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COMMENTS | Blog Digest March 23, 2006

Why Training Is Useless

Author: David Maister []

For a lot of my professional life, I got paid to do training. It usually went very well in the sense that I got high ratings (evaluations) and people not only paid their bills, but invited me back again to do it again and again.

I now believe that the overwhelming majority of all business training, by me and by everyone else, is a complete waste of money and time, because only a microscopic fraction of any training is ever actually put into practice and yield the hoped-for benefits.

The main reason is that companies keep trying to bring about changes in behavior by training their people in new things, and then sending them back to their operating groups subject to the same measures and management approaches as before. Not surprisingly, little, if any of the training ever gets implemented.

What companies dont seem to understand is that training is a wonderful LAST step in bringing about changed behavior, but a pathetically useless first step.

Take, one example, the many speeches and seminars I have been invited to give since the publication of my 2000 book The Trusted Advisor. Companies have paid my co-authors and I loads of money to come in and be (a) inspirational and (b) informative about the importance of, and mechanisms for, growing relationships with existing clients. However, in vain do I point out that in order to have the time to nurture these relationships, it follows that you need to be more selective on which new client proposal opportunities you pursue — there are only so many hours in a day.

This doesnt always go down well. In fact, I got fired by one firm after the training seminar, for suggesting that it was OK to decline to pursue something. In this firm, the National Managing Partner said, we pursue all new business opportunities.

Thats fine by me. He may be right and I may be dead wrong. But why did he spend all that time and money encouraging his people to do something other than what he believed in, and what they all knew he was going to evaluate them on?

Another example of wasted money are the calls I get to put on training programs to help people become better managers. I put my callers through a standard set of questions: Did you choose your managers because they were the kind of people who could get their fulfillment and satisfaction out of helping other people shine, rather than having the ego need to shine themselves? (No!) Did you select them because they had a prior history of being able to give a critique to someone in such a way that the other person says- wow, that was really helpful, Im glad you helped me see all that. (No!) Do you reward these people for how well their group is done, or do you reward them for their own personal accomplishments in generating business and serving clients? (Their personal numbers!)

So, lets summarize, I say. Youve chosen people who dont want to do the job, who havent demonstrated any prior aptitude for the job, and you are rewarding them for things other than doing the job? Thanks, but Ill pass on the wonderful privilege of training them!

The truth is that most firms go about training entirely the wrong way. They decide what they wished their people were good at, allocate a budget to a training director and ask that training director to come up with a good program. Note, of course, that a training director (or Chief Learning Officer, if you prefer) is the LEAST influential person in the firm in the sense of being positioned to bring about any real changes in how things happen in daily execution. Pathetic and useless. A waste of everybodys time.

The correct process would be to sit top management down, ask What are people not doing that we want them to be doing? and then figuring out a complete sequence of actions to address the questions — how do we actually get people to change their behavior? What measurements need to change? — what behaviors by top management need to change to convince people that the new behaviors are really required, not ust encouraged? — what has to happen before the training sessions to bring about the change? What has to be in place the very day they finish?

Only if done this way will firms and companies get a return on their training dollar,pound, euro or yen.

A good test is as follows. If the training were entirely optional and elective, and was only available in a remote village accessible only by a mule, but people still came to the training because they were saying to themselves I have got to learn this — its going to be critical for my future, then, and ONLY then, you will know you have timed your training well. Anything less than that, and you are putting on the training too soon.

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