To train or not: Which way to go?


“Send them back to training,” “We need training,” “They need to be trained.” These statements sound familiar when it comes to performance of employees.

Many a time these are only symptoms of a problem that needs urgent attention. Until the problem is understood, providing training can be a costly and pointless way to treat a symptom.

There could be many other avenues to explore in solving the problem. So the question that remains is, could training be the answer? The truth is, not always.

Before we can solve a performance problem there is need to first diagnose it. When we look at it, it’s like what happens when you go to the doctor’s surgery.

Isn’t it true that he/she conducts a needs analysis during medical examination? The doctor asks about symptoms relating to the disease, our activities, what we have been doing to treat it.

They want to know how long it has been happening. It’s only after the doctor has the information they need and have performed an examination that they attempt to diagnose the real problem.

Once they have diagnosed the problem they will typically prescribe medication as the solution. In order to determine if training is the answer we must begin by conducting our own examination.

When faced with a performance problem, there is need to ask the following questions:

What is the current behaviour?

What does acceptable behaviour look like?

How long has the unacceptable behaviour been occurring?

Is the employee aware that there is a problem with their behaviour?

What steps have been taken to work with the employee?

Where else is the same or similar problem occurring?

The answers to these questions are important as they will point to where you will go next. It could be that the issue is with only one person or perhaps the manager. Or maybe it is occurring in different departments.

The problem could also lie with the structure of the organisation, lack of coaching, or the lack of standards.

So the next level of your analysis is to break the problem down to determine the required and appropriate action.

There are four categories that can assist you in identifying the areas that need help. Let us take a look at the categories in depth.

Knowledge and skills: Knowledge and skills are a direct reflection of the person’s training, experiences and education.

To determine if the employee has the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful in their performance, the human resources development officer should consider asking the following questions:

Has the task ever been performed correctly?

Is the task performed often enough to assure retention?

Do they know that the task is still expected of them?

Has training on how to perform the task been provided before?

Could they perform the task immediately after training?

Are job aids available?

Could they do it if their lives depended on it (without further training)?

Capacity: This category looks at the employee’s capability in performing the job as required. This is normally determined in the interview process but sometimes there is a likelihood that some new employees slip through the cracks.

When we talk about capacity we need to consider the employees’ mental capacity, physical capacity and if they have the prerequisites required to do the job.

Standards: It is important that employees know what is expected of them. Tools such as job descriptions, mission or vision statements or job expectations will assist in gauging whether the employee measures up to what the job demands.

This is how your organisation expects an employee to perform and how it should be done. There is need, therefore to ask the following questions:

Does the employee know what to do?

Does the employee know when to do it?

Do their supervisors agree on what and when?

Are there written standards?

Does the employee know how they will be evaluated?

If we don’t tell the employee what we expect, how then can we expect them to meet or exceed it?

Measurement: What gets measured gets done. There is normally a tendency to focus on abstract things rather than the actual behaviour.

It is sometimes natural to allow our personal feelings and thoughts to interfere with the task at hand.

Having a measurement system in place that is result and task oriented is important and will help avoid this trap.

So there is need to ask yourself the following questions,
Is performance measured?

Are measurements based on task performance?

Are the measurements based on results rather than activities?

Are the measurements objective?

The only time training is necessary is when there is an issue with the concerned employee’s knowledge and/or skills.

In order for training to work, the other systems must be in alignment to support the training efforts.
If this is not the case, then 9 out of 10 times training will fail.

So the next time you hear, “They need more training”, begin asking questions to determine if training is indeed the answer.

Paul Nyausaru is a training and development practitioner. Email: Views contained in this article are personal