When things go wrong, it is common to see training proposed as the first (and often only) response. I can understand this — training courses come with an obvious KPI (number of people trained), they can often be cheap if provided internally, and they are readily procured from external suppliers if necessary. Most significantly, if the organisation provides training, the blame for errors (or just poor performance) can be placed more securely on the shoulders of the people doing the job.
But, often, people commit errors after having been trained. They perform poorly even when they demonstrably know and understand what they are supposed to do. More training cannot fix this problem. Something else is needed.
This is not a new issue. Oddly, though, very few organisations seem to want to grapple with it. The default response, again and again, is to lay on a training course.
Some years ago, Harold Jarche provided clear guidance to those facing this situation. In a post dating from February 2005, he turns the issue on its head. Rather than concentrating on the manifestation of a problem (people performing poorly), he advises looking more closely at the system itself — what is the cause of poor performance. The post includes a really clear (and simple) flow chart to help diagnose the appropriate response. Tellingly, it concludes that “only a lack of skills and knowledge warrants training.”
Harold’s flow chart also contains the reasons why organisations fall back on training unnecessarily often — the alternatives require at least a small amount of change. Those include changes to the way jobs are done (tweaking processes or removing obstacles) or to performance regimes. Ultimately, there may be repercussions for the individual, but only once organisational changes have been tried and the results tested.
Harold expands on the need to address barriers to performance in a later blog post (together with a number of resources linked from it). Whenever I hear someone demanding training to fix a problem, my mind turns to Harold’s advice. As long as training is seen as a cure-all, the fundamental problems underlying poor performance are unlikely to be resolved.
4 thoughts on “Will more training really fix that problem?”
Thanks Mark. You’re probably already familiar with the work of John Seddon on systems thinking, and the Vanguard Method. His focus is on public sector, but it addresses some broadly similar themes. https://www.vanguard-method.com/aboutus/
I haven’t delved into Seddon’s work in detail, but I can see that there are clear parallels, especially in relation to diagnosis. Dave Snowden has an interesting critique here: http://cognitive-edge.com/blog/babies-should-not-be-thrown-out-with-bathwater/
I couldn’t agree more Mark. I work as a Trainer in a food manufacturer. Often training is used as a corrective action where a non-conformance has been found by an auditor or a customer. I’m regularly asked to “get sign off” on one thing or another to satisfy an auditor that corrective-action, ie, training, has been carried out, I see this as papering over cracks, usually without addressing all the factors that contributed to the non-conformance. Very frustrating
[…] and to highlight the importance of the rule-based systems even for loosely coupled situations. As I have pointed out before, this approach is rarely successful. On further reflection, I think a better response needs to be […]