Stop Wasting Time & Money on Ineffective & Inappropriate Training

General.  There is an undeniable truth about organizational training and development programs that many leaders and executives don’t want to believe—many of them are wasting billions of dollars a year! Not certain you believe that? Search the internet for the subject and read the hundreds of reputable studies and papers that document the unfortunate reality. Here are just a few references from highly respected organizations that have gathered substantial data to back their hypotheses:

  • The highly respected McKinsey & Co. “found that only 25% of respondents found that training improved employees’ performance.”
  • The equally reputable Boston Consulting Group found that “tens of billions of dollars are spent on these [training and leadership development] programs each year but that money is often wasted.”
  • The Financial Times Guide to Business Training reports that “most business training is a waste of time and money and organizations need to call a halt to current practices and reconsider their approach.”
  • A Wall Street Journal report documented that “companies devote a lot of time, effort, and money to corporate training—with little to show for it.”

Accepting this vast body of data and assessments as accurate and valid, two critical questions arise:

  • Why is so much money wasted on ineffective programs by so many well-meaning executives?
  • How can you avoid similar waste and improve the performance of your organization and employees?

Most of the inappropriate and ineffective training is a result of one or more of four common errors. Many authors will list other factors, but the four we will discuss represent the “Pareto’s 20 %.” But to fully understand appropriate responses and intervention to poor performance, it is first necessary to understand the causes of poor performance.

Understanding the Causes of Poor Performance. While terms used by different scholars and organizations may vary slightly, there are essentially four—and only four—causes of poor performance:

  • Poor or dysfunctional systems, policies, procedures and tools
  • Motivation, incentive, or feedback deficiencies (affective domain)
  • Inadequate skills and knowledge

Training can only address performance problems if the root cause is a “skill or knowledge deficiency.”

The intervention to address performance problems should only be chosen after an objective Root Cause Analysis (RCA). It is the root cause(s) that you must target—not the symptoms or consequences of the performance. Training can only address the performance problem if its root cause is a skill or knowledge deficiency. It will not solve—or improve—problems resulting from other root causes. Note: Often you will find more than one contributing cause. Therefore, solutions must address all relevant areas. It is also important to understand that different root causes can often cause or result in the same or similar symptoms and outcomes. That is why it is so important to conduct a thorough, objective RCA.

First Major Cause of Training Waste: Selecting Training as Intervention in Inappropriate Cases

Trying to solve performance problems caused by personnel selection and assignment deficiencies; systems, policies, procedures and tools deficiencies; or motivation incentive, and feedback deficiencies guarantee failure—and waste of time and money. Moreover, these efforts will frustrate those who understand the folly of it all, and adversely affect their full engagement with and support of the organization. Conducting a “thorough and objective RCA,” is often a challenge. Incorrect diagnoses are often the result of “seeing what one wants to see.”  For example, a trainer often thinks he/she sees a need for training; an organizational development person will “see” a need to tinker with the organizational structure or work flows; a technology person will see a way technology can help with the problem (or symptoms); and a Human Resources person will find a HR program solution. When the objective RCA identifies the true root cause(s), then the organization must focus on it with laser-like precision and not be distracted by task-irrelevant data.

“…most performance problems in the workplace are not the result of skill or knowledge deficiencies.”

Moreover, numerous professional studies have documented that most performance problems in the workplace are not the result of skill or knowledge deficiencies Gilbert (1996), Harless (1970), Rummler and Brache (1996), and Stolovitch and Keeps (1999). They are much more likely to be caused by the other factors. 

Second Major Cause of Training Waste: Not Properly Designing the Training Intervention

Far too often, even when training is the proper intervention, its potential for success is undermined by buying an  “off the shelf” product or hiring an external trainer who has provided this same training to many other clients. The training program must be designed to fit the organization’s goals and culture and the specific business problem being created or impacted. This “training design” answers the who, what, when, where, and how—all the admin and logistics. Important parts of the training design include

  • Determining what specifically needs to be trained and who needs to receive the training
  • Determining the type of training and the when, how, and by whom the training will be conducted
  • Setting the proper climate for the training to be conducted (timing is important)
  • Identifying specific performance-oriented outcomes that support current organizational needs
  • Developing a plan for following-up after the training is conducted

Many refer to the process of planning these details as a Training Needs Analysis.

Third Major Cause of Training Waste: Inadequate Support and Commitment by Organizational Leaders

Training programs that do not have the public support and commitment of organizational leaders have little chance to result in significant or lasting improvements in organizational performance. Employees quickly discern whether a training requirement is just a “check in the box” or an initiative to which the organization and its leaders throughout the hierarchy are committed. This is especially true with training created for significant change management efforts. Change efforts implemented “from the bottom up” rarely succeed. The lack of support and commitment doesn’t only affect those being training, but the entire organization and leadership team. When subordinate leaders sense that senior leaders are not  fully-committed to the training efforts, they also fail to engage and commit to supporting the training efforts.

Training and change management efforts to which the entire leadership team is not committed are not likely to succeed.

Fourth Major Cause of Training Waste: Inadequate Implementation and Follow-up. All training needs follow-up. Training doesn’t automatically resolve organizational performance issues with the completion of training. Improvements will grow over time with practice, coaching, feedback, and shared commitment.

Call to Action. Done correctly, many organizations will end up with less pure training and more solutions designed to address performance problems causes other than skill or knowledge deficiencies. Contact The Stonewall Group for assistance in assessing your organizational performance improvement plans. You can expect us to ask, “If training is your solution, tell us more about you problems and the organizational goals that are not being accomplished?” We can help you objectively determine the root causes and plan and implement your organizational performance improvement solutions.