Do You Want to Train Your People or Do You Want to Fix the Problem?

When approached and I ask Human Resource directors and corporate training directors, and even CEO’s about how they feel “training” is going to help their organizations, I usually learn that they have grossly over-estimated what “training” can be expected to do.

Personnel problems? Bit of training will fix it. Sales down? No problem, bit of training will fix it. Inter-office problems? Training will fix it. Productivity down? Training will fix it. Cooperation non existent? Training will fix it. Low morale? You guessed it… bit of training will fix it.

The problem is that often there are issues occurring in the work environment that training can not help and can, in fact, even make the problems worse. Training is not a panacea for all a company’s problems. Of course, training can be of immense value and benefit in addressing many problems, but if the cause of the problem comes from higher up or outside their area of influence, then it can be a waste of time. You need to address the root cause of the problem if you want to stop it and rebuild and retrain effectively with positive, long term results.

A classic example is communication. A lack of directness in communicating can be devastating to a work environment.

Throwing “training” at a work environment problem, which often means it is steeped in low trust and respect between team members, will exacerbate the problem. This plays out in almost every training I deliver where none of the managers or organizational leaders participate in the trainings. At the end of the trainings, at least 30% of the feedback forms I receive respond to the question “What could have been better about this training?” with “If all of our department team members, including our managers and other company leaders had this training.”

If the individuals most responsible for the team or organization’s culture and performance are not participating with their team members, the training to “fix” a problem is guaranteed to do more harm than good.

Another issue is that often the issues the training addresses offer solutions that require sensitive or challenging conversations between individual participants in the training. Since the open forum of the training environment is not the appropriate environment to address these issues head on, participants become frustrated and resentful of the training and it just reinforces the negative situation.

Here’s another example. In a meeting with the VP of Human Resources and VP of Operations for a large manufacturing firm, the first half of which we discussed management and leadership training for their middle managers and shop managers, I used the phrase “toxic” to describe some of the work environments I’ve helped transform.

The VP of Operations shot back in his next breath, “Toxic, hmm, that’s what we’ve got.” To which I informed him that training was not going to fix it.

They both nodded their heads in agreement and the conversation took a turn in a new direction.

We began focusing on inviting the President/CEO and other senior leadership team members to discuss addressing issues at the very top of the organization. And training will not be on the agenda, at least not initially. It is going to take some significant team development and trust building activities and consistent accountability to a new approach to leading and communicating in this company.

So, the next time you think you need “training” for your organization ask this question –

“Why and what ‘problem’ are we trying to solve?”