was a pretty effective manager by then.

Even my training career was developed by numerous training events that taught me how to facilitate, design training programs and materials and uncover organizational and performance problems.   These are not skills you are born with, and they must be learned to be successful.

Many in the workplace today have not received training to do their jobs.  It is assumed that they learned everything in school, which doesn’t happen, or they will pick it up on the job.  While informal or on-the-job learning does work, it is never comprehensive or consistent.  Companies that avoid formal training are throwing the dice and hoping to win.

To all of the companies and managers that have seen fit to develop my skills over the past 30+ years, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

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

One Person Training Department

In many organization the training department is a one person shop with the same responsibilities as training functions with a lot of staff.  The workloads are obviously different, but the areas of competency in a one person training department are more along the lines of a “jack of all trades” with maybe a master in a single area.  These unsung heroes are burning out trying to meet everyone’s expectations of training.

I work a lot with the banking and finance industry, and small to mid-size companies if they have a training function at all, usually place these responsibilities on a single person.  They are the trainer, instructional designer, administrator, technology expert, vendor relations and management’s contact for training requests.  They love what they are doing and want to do more.

These one person training departments are often staffed with some of the best people to work in the learning and performance world because they care about the learning needs of their fellow employees.  They often have a wish list a mile long of things they want to do that would improve employee performance, but they lack the ability to fit in another thing in their day.  They also lack staff and money to hire external talent for short-term projects.

Because training is often seen as an expense, putting more money into this function is not popular.  Neither is a desire to grow the function at the same rate as the organizational needs grow.  It is only when the workload becomes overwhelming does a little help come along, or when senior management supports the concept of the value training could bring to them meeting their business objectives.

I’ve been working with a small bank that has a great training manager, but could only afford bandages to keep her department alive.  Then the CEO retired, and the board appointed the current CFO as the new CEO.  Because expenses had always been this guys greatest focus, the training department thought their days were numbered.  Yet this new CEO saw training as an invaluable service partner, and immediately directed this training manager to hire two new staff members to meet current needs.  She went from a department of one to three overnight!

With both the pressure off this one person training department, and the full support of the CEO, this great training manager delivered a newly revised 2013 training plan given their new resources.

For those of you that are one person training departments, what would you do if the CEO discovered that training was under staffed and directed you to hire more people?  How would you demonstrate a return on this new investment?  I bet you know the areas that need shoring up, and if you don’t, then it is time for a Training Physical!

Old Dogs and New Tricks

Whoever said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, sure didn’t spend much time with senior citizens trying to learn something new.  I’ve spent the last few months as a volunteer coach working with seniors learning how to use various computer programs and I can tell you I have witnessed dedicated learners giving it their all to learn.

In the learning world we know that motivation from the learner is half the battle, and especially adult learners when it comes to learning new skills.  SeniorNet is a national organization that uses volunteers and local sponsors to bring computer training to our seniors.  The programs take the learner from the very beginning into advanced concepts.  Some of the learners are quick, and others are struggling, and yet they are all giving it their best effort.

So much time and effort is spent in the corporate environment on training skills that will benefit the employee, and yet the results are mixed at best.  If our corporate programs had learners with the same drive as the seniors I’ve been working with, wow, the success rate would go through the roof!

The lessons are simple.  Adults learn when they see a personal value.  Adults engage when the topic is something they want to learn.  And lastly, we should never stop learning and growing no matter how old we get.

“The Day We Stop Learning is the Day We Stop Living” – Jim Hopkins

For Sale By Owner

When you think of the phrase “For Sale By Owner” what first comes to mind? Maybe when selling your house, car or other large item. I guess it could fit anything we own and have the right to sell, and we are not getting help from anyone else to sell it.

Last week someone in my inner circle who likes to kid me, connected the efforts of a consultant like me marketing services to a For Sale By Owner advertisement. Upon a moment of reflection I laughed, and said I guess I am advertising my services that way. I am the product, and since I charge for my services I am “For Sale.”

I find it odd that when I worked internally, I never saw myself as the Chief Selling Officer for training. I was meeting a need the company had with a performance solution. I and my team did this over and over again and we kept our jobs, earned our paychecks and we made a difference to the success of the company.  In reality I was selling us all the time and yet the process was so much easier on the inside.

So why is it so hard for this same process to work outside of an internal role? When I was a salaried person I got paid every two weeks. Granted I worked hard for my paycheck, but did I really need to? I would have been paid anyhow, at least until it dawned on someone that I was not doing anything. And yet as an external consultant, managers expect all sorts of free consulting, free advice, free products and they call it testing you out.

