How much does training matter?

Unlike the others in this blog, this post is not about skills. It is about rationale. It is about WHY rather than HOW. In addition, this post does not give any definite answer like others. It will raise more questions than answers. So, bear with me if you expect something like the old posts.

You may notice that I wrote less frequently in the last few months. One major reason is that I have been spending less time in the classroom. Changes happened in the office and I need to work on ‘projects’ rather than classroom delivery. And these changes also made me think on the question – ‘How much does training matter?’


I look at this question in 2 perspectives – changing organization and changing individuals.

Changing Individuals – ‘How much can training change an individual?’ I think it can. But it will not the case for everyone in the class. My experience is that normally 20-30% in the classroom is really motivated. They listen well and they will put things in practice. They are the one who will email you after the class to thank you and tell you what they learnt. Then, some around 50% are passive learners. The training makes them aware of something, but they will probably not apply it soon. The L3 is low. If it happens one day a related issue comes up or the same topic was brought to them, the learning from the class becomes more concrete gradually. And the remaining 20-30% hardly learns anything. Something may have occupied their mind already e.g. pressing work deadline, kid falling sick or they are just put into the class reluctantly by their boss. Some called them prisoners.

The effectiveness can be much enhanced if there are ‘supports’ outside the classroom. I mean for example good managers to encourage and coach the learning application, or a stretched assignment which forces the learners to apply and internalize the new knowledge.

Changing Organization – ‘How much can training change an organization?’ I think… only remotely. There have been a lot of studies on that. ASTD said that the return on investment by classroom training is just 5-10%. In fact, if you agree with me that training can only change a small proportion of individuals, it can hardly change organization which composes all the individuals by nature.

If we step back a bit and think again, the picture is different. What an organization or the business leaders want are not training class, they want better performance. They want the employees to sell better, communicate better, manage the projects better….. etc.

I was given a book to read a few months ago. It is called Intervention Resource Guide: 50 Performance Improvement Tools. What I like most about it is that it introduces the concept ‘Human Performance Technology’ to me. Attending training class is just one of the many interventions which improve human performance. For example, you can raise the employees’ presentation performance by changing the reward system, the resourcing process, the workflow, the support….. not necessarily that you have to put them into training class.

This thought then leads me to think ‘Do organizations really need a training department?’ I have 2 answers. Organizations should rather have a human performance consultancy department rather than a training department. At the end, what matters is the result but not the tools. Alternatively, training department still exists because line managers are already the human performance technologists. They diagnose the performance problem and accordingly seek help from others e.g. better skills / knowledge from training department, different reward system from HR.

In the first model, the training department should hire consultants rather than trainers. The consultants probably are there to understand the problems, give general thoughts and identify specialists for actual solution. In the latter model, the training department should focus its resources to deliver relevant and quality training. I believe that there is NO absolute answer to whether an organization should pick model 1 or 2. It depends. But most importantly, all people in the organization should know which model the training department runs on. Without such alignment, there will be wrong expectation which then leads to conflict and disappointment.

The above is from the organizational perspective. How about from the training professionals’ perspective? If the training effectiveness is low in general, should one continue to be a trainer? Or should one become a human performance technologist?

I shall discuss my thought in my next post.

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