The answer is not always to train

When a client requests training, I resist the urge to say, “Yes, we can do it.” Instead, I start asking questions. Many questions. The beginning of the investigation sounds something like … “tell me what happened that brought the training to mind”. Then I listen. Really listen. The answer tells a story about the environment, culture and management styles of the company. As we speak, we discover behaviors, norms, processes, beliefs, knowledge, and skills that play a role in unwanted outcomes. Three areas of focus in research are environment, culture, and management styles.

Let’s take a look at the “environment”. Here, we determine whether employees have all the tools, materials, information, and support they need to get the job done. Is the physical design slowing things down? Is the documentation out of date, if it exists? Is the software challenging to use? Do employees have the management support they need? Is the right person in the right role?

Culture embodies the mental models that influence behavior. When I talk about culture, I like to learn how decisions are made. This provides valuable information on 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 to do a good job. How are employees and managers held accountable for performance? How are people rewarded and recognized? Does that coincide with what motivates them? What are the ‘unspoken’ that influence the way people live their day? (Be careful with this one, it could open a big box of wormholes!)

Another angle is exploring how management styles can affect engagement, performance, or turnover. We can learn about this through focus groups, interviews, observation, and review of participation survey results. We look for evidence that employees need more feedback, clear expectations, and a clear direction in which to go.

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 a coach helping her discover blind spots and adjust her focus. Often times, there is an element of responsibility that needs to be dusted off and employed. This is often combined with performance management systems. And don’t forget to help teams better understand, appreciate, and communicate with each other.

“We need training” raises more questions than answers, and the answer is not always training.