“I think we should start a training program here,” says the executive. “What do you think?”
These words signify the start of something incredible in an organization. It’s the realization of an executive’s vision, the compliance to a board’s recommendation, and the answer to an organization’s membership request. It’s an opportunity to add to an organization’s reputation as a best place to work, give resources to managers creating employee development plans, and a career path for those who want to challenge themselves as in-house trainers.
But these words can also break a training manager’s career. They can deplete budgets, frustrate participants, and subject the training manager to a steady stream of cold calls from large training vendors. It puts the training manager under pressure to demonstrate ROI for an initiative they didn’t even suggest, and the lack of ROI puts their job in jeopardy.
As a former training manager and now organizational development consultant, I’ve seen this play out countless times. I’ve seen the excitement of a new initiative fade into frustration. I’ve dealt with empty training rooms and threatened budgets. I’ve even done outplacement work with fired training managers that lost their jobs because of a ill-conceived, poorly-planned training initiative. Based on that, I’d like to present the Top 10 Ways to Screw Up Your Organization’s Training Initiative. Avoid these at all costs. Make sure you pass this along to your boss. It might help them make better decisions. All 10 are mistakes, and they go from smallest to largest. Number one is the biggest one. All should be avoided though!
Oh yes, and commit this phrase to memory:
The only reason we should have a training event would be to teach or improve a skill. Training fixes skill problems.
Here’s your list:
#10: Calling a Training Program a “Program”
I know this sounds dumb, but the quickest way to ruin anything is to call it a “program.” Programs start with great fanfare and usually die an agonizingly slow death or simply fade into obscurity. If you use the “P” word, then people will miss out on the real reason for having one in the first place, which is to build or improve a tangible skill.
#9: Building a Program Because People Say They Need a Training Program
I got caught in this trap when I was hired by a trade association in the Washington DC area back in 2000. The association members voted for a training program for project managers in the federal services contracting industry. It had great promise, support, and budget. What it didn’t have was actual participation. I fought hard to develop the curriculum, hire the subject matter experts, and promote the crap out of it and never did have more than 10 individuals show up for a class.
Wanting a training program and being willing to support and attend it are two very different issues. Make sure you can guarantee the latter before committing to it.
#8: Using Training as a Driver of Employee Retention
Being recognized as Best Place to Work is a great honor. It’s a great way to get the best talent, not to mention it gives your organization and CEO bragging rights. There are different criterion depending on the city and state but one area that’s typically measured is the organization’s training program. Programs that help win the award are usually around computer skills and a wide array of soft skills offerings. These are great, but if the sole purpose is to win an award, what happens when you don’t win? And if you win consistently, how to keep the training program alive and relevant. At some point employees will view the rehash of topics as a nuisance, rather than a benefit. Your program will look good on paper. And that will be as good as it gets.
#7: Developing a Program to Deal With a Small Group of Problem Employees
I often get calls from HR people who want me to facilitate a workshop on dealing with difficult people, managing change, or improving customer service. When I dig a little deeper, I find there are handful of culprits who need this, but the client doesn’t want to embarrass anyone or do something politically-incorrect. So their solution is to put everyone through this and hope the troublemakers get what they need to improve.
Now I’ll be happy to do the workshop and take your money, but wouldn’t it be far more efficient just to correct, write-up, motivate, or fire the culprits? Everyone would be happier. Employees wouldn’t be forced to sit in a workshop they don’t need. You wouldn’t have to justify the expense of the workshop. Your employees would applaud you for stepping up and getting rid of these folks. The only unhappy people would be the individuals in question…and my wife (when she sees my empty calendar). Fix the actual problem; don’t spend money to mask it.
#6: Measuring the Wrong Things
Any smart training manager knows they need to do some sort of evaluation. Some go simple and just use a paper “smile sheet” at the end of the program. Others do a nice online version using SurveyMonkey. On the other end, some pay for and use a complicated Kirkpatrick tool with four levels of something-or-other.
Nothing is wrong with any of this. The question really is: What should you be measuring? Butt in seats? Reactions? Food and room ambience?
Let me simplify this for you.
Since training is supposed to build or enhance a skill, you just need to know the person has learned. Here’s how you know:
Before I came to this class, I didn’t know how to tie my shoe (or whatever it is the course will teach) but after taking it, now I do!
What else would you possibly need to know?
Keep it simple (and don’t call it a program either!).
