Is Training Really The Solution?
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Discover Why Training Isn't Always The Right Solution

If you’ve worked in Learning and Development long enough, you’ve probably experienced a situation where a manager has frantically approached you and asked for a training intervention because of a lack of performance by one or more of their employees. This is a common reaction anytime a manager feels like an employee’s performance isn’t up to par. If you’re anything like me, you probably started your L&D career by swiftly agreeing to put together the training program without hesitation.

Looking back on the programs I’ve developed throughout the years, I wonder if most of those programs were even necessary. Was it really a training issue or was something else missing, like lack of motivation, resources, or even clear direction? Conducting a proper performance/needs analysis can lead an L&D professional to the correct conclusion. The following article will provide a guide for L&D pros any time there is a request for a training program. The goal is to not escape our responsibility of developing and conducting training. Rather, the goal is to discover and apply the appropriate interventions. Newsflash, it isn’t always training.

Start With A Needs Analysis

A good performance assessment will always start with a needs analysis to determine the goals of the stakeholder. Within this front-end analysis, will be a discrepancy (gap) analysis to understand where the learner’s current performance resides. The analysis may uncover that there is indeed a performance gap, but might not always expose if training is the ultimate solution to fill the gap. There are situations where training is a no brainer, such as onboarding training, learning soft skills, or even a position change. However, assessing performance within a current position may not be as clear cut. Training should only be the solution if there is a gap in knowledge, skill, or ability.

Meeting With The Manager

To begin and complete your needs analysis, you should begin by meeting with the stakeholder who, oftentimes, is the employee's manager. This is typically your first opportunity to start gathering information and to ask inquiry-based questions to determine if training is the solution to the performance issue. When asking questions about performance, you should always stick with the facts. In other words, questions asked around performance should be void of any opportunity for the manager to inject opinions. Opinions imply a solution to the problem before the issue has been properly identified.

Examples of fact-based questions are the following:

  • Do all employees receive the same level of initial and ongoing training and support?
  • Do all employees have the same working conditions?
  • Do all employees understand what exemplary performance looks like?
  • Do all employees understand what the expectations of the job are?

If any of these answers are no, you should inquire further to understand the discrepancies. You may be able to quickly discover if there is a gap in knowledge, skill, or ability.

At the conclusion of the meeting, we should walk away with questions above fully answered. These will help us determine if we truly have a training issue or if an alternative intervention is needed.

  1. Identification of what the current performance is
  2. Definition of the “Gold Standard”—with the help of the stakeholder, define what ideal performance looks like
  3. Clarify the gap/discrepancy between Step 1 and Step 2—you will need to determine if these gaps are related to knowledge, skill, or ability
  4. From the identified gaps, decide on the learning goals for your anticipated next steps

If you determine that there are sufficient knowledge, skill, and ability, you can then move onto observing on-the-job behavior and interviewing select employees. When observing on-the-job behavior, you will want to focus carefully on the areas identified as performance gaps by the manager. You should create a list of criteria that you want to observe. This provides you identified areas to focus on.

When observing, we should pay particular attention to anything that hinders performance. It could be directly or indirectly related to the actual performance issue identified by the manager. As an example, I once had a manager ask if I could implement a time management training because employees weren’t following up with clients in a timely manner. However, after observing and interviewing the employees, it was discovered that time management was never an issue. Rather it was spotty, intermittent WiFi that, on average, was offline 30-60 minutes per day.

Gilbert Behavior Model

A common tool utilized during the interview phase is the Gilbert Behavior Model. This model examines 6 areas of workplace performance and is broken down by environmental and individual conditions.

1. Environmental

  1. Data
    This involves whether a person receives adequate and frequent feedback on performance and a clear guide on expected performance.
  2. Resources
    Does the employee have the tools, resources, and time to complete the desired task?
  3. Incentives
    Does the employee have the proper financial and non-financial incentives to reach the desired performance?

2. Individual

  1. Knowledge
    Was there proper, initial training to support the desired performance? Are they provided development opportunities on the job?
  2. Capacity
    Do the employee's personal characteristics match the job requirements? Are there any mental or emotional limitations that would hinder their ability to perform?
  3. Motivation
    This involves the amount of value the employee attributes to the job, the level of confidence, and overall mood.

At any point where you identify a lack of knowledge, skill or ability, you can assume that training will be the solution. However, if after meeting with the manager and observing performance, you discover that this is not lacking, you can begin to focus in on non-training interventions.

Non-Training Interventions

Non-training interventions can include the following;

  • Job aids: a decision-tree job aid could be implemented to make sure that appropriate steps are implemented with uniformity every time.
  • Automated reminders: useful when a task must be completed at a consistent time
  • Eliminating performance hindering components of the job (wifi example)

In conclusion, as L&D professionals, we enjoy implementing our skillsets as training facilitators. However, before any program can be designed, implemented, and evaluated, we should always determine if training is the most efficient and scalable way to solve the performance issue. Taking the extra time to conduct a proper front-end analysis will save you time in the long run.

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