When Training Is NOT The Answer

Whether you’re an instructional designer, an eLearning designer, or just an everyday learning professional, a crucial part of your job is understanding when training is not the answer.

It’s easy to get bogged down with the endless number of training requests that get thrown your way from your stakeholders and subject matter experts. The truth is, it doesn’t take a lot for a stakeholder to see the slightest drop in performance and conclude that “training will fix this issue!” And this is where the majority of training requests come from.

How you respond to these types of training requests can determine whether or not you’re providing learning solutions that actually solve performance issues, or worse, do nothing at all. This is why it’s so important to conduct a proper needs analysis before you start offering any type of learning solution.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the situations when training is not the answer.

Training is NOT the Answer to Environmental Issues.

when training is not the answer tim slade

When employees perform a specific task slowly or incorrectly, it’s easy to assume it’s because they lack some particular knowledge or skill. Depending on the task and the organization, these sorts of performance issues can even show themselves in various metrics and KPIs. As a result, it’s very common for a stakeholder to request training to resolve the performance issues they’re seeing.

For example, let’s say you work in a call center, and the customer service agents are expected to resolve each customer call within 10 minutes. After looking at the data, it is discovered the average handle time for each call is 15 minutes. While the fact that a performance issue does indeed exist, it doesn’t necessarily mean that training will fix it.

After conducting a needs analysis, which involves observing a talking to the customer service agents, you discover that the systems the agents use are extremely slow—if it weren’t for the slow systems, the average handle time would be below 10 minutes.

This is an excellent example of when training is not the answer. This is an example of an issue with the performance environment. In this situation, the best solution would be to improve the performance of the systems the customer service agents are using.

Training is NOT the Answer to Motivational Issues.

when training is not the answer tim slade

As human beings, we do things because we’re motivated to do them. For example, on a regular basis, I eat food because I am highly motivated to satisfy my hunger. Once my stomach is full, and my hunger is satisfied, I am no longer motivated to eat. You can apply this same concept when evaluating employee performance.

Just as I mentioned in our previous example, when employees fail to perform a desired task, it’s easy for a stakeholder to conclude that they simply don’t know how to do it. For example, let’s return to our call center situation. Let’s say the customer service agents are expected to sell a certain number of products per month. After looking at the data, it is discovered that the agents are selling more of product A, than product B. In this situation, it’s easy for a stakeholder to conclude that if we merely provided additional sales training or product knowledge on product B, then the customer service agents will sell more of product B.

While this might be the case, that assumes that the customer service agents lack some specific knowledge or skill that’s preventing them from selling product B. So, how do we know for sure? Well, just as before, after conducting a needs analysis, it’s discovered that the customer service agents are fully capable of selling product B, but they receive a larger commission on product A. In other words, they are less motivated to offer product B, when they can make more money selling product A.

The solution here is to adjust the commission structure, not provide more training.

So, When IS Training the Answer?

when training is not the answer tim slade

As we’ve explored, training is not the answer when trying to fix environmental or motivational issues. As learning professionals, it’s our job to help our stakeholders and subject matter experts understand the root cause of performance issues and to offer solutions. While some solutions will require changes to processes, best practices, systems, it’s only those issues that are the result of a lack of knowledge or skill that requires some sort of learning intervention.

What other examples can you share for when training is not the answer? Share your experiences by commenting below!

Additional Resources

Tim Slade
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, and award-winning freelance eLearning designer. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, Tim has been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for his creative and innovative design aesthetics. Tim is a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, is a recognized Articulate Super Hero, author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook and creator of The eLearning Designer's Academy.

2 Responses to “When Training Is NOT The Answer

  • This is one of my favorite topics Tim. I used to tell my teams, we’re in the training prevention business… and for this very reason. My first boss used to quote Mager a lot in discussions with clients about this very topic. “If you put a gun to their head and they can do it, it’s not a training issue”…

    • I love that! And yes, I think a big part of our job is to talk our stakeholders out of training, as it’s usually not the answer. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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