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Training Isn’t Everything

I’ve worked in the OD field for long enough to know the true value of training. There are specific skills that must be demonstrated to succeed in any type of job, and more often than not employees need to be taught these skills. Sometimes they are technical in nature – think particular software training or “how to” sessions – and other times they are in the more nebulous realm of “professional development,” which includes leadership development. Although training can be invaluable, it is not the fix-all that it is sometimes mistaken to be, especially if not provided effectively. How do you provide the most valuable training possible? The checklist below can help:

Know if it’s a training issue – It is not unlikely for problems that occur within an organization to masquerade as training issues. It’s always easy to say “let’s give them training” and expect it to solve whatever issue is at hand, but sometimes there is more going on in a system than is acknowledged. In order to determine whether training is the right solution, a thorough needs assessment should be given. If training does turn out to be a necessity, the needs assessment will help to ensure the right skills are targeted.

Know when to walk away – As members of the consulting community, we have a responsibility to serve our clients to the best of our abilities, which means being honest about our findings even if the results are not ideal for us from a next-steps perspective (for example if a needs assessment yields that training isn’t the right solution). If you do not acknowledge the cultural realities that may be facing an organization, you could develop the best training in the world and still meet failure. If you sense that this is the case and you’re unable to help affect change at the system-wide level, you’re doing your client a disservice and should reconsider your value-add.

Know what you’re contending with – It is important to be holistic in your approach; be thoughtful about all that’s going on in the organization, what other initiatives a new training could potentially contend with, how people are held accountable, what people’s experiences have been with regard to training in the past, etc. Very often there is a lot that’s going on in an organizational that, if addressed, would solve the perceived “issue”. By being mindful in your assessment of the organization’s culture up front, you’ll be able to determine whether or not it will serve to support or block any new training initiatives that are rolled out.

Know what you’re impacting – While we know that not all training is effective, the only way that we know for sure if a given training initiative is having the intended impact is to measure results based on agreed-upon metrics laid out up front. By developing a robust measurement plan that holds the training accountable, you are much more likely to consider what design elements and content must be incorporated into the program to have the desired effect.

While I’d agree that training absolutely has its place in organizations, the system in which the training lives is paramount. In order for training to be the right solution, it is critically important that it be designed responsibility, and in concert with the organization’s existing realities.

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