So You Think You’ve Got A Training Problem?
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Why You May Not Have A Training Problem

Anyone who’s been in the ‘training world’ for more than about a week has probably felt some amount of stress from trying to keep up with the never-ending deluge of industry buzzwords.

Fortunately, after more than 20 years of real-life, in-the-trenches work in training departments of all shapes and sizes, I can confidently tell you that your success doesn’t have much to do with latest fads or trendiest new tools. In fact, it has nothing to do with trends or tools at all.

Paradoxically, one of the things separating the best eLearning pros from everyone else is knowing when not to build an online course.The most important thing we can do for the organizations that hire us is recognizing that training isn’t always the best path towards getting the results we are aiming for.

Think about it. Do you really want to send an eLearning course to solve a problem caused by people not having the proper tools or resources? Even the best course in the world is a waste of time and money in that situation. Doing nothing would be better than building a course.

These days most training departments are being challenged to do more with less. Which means to stay relevant (and employed) we’ve got to look for the most efficient solutions. And that is impossible without a holistic view of all the possible factors that impact performance.

You Can’t Offer A Solution Until You Know What The Problem Is

While training will always play an important role in improving performance, it is insufficient by itself to solve all the challenges we are facing. Fortunately, moving beyond the traditional packaging and delivery of content can help us provide better, more effective and more efficient solutions for our stakeholders.

If this is a new concept for you, a great place to start learning more about all the other variables that can affect performance is Thomas Gilbert's book Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. One of the key takeaways is Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model (BEM) for performance analysis, which illustrates the six aspects of behavior that must be present to achieve optimal performance.

"If you're in the training business, even if you've never heard of Tom Gilbert, his ideas affect the way you work." -Ron Zemke

Let’s take a look at how Gilbert’s “six boxes” model gives us a good way to diagnose performance issues by looking at the environmental factors that are in place along with the factors each individual brings with them to this equation.

Taking a cue from Edward Deming, who said “Money and time spent for training will be ineffective unless inhibitors to good work are removed.” we need to recognize the importance of the system and start our analysis with the environmental factors before moving on to “fixing” individuals.

"A bad system will beat a good person everytime." -Edward Deming

Behavior Engineering Model By Thomas Gilbert

Information Instrumentation Motivation
Environment Data Resources Incentives
Individual Knowlege Capacity Motives

You learn more about using this model for identifying root causes in Updating the Behavior Engineering Model by Roger Chevalier, CPT.

In essence, this model guides us towards asking a series of questions that will help identify what factors are causing a gap between the current and desired performance.

Environmental Factors

Research has shown that 75-85% of the performance issues in an organization are caused by something in the work environment.[1] Since we want to start with factors that will give us the greatest results with the least cost, this tells us to start our analysis with the environmental factors.

1. Data

  • Do they know how they are doing? Are they getting regular, relevant feedback about their performance?
  • Do they know what the expectations are for their work?
  • Do they have clear and relevant guidelines about how to meet expectations?

2. Resources

  • Do they have sufficient time, materials, and tools to do the work?
  • Are the processes and procedures clearly defined? Do they support the desired outcomes?
  • Does the work environment support the work being done as expected?
    (i.e is it safe, organized, free of obstructions or barriers that impede work, etc.)

3. Incentives

  • Are there any incentives that reward the desired performance? Are there any disincentives?
  • Are there career development opportunities for successful performers?

Individual Factors

We should only move on to these individual factors after we’ve examined the environmental factors above. It is common for the cause to come from a combination of multiple factors.

4. Knowledge

  • Do people have the knowledge, skills, and experience required to successfully do the work?
  • Are those people appropriately placed in roles to apply their knowledge, skills, and experience?

5. Capacity

  • Does the person have the capacity to learn and do what is expected?
  • Are people recruited to match the requirements of the work?

 6. Motives

  • Do the people’s motives align with the work?
  • Recruitment of people to match the realities of the situation

It is important to note that only one of these six factors—knowledge—can be improved by training.

Here is the key takeaway: Recognize that training isn’t always the best option for improving performance, and be familiar with what other alternatives are available.

Try “Yes, And…” To Reframe Training Requests

At this point, you might be thinking, “Yes, that sounds great, Mike. But how am I supposed to tell my boss I’m not going to build the course he wants on his desk by Friday?” My answer - you’re not.

The key is not rejecting these types of requests, but reframing them away from a predetermined solution (a course) and guiding them towards identifying the problem they want to solve (more sales, improved safety, fewer defects, etc). Ultimately, the goal is to accurately identify 3 things:

  1. The goal
  2. The current state
  3. What is causing the gap between the goal and the current state.

If you’re feeling a little unsure about having this reframing conversation, there is a simple improv trick that I find helpful -- “Yes, and…”  Whether you intend it to or not, when you say “No” or “Yes, but…” it feels negative and a little argumentative. “Yes, and…” is much more positive and collaborative and instead of killing the conversation it actually supports and continues the dialog necessary to find the best solution.

For example:

"Yes, we can build that training course for you and would you also like to explore other potentially more efficient, more effective options?"

So give it a try next time you get a training request. Take a moment to confirm you’re not jumping straight to a solution without identifying the underlying causes. Even if you can’t totally avoid building training before confirming its potential, you and your organization will benefit from asking the questions that can lead increased efficiency and better results.

Want to take a deeper dive? Here are a couple of my favorite books on this topic.

* A nod to my all-time favorite book subtitle from Robert Mager and Peter Pipe’s Analyzing Performance Problems

Footnote:

  1. A Manager's Guide to Improving Workplace Performance, by Roger Chevalier, AMACOM, American Management Association, 2007, p. 101.
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