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The things that go wrong with training

When training is the solution to an identified and rationalised need and everything and everyone is geared towards making the solution work, then evidence suggests that training does work, and works very well.

However even when training could be the solution, sometimes there are many things that go wrong with the training. Having spent over ten years helping business find trainers and trainers find business I have become aware of many very easily identifiable reasons.

Not the correct solution
A sizable percentage of training is not the answer; is of no benefit and a complete waste of time, effort and money. The first reason for this is that there are other more appropriate alternatives. Training is not a substitute for bad management. As one member of TrainerBase commented she was asked if she could deliver something on “not swearing at colleagues in meetings.” Another instance she was asked to “deliver something so that our younger staff don’t turn up with their navel piercings and thongs showing” (Sue Hewitt). Both of these instances are examples of poor management. Training the offending staff is unlikely to do any good. Training the managers on how to manage might help.

The use of coaching as a staff development activity is increasing in popularity and in the absence of management time or capability can be undertaken by an outsider. Consider the instance of a competent staff member, who has attended a number of management development programmes, but is still finding it difficult to deal with a team member on an issue of time keeping. More training is not the answer. This type of situation can easily be explored by an external coach or an internal manager acting as a coach. And sometimes a member of staff is in the wrong job and no end of training is going to change things. Transferring that member of staff to a new role may be the only option. Consider the newly promoted manager who is not capable and not interested in changing his behaviour to command and control the colleagues with whom he used to work. Training is likely to be a waste of time and effort.

The wrong staff on the training
Members of TrainerBase often tell me about the wrong people on the training. Participants on a management programme commented to the trainer that their managers should be on the course rather than them. An unpalatable truth for some managers will be that they will not or cannot admit to their own involvement in poor organisational and individual performance. A member of staff may persistently fail to meet individual or team objectives. Proper investigation could very well determine an issue with management practice rather than staff capability.

Staff not receptive
When was the last time your staff were educated? Possibly at school or college. What might be your employees reaction to the possibility of going on a course? It is quite possible that a member of staff who has not had any education for some time or their last experience was negative, will not be ready to learn. A company booked two employees onto an open course run by a member of TrainerBase. The commissioning manager was aware of the reservations of one of the employees The two employees turned up for the course on the first day and within hours, the practitioner was advising that one of the employees was not ready to learn. The company had wasted a considerable amount of money booking the employee on the course and made a bad situation worse. It is essential to ensure that your staff are ready to learn in the manner that you propose. Don’t expect a computer novice to engage with eLearning.

And then there are the staff that are sent on a training course for no apparent reason, to the employee, that it is needed. A member of staff who does not know the reason for attending and in particular the reasoning behind learning objectives; both individual and organisational will learn little if anything. Furthermore that member of staff is likely to be less inclined to consider any form of staff development in the future.

The wrong type of training
A sizable percentage of training doesn’t work because the wrong type of training has been implemented. With budgetary challenges, managers may be looking to reduce the cost of training. This can result in the wrong delivery methodology being used. Technology supported training (eLearning, Computer Based Training) may be cheaper but when Face to Face is more appropriate, then it is necessary to argue for the expenditure. Depending on what the topic is of the development initiative, a ‘show and tell’ (Instructional) methodology may not be as appropriate as a ‘case study’ (Immersive) dialogue and exploration.

Bad environments
Another common complaint I hear from members is when clients provide a bad training environment. The learning environment, both physical (the space where an activity takes place) and emotional (the mind-set of the learner) are paramount. Too many clients fail to take heed of their expert practitioner’s advice on what is and what is not a suitable training room and undermine the objectives despite the practitioners best endeavour. Sue Hewitt turned up to deliver training at NHS venue and was presented with a tiny meeting room in basement. The room had no window and was too small for the seven participants. Heather Girling was conducting a training programme for 15 staff which required the participants to move around. The room she was given contained a table that occupied 80% of the space and pinned everyone against a wall.

Sometimes clients try to make their learning environments fun and exciting, not realising how this can backfire. Kathey Bailey will always remember running a Time Management course on HMS Warrior. She commented that the training definitely came second to the participant’s interest in the ship! Joy Wilson once organised a new product training event for sales people at a large wholesaler of office equipment. At the time there was an offer to use the conference facilities at Manchester United Football Club. She decided that while most of the equipment and suppliers were there for the training she could maximise the event and invite customers. She commented: ‘great idea...BIG FAIL’. The Manchester United B team were playing and the venue overlooked the pitch...attention to products was zero.

No chance to change
An important question that needs to be asked of anyone spending organisational resources on a staff development activity is: ‘what does success looks like’. What is the expected outcome from sending a person on a training course? Success is the essence of purposeful learning and development however many managers struggle with this.

Sometimes a training programme is correctly identified and implemented. Staff attend, the commissioning manager is notified by the practitioner that everyone had a great time. Yes, and ... As Ruth C. Colvin explains in her book ‘Evidence-Based Training Methods’: the more they like it the more they learn: is a myth. Just because everything went well on the day has no bearing on whether the learning, if there was any, will be implemented in the workplace. As mentioned earlier, all too often, practitioners are told by participants that they get little if any support in the workplace, to practice what they were asked to learn. One member got a call from a housing association regarding a new management development programme. The caller indicated that they were looking for a new supplier as there had been no change as a result of the previous programme. Further investigations identified that the previous course was well received but despite positive reports about the programme, nothing had changed. What was more alarming was that some 25% of the managers that had attended the programme had left within 12 months. The problem turned out not to be with the training, but with senior management not allowing new practices to be implemented. Another member providing a team leader course to staff at a major NHS trust mentioned that half way through a 6 day programme a participant approached the practitioner and declared “It is all very well you saying all this stuff about how to manage our teams more effectively but when we get back into the workplace we won’t be allowed to practice any of it”. It is counter productive to send or allow a staff member to attend a learning and development event and then deny them the opportunity to develop.

The above suggestions are some of the key issues that I hear about on a regular basis from members of TrainerBase. They are an indication of a lack of responsibility on the part of the:

  • commissioning manager
  • practitioner and
  • learning participant

There will be other contributory factors why a member of staff does not change their behaviour in line with the expectations and objectives of a learning and development project. I would suggest and on occasions will argue that most of these reasons can be laid at the feet of managers; either line or senior. My hope is that further reading will assist commissioning managers understand their responsibility and as a result spend their limited learning and development budgets more wisely.

If a manager would like help and advice on how the efficacy of training budget spend can be improved; please feel free to get in contact.

Contributor Profile

Peter Mayes

Peter Mayes. Peter Mayes is the founder and editor of TrainerBase; dedicated to helping business and other organisations find trainers and trainers find business. Contact details: Tel 07970 746077

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Contributor: Peter J Mayes

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