#5: Overcomplicating the Design
Shortly after leaving the position in DC with the failed training initiative still in my memory, I took a job running all of the management development at a large hospital in Maryland. The VP of HR had a robust plan in mind for me. She wanted managers to go through a wide array of classes with pre/post course work, an assigned mentor, a cohort, etc. Now if you know hospitals and health care and nurse managers, you know this is a recipe for disaster. Plans in a hospital are made to be broken. It was too complicated and therefor was destined to fail. Fortunately I was able to talk her down from that position. I made development a far simpler, more flexible process. It was successful.
Simple and basic is always better.
#4: Blindly Outsourcing Your Training Program to a Large Training Vendor
When you announce you’re developing a training program (which we already know is a bad word), you then have to get the curriculum and trainers. The easiest way to do this is to outsource it to a vendor.
That’s not a problem. I’m actually a small business vendor that offers some training programs that supplement process or system improvements I help you develop. But I’m not the one you should worry about.
Beware of the vendors that promise customized curriculum from their vast offerings that can be customized (for a price) and delivered onsite. It’s expensive and you’ll be charged for everything you get. Yes it’s convenient and takes the pressure off you. But please don’t blindly outsource your initiative. You cede control and yet bear full responsibility for the outcome. If the contract trainer uses off-color language, comes unprepared, can’t relate to your audience, or is in any way not effective, you still pay, and you’re the one who gets called on the carpet by your boss.
Outsource if you must, but do it with both eyes open.
#3: Misinterpreting Survey Data
Engagement surveys and training needs analyses are important. It’s a good idea to measure any efforts and initiatives. Measurement and data are the only numbers you can make good decisions with.
The challenge is of course interpreting data correctly. It requires you to look beyond the numbers. For example, you may have data showing that a manager in a particular division scores low in resolving conflict between employees. The surface solution is to send the manager to a training class on dealing with conflict. Before you do this, why not investigate the issues in the department that cause the conflict (you know, the conflict this manager can’t seem to deal with?)? It’s possible there’s a system or process problem that could be fixed that would make the conflict go away on its own. And who knows if the manager handles conflict well or not? A subjective survey filled out by an angry employee may not give the true picture.
Be careful to interpret survey data carefully and objectively.
#2: Confusing ROI With Results
ROI is the word bean counters love to apply to most anything in a corporate environment. I don’t have a problem with that. Where it becomes an issue is when the wrong problem is identified, leading to the wrong (and expensive) solution, which in fact creates no change in the situation. Then the training manager is scolded for not presenting the model for or results of, the ROI.
It’s really hard to prove ROI on a training problem unless you have a specific PEOPLE problem that happens as a result of a lack of skills. That should really narrow down your proof of ROI. Figure out what it costs to have skill-based mistakes made. Expand that cost over 12 months. That should give you the cost of the skill problem. If that cost is greater than the cost of training (and be sure to factor in all costs, including the opportunity cost of having attendees in training for a day), you have a positive ROI. If it’s the other way around, then you’ve made a mistake.
I’d recommend doing your ROI computation BEFORE designing that training initiative and promoting it. You don’t want to look like a dummy.
And finally, here’s the NUMBER ONE biggest mistake you should NEVER make:
#1: Mislabeling A Problem as a “Training Issue”
First of all, remember that TRAINING fixes a SKILL problem.
If you know that, then it should be easy to label the problem correctly.
The Navy was pretty bad about this. Years ago while stationed at a Naval communications base in Exmouth, Western Australia, the entire base was told that a particular Saturday was a safety stand-down. Apparently the week before there were several accidents involving aircraft landing on aircraft carries around the fleet. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) declared an emergency and ordered a fleet-wide safety stand-down. It was a day where we sat in the base theater and watched training videos and listened to lectures on hazardous materials (thankfully this was long before PowerPoint® was invented so we were spared people reading slides to us all day). Now mind you, we had no aircraft on this base and no appreciable accidents that year. But since it was the Navy and we are all one team, we spent Saturday sleeping through the safety stand-down.
The only reason to have any sort of training is if the problem deals with skills. The following are typical reasons people want training:
- Low engagement scores
- Unwillingness to accept organizational changes
- Difficult people
- Anger management
- Sensitivity issues
- Leadership development
Few if any of these are fixed through training, although training might be PART of the solution. If you can’t assign a “HOW TO” to identify the fix for the problem (i.e. How to Deliver Constructive Feedback to an Employee) then don’t consider it a training problem.
I know this article might burst your bubble, insult your position, and make you feel like less of a training manager, but I want you to be successful. Your job is a thankless one and success isn’t easy. If you get it by being seen as a valued resource in your organization and gain a “seat at the table” then taking this advice to heart will be worth it.
If you’d like me to sit down with you and help you think through your training initiative, just give me a call at (931) 221-2988 and let’s set up some time to chat!