Dear doctor, all he asks for is training...
Dear doctor, all he asks for is training... We have had a quite a long relationship, and all he wants is training. I have so much more to offer, and I really want to help. I want this relationship to work so we can have a wonderful life together. I am at my wit’s end and thinking of leaving. What do I do? Sally (L&D)
Dear Sally in L&D,
I’m sorry to hear of your troubles, and it’s good to hear that you want the relationship to
work. Sadly, what you describe where partners just want you to do training, is relatively
common and you are not alone in your dilemma.
You see, they are asking for what they want because it is what they think they need. From
their perspective, this seems a perfectly reasonable request. They have identified training as
a tool to get them what they really want, which is better performance. Unfortunately, they are
usually not performance experts, and so their proposed solution to improve performance is
often wrong because they are working from a common and incorrect assumption.
This assumption is…
Training = Performance
This idea has been ‘sold’ to them over the years of their education through school and
university, and then beyond as they entered the workforce where this thinking is still
endemic, and training is often seen as the standard cure to fix performance problems.
The most that you can say is that training equals potential, but it is certainly no guarantee of
performance. Even a moment’s reflection on this exposes the fallacy, but it is such a
fundamental part of common culture and thinking in the workplace that people do not take
the time to reflect on it.
So, my advice is that your first step is to correct the myth that training equals performance.
Only then does this open the possibility of doing something else instead of, or in addition to
The way you do this is by starting from what they really want, which is achieving key
performance metrics. You may have to get a little sneaky and initially acknowledge their
request for training. They need to save face after all! You can say that in order to provide the
right kind of training that will satisfy them, you need some more details and information about
what that training needs to achieve.
Talk about the performance gap they want to close, and what behaviours need to change to close that gap. You will probably need to help them get clarity on the behaviours because most people who are asking for training have not thought through in any details what they want that training to achieve. They will be unable to describe in detail the behaviours that are needed, and how to recognise them when they are occurring.
When you have an agreement on the required behaviours, then you can start asking what
barriers exist that stop those behaviours. There must be barriers that stop people doing what
is asked of them or there would be no performance gap. So, what are the barriers?
The barriers will fall into one or more of these areas…
- Lack of knowledge
- Lack of skill
- Lack of motivation or wrong attitude
- Physically unable
- Environmental barrier
A good tool to delve into these barriers is the Ishikawa cause-effect diagram.
Notice that the first four points above are related to the person doing the job. They are
related to the competence of the performer. Point five is related to the ‘competence’ of the
environment, or the stage on which they are performing. You need both performer and stage
to be competent before the performer can deliver a good performance.
Many times, the barrier lies within the environment surrounding the performer, perhaps
related to system and procedures, IT, tools and resources, their manager, the organisational
culture and so on. And yet, even when it is an environmental barrier, we still often blame the
performer, and decide they need fixing. This encourages the notion that training is the
When you have a list of the barriers, you can start addressing them. If the primary barriers
are lack of knowledge or skill, then training may be the answer, but a better and cheaper
solution could be on the job performance support. It is often better to put the knowledge into
the environment than try to train it into the person. It is often better to streamline and simplify
processes than train people to adhere to complex ones.
When people can see the real barriers to performance, they will let go of their initial knee-
jerk training request, because now they can see what the really need. And if they can see
what they need with freshly opened eyes, it will become what they want, and what they will
Who Is Accountable For Learning Transfer?
This blog is an excerpt from the forthcoming new book ‘Learning Transfer at Work: How to Ensure Training >> Performance” by Paul Matthews
Here’s a tough question, and I will apologise later … How much sustainable behaviour change are you managing to achieve from the training courses you deliver? If you are like most people delivering training, the honest answer is ‘not that much’ or perhaps more honestly, ‘I don’t know’. Now, maybe you as an L&D professional can take home your salary knowing that most of the training you do is a waste of time. Maybe the people who asked for the training are happy with that low level of impact. Maybe, like some L&D people I speak with, you can ‘bury your head in the sand’ or look the other way and make nonsense noises while you plug your ears with your fingers. Maybe you say some nice words about learning transfer and do a few things that might help, but really you are just doing what you have always done. Or maybe you are waking up to the reality that we should, as ‘professionals’, be doing much better than we are at producing business impact from our training courses.
There are many in L&D who would cough and splutter in indignation at that previous paragraph. How did you react? Maybe you are one of the very small minority of L&D professionals who are doing a good job of learning transfer and that last paragraph genuinely does not apply to you, and if so, I apologise, and I salute you. Or maybe you just feel very uncomfortable when someone calls out what should be obvious to all and says that the emperor has no clothes. In the parable of the emperor’s clothes, he did come to his senses and realise that he had been deceived. He was living within an illusion where everybody was pretending something was real when even a child could see that it was not. Somehow, so many people are living within the illusion that training is working well, when even a cursory examination shows that it is not in most cases delivering on its promise.
If learning transfer is important and therefore should be done, and it is possible to do, and people are avoiding it, we end up in the murky waters of responsibility and accountability. Who is responsible for making it happen, and who should be held accountable if it doesn’t happen? In other words, “when and where does the buck stop?”
Stop and think for a moment about the last training course you were involved with. Who was accountable for making sure learning transfer happened? When I ask that question, very few people have an answer. In other important organisational activities someone is accountable, so what’s different about learning transfer?
One of the reasons is that the activities required for successful learning transfer come from many people across different departments, and it is most unlikely that each person will do their bit and all the parts will magically coalesce into a successful programme. Somebody needs to be the conductor of the orchestra. The conductor in turn requires each member of the orchestra to contribute the part they need to play to perform the symphony. And then somebody else, perhaps whoever booked for and paid for the orchestra to perform, is holding the conductor accountable for the quality of the performance at the event. And who holds the event organiser accountable? Perhaps the people who paid for tickets to attend the concert. There is inevitably a chain of accountability.
Now, think back again to the last training course you were involved with. What was, or should have been, the chain of accountability, perhaps even starting with the company shareholders or owner? Where did the chain break? If you fix that link in the chain, are there more weak links further down the chain that will then break? Then take a step back and consider how accountability plays out in the organisation. Accountability is a facet of organisational culture, often driven from the top. Does the senior team take ownership? Do they accept accountability or are they full of excuses?
It is easy to say that a person should be accountable, but for delegated accountability to be effective, it must also be accepted. No-one wants to be held accountable for something that is likely to fail; that is a poisoned chalice. Alongside delegating accountability, you must also ask people if they have everything they need to be successful. If they say ‘yes’ then they are well on the way to accepting ownership and the fact that they are accountable. If they say ‘no’ then they will not take ownership and if/when things go wrong they will drop into spectator mode and watch as things fail. You might even get ‘I told you so’ comments. On the other hand, if they feel a sense of ownership because they have accepted accountability, they will step in when things go wrong to solve the problem.
So, in your organisation, who is accountable for learning transfer?