August 25, 2015 Anil Saxena

Leadership Follies: Cutting Through The Meat

Why is most training not effective for very long? There is a lot of time and effort put into training? Does behavior really change because of training?

As performance improvement tools go, training is extremely effective.  But unless it is used on the job it is a waste of time.   

I learned early in my consulting career that good training is like teaching your kids to cut meat.  When done correctly, children learn to be self sufficient.  The alternative is cutting the kid’s meat or watching them eat like a barbarian. 

Great Training?

My wife and I were talking about the training that I just conducted for a client.  She asked me how the training went.  I told her it was magical.  The participants in the course were:

  • engaged,
  • laughing,
  • asking great questions
  • and taking notes!

“Wow”, she said.  “What happens when you leave?” she asked.

“Umm, well, they go back to work.” I eloquently stated.

“Really, do they put what you taught to use?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.”  I replied “Honestly, I am a consultant and I can’t control what the client does when I leave.”

“Oh, that seems like a waste of time then.”  My not so subtle wife stated.

What is the real impact?

I was stunned and hurt.  But wondered if that were true.  Was it a waste of time?  Did all of my hard work go for naught? 

Were my clients guilty of training for the sake of doing it with little thought to the follow through?  I decided that I would call some of the participants in my class in a couple of weeks and see what magic they were creating.   

Exactly two weeks from the end of my class, I called each person that attended.  The results were less than stellar.  Of the 22 people attending:

  • 13 had not looked at any of the material, done any of the post class work, etc.  None of their leaders asked them about the training. All of them thought I was great though.
  • 2 did not remember what we worked on, but remember the funny story I told about my father and the parking garage.  None of their leaders asked them about the training.
  • 3 said that they tried some of their new knowledge once at work and never tried it again.  They liked me during the course, but don’t think I gave them practical solutions.  None of their leaders did not ask them about the training.
  • 4 had implemented most of the learning and were excited with the results.  They liked me, but thought my jokes were old and tired.  Their managers inquired about the training, asked them to share their post training work and made it a topic during their status conversations.

I learned 3 things from these calls:

1. People like me
2. Training is great when people put it into action
3. People only put it into action consistently over time when prompted by their leader.
I thought that sounded ridiculously simple and therefore believed that could not be the answer.  Of course, that night my wife proved that it was. 

What could you do differently?

At the time, my daughter was not very good using a fork and knife.  She struggled particularly with cutting.  For some reason she thought it was easier to push down with a knife than saw back and forth.  She would struggle mightily and when frustrated would ask her Dad to cut it.  My wife took half the dinner to show Alex how to use a knife.   Over the next couple of days, my wife had my daughter practice cutting with her knife, talk about how to use her knife and praising her.  By the end of the third day, my daughter was a knife welding pro. 
It did not end with knowing the skill.  My wife worked with Alex every day to drive the learning home.  Although it took my wife extra time for a couple of days, we never had to cut Alex’s meat again.  My wife showed me that training is only the beginning.  Follow through enables real lasting learning. 

Since then, all of the training I deliver does not end with class.  It ends when the participant’s leader has made the learning a priority.  It is up to the participant to take in the lessons and bring back the knowledge.  It is up to the leader to help the participant put that learning to use every day until there is a change in behavior or skill. 

Are you making sure that training is acted on?  What steps are you taking to make sure that there is follow through after training?  Do you encourage people to use knowledge from recent training?  How do you make sure that training is being put to use?

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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