"I had been told that the training procedure with cats
It's not. Mine had me trained in two days."
- Bill Dana, Comedian
At the end of the famous movie Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart's character Rick
shoots Major Strasser as he tries to intervene. When the police arrive, Captain
Renault (played by Claude Rains) saves Rick's life by telling the police to
"round up the usual suspects."
While the unemployment rate is still low by historical standards, increased
globalization, outsourcing, and technology innovation have created a tremendous
amount of job churn. As business leaders look to cut costs, the training department
has become one of the "usual suspects" that is rounded up at most companies
- an unfortunate and short-sighted occurrence.
For decades, training departments have been on the defensive, fighting to
get the recognition they deserve. Re-branding the department as "Learning
and Development" or "Global Talent" has hardly helped - any more than it helped
Personnel to be called HR. Corporate Leadership Council's research report
titled Defining Critical Skills of Human Resources Staff based on a
survey of 555 executives in 68 countries points out that "fewer than one in
six CEOs assigns strategic importance to HR and only one in four rates HR's
performance favorably." Training didn't even make the list.
With literally billions of dollars spent on training, why is it not more
effective in changing organizations' practices? Why are training departments
becoming today's "usual suspects?"
Memo to Training: Take Charge!
Training departments can do a lot more to control their own destinies. It
goes without saying that Training - as with any staff function - has to be
efficient, effective, and relevant. But it also has to contribute to business
success. There are different levels of questions, based on Kirkpatrick levels
and clearly in increasing importance, that must be asked:
- Did they (trainees) like it?
- Did they learn?
- Did they use it?
- Did it impact the bottom line?
- What is the Return on Investment (ROI)?
The knock against traditional training is that it is too internally focused
and often stops, at best, at level II question. The most important questions
are rarely asked or answered adequately. Training needs to evaluate its role
from a broader perspective and incorporate new ideas to become a strong contributor
to business success.
Running the Gauntlet
Here are top-ten common obstacles that prevent Training from being invited
to be at the head table.
- Front-end alignment: Does Training have a crystal-clear understanding
of the organization's strategy and direction? More importantly, Training
needs to translate these broad strategies into desired outcomes and needed
changes in skills and behaviors. Training needs to get business sign-off
rather than just being order-takers so that the training content and delivery
is geared toward delivering tangible value.
- Training ain't learning: When something is said, it doesn't mean
it is heard. Similarly, it is naïve to think that just because somebody
was trained, that they learned. As Mark Twain said, "Don't let schooling
interfere with your education." A lot of so-called training is just a "data
dump." Training needs to find out how much people have actually learned
- Learning ain't knowing: It is one thing to have learned what
to do in a classroom setting, it is entirely another to know what do in
a complex, fast-paced, real-life situation. Oftentimes, off-the-shelf training
is delivered without incorporating the culture, processes, policies, and
personalities involved outside the classroom. Training needs to be careful
in ensuring that what is taught is real and that it doesn't end when the
class is over. Recent phenomena such as e-learning, distance learning, and
self-directed learning-all invented to improve efficiency - have drastically
reduced the effectiveness by taking away an interactive environment conducive
- Knowing ain't doing: As Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton point
out in their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap "there is a loose and imperfect
relationship between knowing what to do and the ability to act on that knowledge."
Training needs to challenge the very basic assumption that "doing" happens
through "knowing." There is ample evidence that it is actually the other
way around. The new motto Training needs to adopt is: "Hear it, write it,
talk it, do it!"
- Be careful what you wish for: A lot of training today is done
under the guise of reengineering. Except for the totally uninitiated, reengineering
has become a euphemism for an around-the-corner reduction in force or layoff.
If training is going to result in process improvements that will, in turn,
result in job losses, what is really the incentive to learn?
- Cognitive dissonance: Many times, what the organization says
it wants people to do is not necessarily what is rewarded. For example,
typically an account manager or a call center employee is trained on customer
service, but is evaluated and rewarded for business development or selling.
Training needs to be mindful of the reinforcement processes in place.
- We're all in it together: Success hardly ever depends on a single
department doing well. There is a great deal of interdependency among different
parts of the organization for pulling the ship in the same direction. If
there are contradictory goals among various departments such as sales, implementation,
client management, service delivery, and information management, no amount
of training will put them on the same path.
- One size doesn't fit all: Adult learning research has shown that
different people learn differently. According to Pamela J. Gordon, an adult
learning expert, people with different learning styles ask different questions
to sort and store information: "Why is this important to me?" "What are
the facts?" "How is this practical?" "What if I do this?" Training needs
to incorporate the needs of all different learning styles so everyone can
- Haves and have-nots: An unequal amount of training is done among
the management ranks with the hope of a "trickle-down" effect, while employees
on the frontline are left holding the bag. The fact that training will involve
removing them from their revenue-generating activities is actually used
against them. Mary Walton in The Deming Management Method says, "Too
often workers have learned their job from another worker who was never trained
properly. They are forced to follow unintelligible instructions. They can't
do their jobs because no one tells them how."
- What's measured is treasured: Too much of Training scorecards
report activity (number of classes, training days, trainees, etc.) rather
than outcomes. Training needs to develop, measure, report, and hold itself
accountable for metrics at each level identified earlier. A scorecard with
a greater weight toward higher levels can go a long way in establishing
the indispensability of the training department.
Judge for Yourself
Whether you are a business leader or a training professional, it is important
to ask if any of these obstacles apply to your organization, to what extent,
and how best to overcome them. Unfortunately, most of the burden for figuring
this out falls on Training. Although the list of obstacles is long, a simple
first step for Training would be to examine the assumptions that are going
into every aspect of the training activity.
Perhaps it is time for Training to learn a new trick?