Get more from training – or give up and do an extreme makeover?

Schoolklas begin jaren '50 / Dutch classroom a...
Image by Nationaal Archief via Flickr

Do the extreme makeover. That is where I am landing.

In the past few weeks I’ve had conversations with both for-profit organizations and nonprofits. The substance of the conversation is always around “getting more” out of training, or how the training organization can become a more integrated and valuable piece of the business.

And my point-of-view in these conversations is: Stop focusing on the training course. Focus on the workplace and actual work practices, then decide how – or if – a training course is a worthwhile activity.

A recent McKinsey Quarterly article (“Getting more from your training”) takes us part of the way there. (A sidebar comment here: Did I miss something? When did McKinsey start to become concerned about training organizations?). The authors make the case that getting more out of the $100B spent annually on training programs requires looking at what happens before and after the training events.

Before training:

  • Help people want to learn
  • Uncover harmful mindsets
  • Get leaders on board

After training:

  • Reinforce new skills
  • Measure the impact

The examples the authors use to illustrate their points are actually pretty insightful. In explaining “harmful mindsets,” the authors point to a retailer that initiated training designed to improve the customer focus of its sales people. Participants completed the training successfully and passed certification tests. But customer feedback remained unsatisfactory.

Research uncovered two mindsets that were getting in the way of sales people changing their actual work practices. First, sales people firmly believed (incorrectly) that customers browsed in stores and then bought online — making any engagement with customers at the store a low-payoff activity. Second, sales people assessed customer potential unproductively by relying on age, gender and racial stereotypes.

After the retailer uncovered these mindsets, they retooled the training to include open discussion to address them directly and data to help expose them as myths. Sales practices changed and customer results improved significantly.

Examples cited by the authors to illustrate their other points are similar: Training program designers simply missed some important element of the workplace context.

And there’s the point. How does the training profession continue to miss those contextual elements – year after year? This is by no means a new issue. It has vexed the profession for years.

You can point to tools or methods or “new models” that might improve the performance of training organizations. (Anyone care to talk about how integrating social media and “training” will save the day?).

But I think the issue is more fundamental than that. Training organizations need to look in the mirror and admit they need an extreme makeover. As with any major change effort, you first need to declare the old way finished. Then go on the journey to create the new way.

That new way begins by focusing on developing a deep and nuanced understanding of workplace practices; hypothesizing how those practices impact performance; and designing solutions to improve performance that combine a suite of options that ranks “training programs” as a might-need rather than a must-have.

One thought on “Get more from training – or give up and do an extreme makeover?

  1. See for a good piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education (author Michael David Milliron) on how this same theme plays out in higher education. I especially appreciate the “moving from traditional text- and textbook-based curricular resource strategies to more robust ‘play lists’ of digital resources aimed at helping students master better-defined learning goals” discussion in the section on reducing costs/increasing quality.


Comments are closed.