Minding our own Business

MYOBNot every performance problem is a training problem. We need to know which is which, and stick to the problems we can solve. Throwing training at all every performance problem doesn’t work, and guess which department gets blamed when it doesn’t?

Some years back, I was called by a person who introduced herself as the director of a large botanical park. “We need motivational training,” she said.

“That’s great, I’m in the training business,” said I. “How many people do you need trained?”

“200,” she said.

“In what size groups?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she replied. “All 200.”

“Oh,” said I, not quite understanding. “And how long do you have for the training?”

“An hour,” she said.

“I see,” I said. “So what you really want is a presentation.”

“No,” she said. “I need them trained.”

“OK,” said I. “Help me understand your problem a little better. Why do they need to be trained?”

“They aren’t motivated.”

“Is that something new? When did this start?”

“Three weeks ago,” she said. “When they were told that everyone would be fired next month.”

Obviously, this person did not have a training problem.

If someone held a gun to their head, the employees could have done their job. They had a motivational problem, one that would not be solved by training.

In their seminal 1970 article Analyzing Performance Problems; or “You Really Oughta Wanna”. Robert Mager and Peter Pipe suggested that “When faced with a discrepancy between the actual and the desired performance of a student, employee, or acquaintance, the usual course of action is to ‘train, transfer, or terminate’ the individual.”

As learning professionals, we need to ensure that performance problems are learning problems, not motivational or structural problems. This is a primary function of the analysis step in ADDIE, to analyze the source of the performance discrepancy. If they don’t have skills, it’s a training problem. If they have them but don’t want to use them, it’s a motivational problem. And if they have the skills and want to do the job but have insufficiency authority, resources, or time, it’s a structural problem.

In the situation I mentioned, one solution would have been to take every Friday and help the employees write resumes, build interviewing skills, and use online resources to find jobs, in exchange for good-hearted effort the other four days. Insofar as part of our charter in L&D is to be performance consultants, this would be a great approach. Other performance problems may be amenable to recognition, incentives, resourcing, or other management interventions that are simply not in the purview of L&D.

But the bottom line is that we can’t throw training at every performance problem. It simply won’t work.

Abstracted from Speed to Proficiency: Creating a sustainable competitive Advantage. In press.   (c) Bill Bruck, Ph.D., 2015

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