When You Say You Need Training, You Really Mean Performance

When You Say You Need Training, You Really Mean Performance

I used to think that when managers asked me to design a training program, they wanted a good training program.  Based on my experience, what managers are REALLY asking for isperformance.  Since there are so many more pieces to performance than just training, I have to be very clear with them on the limited scope of training, and educate them on what all has to be considered for performance.   That is a MUCH bigger scope.  And, dear manager, you also have some responsibility in improving performance.

Training is generally needed when something is new, or when there is a gap in knowledge or skill.  I can design an awesome training program based on measurable performance objectives, and ensure that in class I can see the attendees performing the skills listed in the objectives.  I can give them job aids to help them repeat it back at their desks (or wherever they need to perform the skill).  If I have observed them performing the skill, but, they don’t perform the skill at their desk, is this a training problem?  No, it is not.  More training won’t solve the performance problem.

Performance Support Partners - need right tools

Performance is more than training.   It is dependent on many things beyond knowledge and skill.  For example, in the book Analyzing Performance Problems by Robert F. Mager and Peter Pipe several pieces to the performance pie beyond training are:

  • Measurement:  How do you know the staff member is performing the task correctly? How is performance being measured?
  • Feedback: Are staff members getting feedback on what they are doing well and what needs done to accomplish the desired result?
  • Conditions: Do they have the tools, resources, time, and authority to do their job?  If they don’t have the right tools, it is like peeling an apple with a fork.  Yes, you can do it, but it is frustrating and inefficient.   Do they need expert resources that aren’t available?  Do they have the time available?
  • Incentive/motivation: Are we rewarding the correct behavior?  Is the reward for good work more work (incorrect reward)?
  • Capacity: Do they have the latent ability, strength or talent?   Do they have the right mix of strengths to be successful in the job?
  • Standards: What does required performance look like?  Are expectations clear?

Now, there is more I would add to this list.  But, the point here is that training is a solution to a performance problem only when there is a gap in knowledge or skill.  The litmus test to find out if it is a training issue or whether it is another issue like motivation, ask this question:

If their life depended on it, could they do it?   If the answer is yes, then it might be amotivation problem, or another piece of the performance pie, but it isn’t a training problem.

How can you tell what kind of problem it is?  An excellent tool to help you is theperformance analysis flowchart by Robert Mager that I have used for years.  You can find more tools at Robert Mager’s organization, The Center for Effective Performance‘s web site.

For example, I was hired to design and deliver training in how to use a new software system to support a business process.  In class the attendees practiced and were observed completing the performance objectives agreed upon prior to class with my client successfully.  They were provided a job aid to help them through the steps and procedures back at their desk.  I considered the training successful.

Performance Support Partners - Software TrainingThe only problem was they weren’t even logging in to the software back at their desks.  My client felt the training was not successful.  Jumping to that conclusion is my personal pet peeve.  They knew what to do, they just weren’t doing it.

My observations were that expectationsweren’t clear.

  • Prior to training, managers should inform staff why they are to attend the training andwhat’s in it for them. In this case, it did not occur.
  • Managers should set clear expectations as to what the staff members should do immediately after the training.  In this case, employees were still waiting to be told when it was okay to begin.

If you think your staff isn’t performing well, don’t just conclude that “they need more training.”  Take a look at the big picture of what performance encompasses.  Training is only a small part.  In future articles, I will also talk about coaching,  implementation and how they affect performance.

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