People's hands

“The latest survey results are in! Err, OK, we’ve been marked down on ‘training & development opportunities…so we should probably do some ‘training’ then yeah?”

So now in this case you’d hope that the company will conduct some credible competency analysis of the intended delegates right? Or at least establish that the company’s financial underperformance has been identified in part down to skills gaps within elements of the workforce yes? Err…no, none of these actually…pushing the training button might well still be driven by just ‘box ticking’, ‘lip service’, CPD points or unbelievably in these tough economic times, even the ‘spend it or lose it’ approach to budgetary management.

After nine years working on the front line in training and development with businesses large and small across numerous market sectors, it never ceases to amaze me at the amount of ‘training wasted’. I see so many organisations that insist on spending their money on training when they have so little idea about what the real problem is, what the right solution is, or even how the training they’re buying will help. Free thinking seems to go out of the window when the training conversation comes up. Few new ideas, stuck in the way it’s always been done, leaving many UK organisations demonstrating all the flexibility of a ‘double door’ wardrobe.

I have envisaged and even seen so many times the functional email sent from the HR department to the delegates; I have seen the faces of the delegates entering the room looking so disenchanted, and I’ve heard the excuses of the ‘no shows’ who are in their view more than justified in their desire to want to do something else. So just ask yourself, what’s the level of buy in, commitment, motivation and connection with this course at this point? You guessed it, pretty low. How much do I feel as the delegate that it’s really for me and about me? Not much. The key to training being highly effective starts with the ‘before’ and the saying ‘you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge’ says it all.

So how is it that in so many UK organisations (and even pretty successful ones) that there is still so much narrow, unimaginative and disconnected thinking when it comes to people development? It’s sometimes hard to know whether its cause or effect, but here’s the reality……most training doesn’t work. If we’re talking technical, merely knowledge transfer stuff then this has arguably a better success rate, but where we’re talking developing competence in people, improving behaviour & skill, changing & forming new habits, then I’ll reiterate, most training doesn’t work.

Maybe it’s because so much training is ‘done badly’ that it doesn’t work; or maybe it’s done badly because it doesn’t work, so what’s the point in investing more time and resource in doing it better?

And when I say ‘doesn’t work’, what does that mean? Well, in short, improved behaviour and skill demonstrated back in the workplace, a new default setting in each delegate, sustainable over time. If the organisation investing in the training has got it right, then the improved behaviour and skill will deliver the improvements required, along with a return on the investment that all involved would be duly proud of.

Furthermore, how about ‘done badly?’ What does that look like? Well, that’s a whole chapter in itself but suffice it to say one could pick from any number of ‘howlers’ that I see all too often. How about not ensuring sufficient clarity and robustness of why the training is being done in the first place, or omitting to set any kind of measurement criteria. What about partnering with a supplier that does nothing to assist in building real commitment amongst the delegates, or ensuring that the actual learning interventions are tailored, relevant and inspiring to them?

But that’s not all, possibly the biggest culprit of the lacklustre reputation of so much training is that the ‘application’ of what was apparently learned on the ‘training course’ or coaching session simply never happened. There are a whole host of reasons for this, lack of desire or ability in the delegates, a lack of opportunity or support within the organisation, or just that no one more senior ever mentioned the training or measured its outcomes ever again, supporting the notion that “what gets measured gets done”.

The truth is, UK businesses and the external providers they work with could do just so much more to build commitment, provide inspiring development experiences and ensure far greater application of the learnings. The reality is that training CAN work. Just a few important changes can transform the outcomes, ensuring training becomes less of a ‘reluctant cost’ and much more of a ‘positive and willing investment’.