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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

The Inconvenience-O-Meter

only shared pain leads to gains in spreading best practices

You can't produce change without inconveniencing someone along the way. That seems so obvious I hate to mention it . . . but when I look at training case studies from my own, my colleagues', my clients' experiences, I see the same thing again and again: managers trying to change employee behavior, to promote best practices, without inconveniencing anyone (except perhaps the person delivering the training).

So let me put that first sentence a little differently:

The value an organization places on any given training
can be measured by the inconvenience that organization
is willing to impose on trainees, their supervisors,
and the company itself.

I call this the "Inconvenience-O-Meter", and employees learn to read it very quickly. They notice both the good and the bad. They know:

  • When management really believes that training will produce performance enhancements that outweigh the temporary inconvenience to employees, to management, and even to customers;
  • When just about everything else is more important to their supervisor than their training;
  • When the organization's leadership shifts all of the inconvenience onto the trainees, with little sacrifice from the company.

The Logic of Performance Enhancement

Strange to say, many managers are able to simultaneously believe the following three statements:

  1. Training is needed to change employee performance.
  2. Changing employee performance is very important to success.
  3. Training is less important than just about everything else.

I cannot make that logic work, I'm afraid. Training and communication are the vehicles of behavior change. If a "best practice" truly has value, then training that spreads that practice is important enough to require an investment. And that investment goes beyond money and materials to time, to small sacrifices. Maybe an employee will miss a meeting or a conference call. Maybe a customer or supplier will have to wait a few hours longer than usual to get a response.

If either the desired behavior change, or the training itself, is not worth an "inconvenience investment" to some managers, why do they pay to have it created? Why do they make their employees take these courses?

Getting One's Ticket Punched

Experienced trainers and communication consultants are all familiar with the participants who show up "just to get their tickets punched." They are simply fulfilling some corporate requirement. Many supervisors are evaluated, in part, on something like "employee development." They use "hours of training taken" as a measure of how well they are cultivating more effective staff.

These are the managers that send their direct reports to training that isn't appropriate. Or, they make them sign up for a training session, but then pull them away for every phone call, meeting, and customer or supplier issue that comes along.

Training, under these circumstances, is just numbers on a form or a line in a memo, nothing more. It certainly won't produce any improvement in employee performance.

Employee Sacrifices Only, Please

Employees have their own Inconvenience-O-Meters, and one of the things they automatically monitor is their own sacrifice, compared to the company's.

One small company I consulted with held fairly regular best practices training, and they were proud of their investment in their employees. But I soon noticed something the employees had recognized long before me: every single hour of training they attended was scheduled in the evening or on a weekend. It wasn't hard to figure out why the employees arrived at training in a resistant mood, determined to put the least possible energy into "getting it over with."

The employees knew something that management didn't: if that training were truly important, management would be willing to put up with some inconvenience to their normal business operations to get it done. Management wasn't willing to make the kinds of sacrifices they wanted their employees to make, month after month, and it was easy to see why performance never improved.

These days many employers pull the same trick, disguised as "online learning" . . .

Is Online Training More Convenient for Everyone?

Many companies are almost fanatically devoted to online training, usually delivered through a web browser. They see it as a great way to control delivery costs (although development costs, if you do a decent job, can be substantial), and they extol the flexibility that allows employees to get the training they need when they need it, instead of waiting for the next scheduled seminar.

That is all well and good, but there is an insidious corollary to all of this: online training often means, once again, "training on your own, not the company's, time." The training is available 24/7, and employees who are racing to keep up with their workload tackle the online courses at night, on the weekends, even when they're on vacation!

Are you pushing online delivery because everyone benefits? Or are you using electronic tools to push all of the burden onto the individual employee?

It's easy to apply the Inconvenience-O-Meter to this situation by asking a question such as:

"If you replace a four-hour seminar with a
four-hour online course, do you still allow the employee
to block out four hours of his/her work time
to complete the training?"

If the answer is no, maybe you shouldn't expect your employees to embrace this training with the same enthusiasm that you do.

Don't get me wrong. Online instruction, best practices documentation, self-study packages are all excellent tools, properly used. Abused, however, they simply say:

"Don't waste precious company time on
learning to do your job better!"

The Inconvenience Investment Produces Solid Returns

Fortunately, some very well-run companies (and individual functions or departments) know that investing in training and communication is not just about dollars. The best supervisors get better work out of their employees through best practices training, in part because they don't let convenience take priority over tangible results.

These supervisors don't even bother to deploy training or other communication tools if they aren't worthy of some inconvenience to management, to the employees, and even to customers. They also:

  • Make sure employees know why they are going to training.
  • "Clear the decks" as much as possible, arranging for others (themselves if necessary) to cover for the person who will be in training.
  • Set expectations that trainees will treat the training event as part of their job, put in the required effort, and be physically and mentally present throughout the training (rather than out in the hall checking voice- and e-mail).
  • Follow up after training to maximize their return on the training investment, helping their employees to see how they can most quickly apply what they have learned.

As someone who has spent decades helping organizations spread best practices, I love seeing managers like the ones just described. Much as it pains me to turn away business, I choose to work on projects that produce results . . . which means declining training development opportunities that are doomed to failure by management's signals that training isn't important.

A world without inconvenience would be a lovely thing. A company that seeks the fruits of employee communication and training without the investment of some inconvenience is bound to be forever disappointed in their results.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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