5 Reasons for Training, That Aren't About Learning

Published on 2013-12-06

Source: Greenwich Photography @ Flickr

YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO KNOW that training is not all about learning. Decisions to engage a trainer and their training firm aren’t necessarily a result of a genuine need to improve skills. Here’s five reasons for training that aren’t about learning:


1.The Knee-Jerk

“Our staff lack empathy so we want to send them on a two-day empathy training course”.

This is the sort of sentence you will hear when training is a knee-jerk reaction to any problem whatsoever. A colleague accidentally gets locked in the toilet, so the whole department gets sent on a health and safety training. The team has a tight deadline to meet with lots of overtime coming up over the next month, so naturally they get sent on a two day stress management course. The receptionist can’t transfer the phone, so gets sent on a ‘Being a Great Receptionist’ course.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]…with a lack of thoughtfulness train will create more problems, waste money, and frustrate the participants. [/quote] Training acts like a magic wand, solving potential and current problems. A bit of training here, a bit of training there, and voila, the organisation runs perfectly. That is, of course, wishful thinking. Training is not a magic wand, it will not solve every problem, and with a lack of thoughtfulness train will create more problems, waste money, and frustrate the participants.

If you have an abundance of ‘knee-jerk’ type trainings in your workplace, your leaders probably need management fundamentals. There are a lot of alternatives to training; a lot of very practical alternatives that don’t require as many resources and are highly effective, ranging from publishing an employee handbook to initiating a mentoring program. These solutions are thoughtful, planned and definitely NOT reactive.


2. The ‘My Manager Said…’

“My manager said the staff needed to take some communications training. Give me your standard outline”.

Sadly, in the training industry in China, this is very common. Someone at the top, who for one reason or another, did not clearly communicated their expectations of the training. They are just passing down orders.

In some cases this can be okay. The manager might believe that employees should be entitled to as many learning and development opportunities as possible, in which case, effectiveness is not an issue – opportunity is what’s most valued. Other times, the ‘My Manager Said…’ approach can have problems. Normally this is when the manager has clear expectations for the training outcomes, but has not made them clear. If that’s the case, any improvement gained from the training is simply luck.

The best way to avoid any issues with this approach is to conduct an improved needs analysis. All that means is you ask a few more questions, or if the manager is very patient then you ask a LOT more questions. Take notes. Dig deep. If they say things like, “I just want our staff to be more professional” then ask “What do you mean by professional?”. Summarise their needs into a series of key statements and read them back to the manager to see if you have thoroughly understood. With a clear understanding you will be in a much better position to arrange a training that will better suit their needs, while at the same time improve your ROI.


3. The End is Nigh

‘It’s coming to the end of the year and we’ve still got a lot of our budget left…”

Great! Training companies around the world love you!

In all seriousness, there’s not really much wrong with this. Sure, with poor management the training could be a waste of everyone’s time. And if you’re a little too honest when negotiating with a training vendor, you might end up with the best training program, but one that is overly priced.

The way to approach this type of situation is to treat it as an opportunity. Speak to managers first, see if there are any pressing issues that training could help with. Prioritise those. If the managers have no needs in particular, then speak to the staff to see what they want. Pick a good time to run the training and make sure it’s convenient for everyone.

A word of warning though. Don’t try to pack the classroom full with 500 people; that’s going to ruin this opportunity. Just treat it like any other training and get staff excited about it.


4. The “I want that one…”

You went to a demo. The trainer was handsome. He looked you in the eyes for a brief second and your heart started to beat a bit faster. Everyone in the audience was mesmerised by him, and he had a great tie. The course had an amazingly catchy name that kept on appearing in your dreams as you slept that night. This is the trainer for me, you think.

“I want that one…”

Wait! Stop for a minute. There is something important you have to realise about the training industry: Trainers are masters of charisma. [quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]The room goes silent and everyone’s heads turn as they walk in. Their cologne has traces of cocaine in it. [/quote] Everything they touch turns to gold. The room goes silent and everyone’s heads turn as they walk in. Their cologne has traces of cocaine in it. Their pretty pictures appear all over the internet, with shiny white teeth. You see pictures of them hanging out with important people and giving keynote speeches on your social media accounts. This is how trainers sell themselves.

Again, there is nothing wrong with a trainer who is good at selling themselves, so long as that trainer is a GOOD trainer.

One of the realities of the training industry is that it is not training effectiveness that gets through the door, it’s charisma. If you find yourself falling in love with a trainer, stop for a minute and try to dig a bit deeper. You can ask for client testimonials of course, but remember they are going to be selected by the trainer and they may be written by people who fell in love with the trainer, and not with their training ability.

So ask yourself weather the trainer or their firm have they conducted a needs analysis? By this I mean, have they asked you lots and lots and lots of questions? Have you actually started to get annoyed by the amount of questions they have asked? If so, then that’s a good sign. It’s a sign they really care about satisfying your needs. If on the other hand they spent the whole time talking about how great they are, whilst your colleagues looked on with drool dripping from their mouth, then I would say stay away.


5. The “Our Staff Demand Training Opportunities”

“Join our company, you will have loads of training opportunities!”.

Once again, if genuine development is what your employees want, training is not necessarily the best option. A lot of coaching from a line manager will help immensely, even more than any amount of formal classroom training. But your employees are probably not aware of that fact and they want you to come through with the promise of ‘training opportunities’. So, if your goal is to simply make employees happy, and in doing so, improving your employer brand, give them what they want – training.


And if you make your employees happy, well, that’s a good thing. Is it? But of course, adding some  learning effectiveness will make it even better.