Training is Stupid

There is one and only one purpose for training: to increase performance. That’s it. Training provides new knowledge and skills that allow a person to perform better than they could without the information or practice provided by the training. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about training for leadership development, college classes, or even physical fitness.  Any training that doesn’t increase performance is stupid.

I once observed a safety training where the trainer was showing the participants how to fill out a government form. Not the most exciting topic to begin with, the training was so slow, dull, and unengaging that the trainer made Mr. Rogers look like Tony Robbins. The more experienced participants were getting caught up on reading spy novels. The others looked like they were wishing for sweet, sweet death – his or theirs, it didn’t matter. It was total waste of time and money, but the company was able to check the box and say that their employees had attended the required training.

I’ve also known trainers so charismatic and entertaining that everyone has a great time and universally gives the trainer high marks on their evaluation. Yet, said and done, the participants can’t remember what the program was about or don’t understand how to apply it to their own lives. A good time was had by all, but it was still a horrific waste of time and resources.

Sometimes the training is a hodgepodge of great ideas and techniques, but there is no plan to bring it all together so that the person can consistently apply it and improve. Every been at the gym and seen someone “training” their friend by almost randomly showing them different exercises? Information is dumped on them, but they have no understanding of how to truly apply it. There’s no plan, no tracking of progress, and minimal (if any) improvement.

The biggest challenge is that increasing performance means change. Scary word. Our performance gets better only when our behavior changes (we’ll never get better if we keep doing the same things). Changing others – even simply helping them change themselves – is incredibly difficult. That’s why most training fails us. It’s much, much easier to provide information and call it “training.” It’s much, much easier to be entertaining, have fun, tell some great stories that kind of relate to the topic and call it “training.” It’s much, much easier to string together a bunch of ideas than organize them into a plan that will create ongoing improvement. It’s much, much easier to think of training as a one-time, check the box event than to approach it as an ongoing process. How different would training be if every aspect was scrutinized to determine if each bit of information was truly important and if it would create the changed behavior that leads to increased performance?

And here’s why we care. Company performance improves ONLY when individual performance improves. It’s painfully funny how many leaders insist on improving company performance without ever trying to create higher performance from each and every individual. Training is crucial to any company that wants sustained performance.

Except when it’s stupid…

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