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Training is not the solution

For a few years now I’ve become outspoken about corporate box ticking exercises. The bandwagon leaping that companies do to use as a PR or marketing exercise or in some way bolster claims on their website that they ‘put their people first’. I am particularly concerned about mental health first aid which whilst a brilliant and forward-thinking idea in theory, in practice can put a wedge between people and management, and the necessity of ensuring productive and cohesive working relationships. There’s more to it than that (and of course, many companies successfully deploy a MHFA strategy that compliments the brilliant work they are already doing) but I also feel there’s another area where companies are adopting the same approach. I’ve seen it in businesses of all shapes and sizes – perhaps more so in larger ones – and it’s something that is fundamental to individual and team success and in my view, is one of the biggest barriers to progression. It’s training.



This is not a piece about the imperative of training and thus an attempt to sell training courses. I am referring to the eye watering sums businesses spend on training each year (it’s hundreds of billions dollars annually in the US alone), and the abject failure of Managers and Leaders to ensure the training is:


  1. Relevant

  2. Accessible/method

  3. Cost-effective

  4. Measurable


My use of jargon might be off putting but the crux of the matter is this; I’ve seen countless examples where Managers and Leaders are bemoaning poor performance of their people and putting it down to a lack of training or suggesting that training on a particular subject will magically yield exceptional results. They fail to see how their own behaviour, lack of training (!), attitudes and capability are bigger factors in the outcomes of the people they lead. I’ve sat in on training sessions where people have fallen asleep, spent 90% of their time chatting or on their phones, and most common of all, arrive and avoid participation without a shred of interest and not even a piece of paper and pen to take notes. The worst was been (on more than one occasion) senior attendees expressing their dim view of the training in front of all of those in attendance. Sound familiar?


At the end of it, participates are awarded a fresh tick in a quota box somewhere and the afternoon off. Management now have a misguided belief that they have a ‘trained’ workforce ready to tackle the challenges ahead. No follow-ups. No evaluation. No coaching or testing. No idea on the effectiveness or cost benefit. Why are things not improving and where does the fault lie now?


Before I say anything more, I will say that the premise of training is sound. When delivered and approached in a sensible manner it is a vital process that businesses should rightly prioritise. Without proper training how could we expect to grow and ensure excellence into the future? I am referring instead to its deployment and the misguided belief (as with MHFA) that a one-hit process or programme can trump toxic cultures or poor leadership - it simply cannot.


There is no 1-hit wonder course or initiative that will eradicate the ills of a failing culture or workplace. It needs input from leaders and processes in place to monitor the impacts and effectiveness of such ideas. Companies need to look at what other factors are impacting the effectiveness of training. They need to look at the purpose of it and understand how they can directly impact the effectiveness of it and ensure the process is successful.


As with most things, it requires leaders to look inward and understand what areas they themselves need to improve or take responsibility for. Businesses are a multi-cellular organisms with a number of different needs and requirements. Training, delivered with other desirable attributes and behaviours, can be enormously beneficial. Leaders just first need to understand where they are now and what they are trying to achieve.


Stop ticking boxes and start talking to your people.

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