The Answer Isn’t Always Training

When a client requests training, I resist the urge to say, “Yes, we can do that”. Instead, I start asking questions. Lots of questions. The start of the inquiry sounds something like… “tell me what happened that made training come to mind”. Then I listen. Really listen. The response tells a story about the company’s environment, culture, and management styles. As we talk, we uncover behaviors, norms, processes, beliefs, knowledge and skills that are all playing a role in the undesired outcomes. Three areas of focus in the inquiry are environment, culture, management styles

Let’s look at the ‘environment’. Here, we determine if employees have all the tools, materials, information and support they need to do the work. Is the physical layout slowing things down? Is documentation outdated, if it exists at all? Is the software challenging to use? Do employees have the support of management that they need? Is the right person in the right role?

Culture embodies the mental models that influence behavior. When discussing culture, I like to learn how decisions are made. This provides valuable insights into whether employees have the opportunity to express what they need, what they think and whether they feel they contribute to business success. The conversation gets a bit organic after that, based on what is discovered. Other questions to ask here include whether people have the time needed to do a good job. How are employees and managers held accountable to performance? How are people rewarded and recognized? Does that match what motivates them? What are the ‘unspokens’ that influence how people go about their day? (Be careful with this one – it could open a big box of wormholes!)

Another angle is exploring how management styles may be impacting engagement, performance or turnover. We can learn about this through focus groups, interviews, observation and reviewing engagement survey results. We are looking for evidence of employees needing more feedback, clear expectations and a clear direction in which to head.

The way forward could include training managers on how to give meaningful feedback. There may be some processes to update and document. Perhaps a leader would benefit from having a coach help her discover blindspots and adjust her approach. Many times, there is an element of accountability that must be dusted off and employed. This is often paired with performance management systems. And don’t forget about helping teams better understand, appreciate and communicate with one another.

“We need training” begs more questions than answers, and the answer isn’t always training.