Sending someone to a workshop for a day or two or even five usually isn’t going to fix them or even get them to behave differently for very long. Maybe a few hours; maybe even a day or two. The reasons are pretty obvious:
- Memory is short.
- Changing behavior (habits) is difficult.
- Making a new skill automatic (creating a new habit) takes time and lots of focused intentional practice.
It’s easy to understand why people want learning to be easy or automatic. But it’s difficult to say why people think it actually can be easy or automatic; that someone can return after a day or two fully skilled and knowledgeable. There’s a reason the term “learning curve” exists. There’s a reason software developers follow version 1.0 with 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, etc. But while those terms seem acceptable for projects or software development, there appears to be a different expectation about training.
So let’s clarify.
What does training do?
Training is used to help people acquire knowledge and/or skill or to enhance the knowledge and skill they already have. That’s it. Methods are evolving. There are classroom, games, online, mobile, etc. But each of these is aimed at helping people acquire or enhance their knowledge and/or skill.
Sometimes the learning is more or less complete after one “session.” For example, if you are a service tech out in the field and you need to know how to perform a certain task, you might be able to use your phone to find a short video your company has provided to address the situation.
Usually training is only the first step. Usually management support is necessary. You have to practice. You have to see what works in different situations. You have to challenge your memory and your habits and ultimately make the new learning a new habit. That takes some time and some focus. It doesn’t just happen.
What training doesn’t do
It doesn’t fix people – but it can help people prepare to fix themselves
It doesn’t make them experts overnight – but it can provide a foundation that they can build on
It doesn’t generate a profit – but it can help people learn new skills that if implemented might help generate a profit
So if someone is sent to a workshop to get “fixed,” you’ll know the organization is serious about the individual improving their performance (getting fixed), if there is a plan for on the job application of what was learned in the workshop. Then of course that person, with his or her manager’s support, needs to do it.
What about ROI?
Another way of asking about Return on Investment – ROI – is to ask whether an activity made a profit or directly contributed to profit. Sometimes that happens. For example, when patients are admitted to a hospital, the intake clerks put codes on the intake documents. Those codes become the basis for billing. So training someone to code correctly can have a major impact on the bottom line.
Most of the time it’s much more difficult to see a direct causal link between training and profit. You might identify some knowledge or skill that could help make a lot of money if it were implemented the right way. But the training organization doesn’t get to decide implementation or the right way to do it. That’s management’s job. And that’s one of the primary reasons trying to figure out the ROI of training is difficult. The training organization helps to prepare someone but rarely has a say in whether an individual uses what they learned or how they use it. In other words, training usually isn’t the entire solution. But it is an important part of it.
When to do training; When to do something else
The simple answer to this is that you should use training when someone needs to acquire or enhance some knowledge and/or skill. This could be to improve their performance or it could be to help them do a new assignment.
If someone used to know something or used to know how to do something but has pretty much forgotten:
- You should probably arrange for that person to review what he or she learned in the past and then to practice with some feedback.
- But you should also try to find out why this person’s skills have gotten rusty. If this is something that he or she rarely has to do, it seems reasonable to wonder whether there can be some reassignment of tasks to someone who might need to do this more often. Or to simply eliminate the task.
There’s a terrific book that addresses this topic in a way that is interesting and amusing. The book is called Analyzing Performance Problems. The authors are Robert Mager and Peter Pipe.
To sum up, use training when someone needs to acquire or enhance their knowledge and/or skill.
Whether you are managing people who will need development from time to time or the person engaging in development, have realistic expectations. Recognize that training is almost always just the first step. There is no magic.
What’s required are follow-up, focus, and a lot of practice. If the employee does not apply what he or she learned when they return to the job, they will quickly forget it.