I find myself being asked to speak at conferences every so often for travel and expenses only, no speaker fee. I’m told they don’t have the money and want me to write it off as a marketing expense. That works sometimes when the audience actually buys my services after the engagement, but most of the time that is a long shot. Conferences are being promoted with sizeable fees to attend, and the organizers are the ones making money. Without the speakers there would not be a conference.

The whole concept of the occasional free speaking engagement, free consulting is that it will come back to the consultant in the form of business. After all, having expenses is only cool when they reduce the taxable earnings. But what happens when the expenses exceed the earnings?

If you were selling your house as a “For Sale By Owner” would you let people live in it for a week to see if they liked it? Or if you are selling your car, would it be okay if they took a 3-day test drive and drained the gas tank? My guess is your answer is absolutely not. So why should I keep working for nothing?

An HR Manager told me a few months back that she likes to pick my brain. I must have been having an off day because without thinking I said, “I’m glad you think I’m valuable, but the sample tray is getting empty.” Ding! She said, “my word, I have been abusing your kindness.” I let that comment go without a response. I wonder if it will make a difference.

My tip for those reading that run HR and/or Training is to watch how much you expect from your external resources to provide you for free.  They need to make a living too, and it is important to be respectful of their time.  While you are earning a paycheck drilling them for ideas and solutions, remember they are not earning a dime.  After an hour on the phone you are several dollars richer and they are an hour poorer.

In the mean time, let everyone you know that in addition to a truck I have for sale, I am also selling my services – “Jim Hopkins – For Sale By Owner!”

100 Postings – Now What?

It is hard to believe that in the past couple of years I have posted a weekly blog to support the concepts of The Training Physical which was published in March 2010.  Today marks the 100th posting and a point where I am wondering now what do I talk about next?

While my weekly post has usually been about reinforcing the concepts in “Diagnosing” or “Treating” or “Curing” the training function, I have also described various departments, managers and companies and how their unhealthy training functions are impeding their growth.

While I have had so much more material to work with that focuses on what is not going on well, I have had the occasional moments where I have been thrilled to point out spot on functions that are focused on learning and returning on the investment being made in the training function.

While my consulting practice and my blog posts remain confidential as to the company identities, I was recently challenged by a colleague to be a little more direct by calling out the names of companies and individuals that are doing specific harm by the way they run training.

Although I am wondering what I should talk about going forward that is different from what I have already covered, I am not convinced that naming companies and individuals as the best way to fix what is not working in corporate training.  Turning this blog into a little black book of incompetencies may increase readership, but I am not certain that it would be worth the cost.

However, I am looking for ideas and your feedback on where you would like to see this blog go next.  Thanks for sticking with me these past 100 postings!


Circling The Wagons

Last week I posted a question on a few different groups in LinkedIn that I belong to posing a question about how an external applicant could penetrate the walls of a company that was trying to recruit for a new job.  Because it was a training role, I posted the question on HR & Training groups, but also a couple of groups focused on executive recruiting.

Just like in the western movies when the wagon train was being attacked by the indians, the HR & Training groups unanimously began circling the wagons and making excuses for the wall that exists within the recruiting process.  Not a single person suggested seeking out the hiring manager, or much of anything other than waiting to see what happens.

Now the executive recruiting groups were far from circling and acted more like the attacking indians.  To get in front of decision makers you much follow the establish rules for applying for a job, but after that you go and seek out the people who either make or influence the decision-making process.

Those people often include HR and I was quick to learn can sink the potential of the very best candidate if they so choose, so remember to step lightly.  But at the same time I asked who was the best to decide if a candidate fits the need?  Of course the answer is the hiring manager, but if HR is not cooperating now what?

We all know that internal politics are powerful, and even an external candidate needs to learn what works and does not work even before they join the company.  What struck me though was the nature of the common advice from the HR & Training Group.

“You must wait for HR to call you.”  “Never go over HR’s head even if they have not responded to you, they are busy.”  And my favorite is, “often the hiring manager doesn’t have a good handle on what they really need, and HR does.”

I guess all of these are possibly true statements, yet it was the fact that no one in HR & Training offered an idea outside the box that kind of alarmed me.  

In my book The Training Physical, I remind readers that Training is a support function, and their mission is to enable employees to perform their jobs.  When HR & Training lose sight of their purpose to support, then we end of fighting a losing battle.