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Special Report: Education Featured

10:07am EDT July 22, 2002

You work hard for your money, and wasting it is not an option. Some of us, however, do waste our time, effort and resources when we invest in training.

What?! Aren’t training and developing a good investment? Relax. Staff training can be a significant contribution to organizational effectiveness ... if it is warranted. There are many benefits to employee training—increased skill and knowledge, employee alignment with organizational goals, improved communication among and between departments, enhanced attitudes and productivity—which all positively affect profits. After three decades of documenting the benefits, we can say training works. Training by itself, however, is only one option for performance improvement and, ultimately, business goals.

For instance, a large organization, one that has the resources to know better, wanted its training program for new salespeople redesigned to be more effective. Management presumed the present training was not working when, after several weeks of intensive training in product knowledge and sales skills, staff turnover became an increasing profit leak. We took the “temperature” of all affected areas in this organization—the support staff, the management, the past and present sales people, the trainers, the customers—and found symptoms that couldn’t be cured with training solutions alone.

For example, the first few weeks for the new salespeople were spent in class learning products as well as need-to-know personnel issues. The training actually unmotivated the new staff members who became bogged down with information overload. It was too much information, too soon.

Solutions included limiting classroom training to only the information that would immediately affect job performance: teaching how and what to sell. We suggested delegating some product training to technology. By using computer-based, self-paced programs, new salespeople could learn personnel information, such as filling out necessary forms. A telephone hot line or e-mail could also provide new hires with instantaneous information.

If we look only at training to improve performance, we limit ourselves. When people aren’t doing what you’ve asked them to do, consider doing a thorough assessment to identify the real problem.

I once worked in a building where the agency wanted better communication among departments. The building design, however, made it difficult for workers to communicate. Long, narrow corridors and no common meeting places inhibited informal sharing of ideas. People were physically isolated and open communication was strained. Communication training would not have solved those problems; redesigned work areas might have.

Company culture—the stated and unstated values of the organization—is another issue that can affect performance, but not be corrected with training. The organization may publicly purport teamwork, yet if the managers are not a team, and they acknowledge and reward individual effort, there’s a gap. Training for team development or communication won’t bridge the gap until the culture changes.

Other elements that can affect performance improvement include availability of resources, such as technology, hiring and compensation systems.

Without a thorough diagnosis of all the symptoms, resolution of performance problems will remain an illusion. Moreover, we may become disenchanted from wasting time, effort and resources. It’s worth the time, money and effort to diagnose the problem, then prescribe the solution. Training isn’t always the answer.

Susan A. Stasiak is owner of Stasiak & Associates, a Columbus-based performance improvement training and consulting business.