Training Workplace Problems

5 Problems Training Won’t Solve

Training is one of many interventions that can improve employee performance. It’s critical that you use it only when it’s the right intervention.

Having led more than 3,000 employee training sessions, I’ve learned when training helps and when it doesn’t.

When clients request training from me, I always ask what the situation is and what behaviors they hope to change. If the training won’t lead to better results, it’s not worth having.

If I think the training will do what they want, I build the program and deliver it for them. When I don’t, I tell them why training is not going to help, and offer them a better intervention.

Sometimes I deliver training as a subcontractor. In these cases I don’t have a chance to consult with the clients prior to them booking a session. My job is simply to go onsite and fulfill the training request.

Based on this experience, I can tell you training is often used to address problems it has no chance of fixing.

Don’t Use Training to Fix These Problems

Thinking back over all the times I’ve been asked to deliver training when something else should have been done, I see five common problem areas.

1. Won’t do the job

When the work isn’t being performed to your specifications, your first question needs to be, “Why not?” If the answer is that people don’t understand the job or they haven’t developed the necessary skills, training is the answer.

But when people do understand and have the skills (you know because you’ve seen them demonstrate the skills at times), then training doesn’t serve any purpose.

There could be many reasons they aren’t doing the job, all of which require another approach:

  • They don’t like the job.
  • They don’t like you.
  • They don’t feel motivated.
  • They don’t see why it matters.
  • They don’t feel appreciated.
  • They don’t think the compensation is fair.

2. Low morale

When employees don’t feel good about their jobs, training will likely not do a thing to help. It might even make things worse if poorly executed.

There’s one possible exception. If morale is low because people don’t feel competent and think they are going to fail, then training might help.

More times than not, the problem’s root cause is something that training won’t fix. Figure out what that is, and implement a solution that will make a positive difference.

3. Infighting

When I was just getting started in my business, I was booked to present a respect workshop for a small manufacturer. When I called the client to confirm, I learned that two employees hated each other and everyone else in the plant had taken sides.

I remember thinking, there’s no way a respect workshop is going to solve this problem. I even attempted to talk them out of it. Unfortunately, they were set on having a training.

On the day of the workshop, I walked into a tension-filled room. Just before beginning, the client pulled me aside and told me that the two people who were at the root of the problem both called in sick. I wasn’t surprised.

The other employees, who were forced to attend this mandatory training, looked awfully crabby about being there. They turned out to be a tough crowd, and I can’t say that I blamed them.

When you have a couple people locked in a conflict, work with them to solve the problem. If they choose not to work it out, then consider replacing one or both employees.

Don’t do a training.

4. Lacks ability

Sometimes I’m called in to help employees become something they just aren’t able to become. Our abilities are mostly part of who we are. No amount of training is going to change that.

Imagine me trying out for a spot with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Let’s say at some point they ask me if I can dunk a basketball. I tell them I cannot, but with the proper training, it shouldn’t be a problem.

If you need people who can chat up clients, you don’t take folks who are naturally reserved and train them to be schmoozers. If you need people who can attend to every tiny detail, you don’t attempt to change people who prefer to work at the 10,000 foot level.

When people don’t have the ability, you’ve got the wrong person in the job. Either the job needs to change or you need a different person. Training won’t help.

5. Inadequate resources

When you don’t have enough people to do the job or your processes are messed up or you have lousy equipment, you can’t expect people to succeed. And when they don’t, the answer should be fairly obvious.

It’s not, “Let’s put everyone through training.”

Still, I’m shocked by how many times companies try to fix systemic problems by improving their employees’ skills. It never works

If you have resource issues, resolve them. When that’s all working as it should be, then it might be time to talk about training.

Other options

If it’s not training, what is the answer? It depends, of course, on the situation. Here are some possibilities:

  • Improve processes.
  • Use progressive discipline.
  • Clarify expectations.
  • Fix the systems.
  • Replace people.
  • Adequately staff for the amount of work.
  • Get people the tools they need.
  • Work on the incentives.
  • Work through the conflicts.

I do like delivering employee workshops. What I like even more is helping employers solve their problems. That means accurately diagnosing the problem and intervening with a solution that will change the situation.

Training is one option, but one that needs to be applied in the right circumstances. When it’s not the right intervention, use one that is.

This article was first published on LinkedIn Pulse.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce is a speaker, consultant, writer, facilitator and coach. Since 1996 he's helped workplace teams improve performance.