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

Watch your language!

Is "Training" a Dirty Word?

always put "training" in context to produce real results

Training is a key tool in spreading best practices throughout your organization. But if you don't think about how you throw the word "training" around when talking to management and colleagues in your company, it could be a dirty word.

Now, I don't mean that people gasp at your impropriety in saying "training" out loud! I mean that it is a dirty word in the sense that it can work against you, that it can lead your audiences -- managers who approve your projects, colleagues who support your efforts, and participants who apply what you tell them -- to undervalue your services and your messages.

In other words, if you don't make an explicit effort to position "training" in the proper context, you are doing a disservice to your organization by reducing the probable return, in enhanced performance, on your training investment.

What You Do Vs. What You Achieve

It is easy to forget that training is an activity, a tool we use to advance toward a company (or department, division, or region) objective. The objective might be: higher efficiency; lower costs; greater revenues; enhanced customer loyalty; reduced litigation and regulation; higher quality products; innovation; or any other strategic step in achieving the overall goals of the organization.

Training is what you do in order to achieve some result. ("Training" can be all sorts of things: seminars, on-line courses, print materials, meetings and conferences, and so on.)

When you propose initiatives to spread best practices throughout your organization, beware of limiting the conversation to activities and events. There is a big difference in what your managers or colleagues envision when you propose to "offer training" versus to "change employee behavior using such-and-such tools".

Without an objective in front of mind, you won't have the support you need to be successful. As a result, you will get disappointing returns from training efforts, putting you in a pattern in which poor results lead to lower credibility, which further reduces your impact and hampers future results -- starting the cycle of decline all over again.

When you focus on a training activity, you really aren't talking about long-term change. Results, achieved objectives, motivate us to continue activities, not the other way around.

Activities Rarely Sustain Themselves

Think of the "personal trainer" that you can hire at your local fitness club. You don't invest money and time to go to multiple workout sessions because those training sessions are intensely rewarding in themselves. You make this repeated investment because of returns you get outside of the training sessions: feeling better, looking better, being more successful in sports, whatever your personal objectives may be.

That's why the smart personal trainers position themselves as lifestyle change consultants. They sell the new you, the new life you will have, rather than a series of individual training sessions. They use the activity of a workout to advance you toward your personal objectives.

After all, what happens when you skip a session?

You probably feel a little guilty for not keeping a promise, for having the intention of going to a workout session and then not showing up. But you know as well as I do that that guilt isn't very strong, and that with a little repetition -- if you skip a few more sessions -- it will provide very little motivation for you to return to your workout plan.

If, on the other hand, your thinking is that you have delayed achieving an objective -- you have given up an opportunity to lose a little weight, look a little better, or be a little less embarrassed at the next reunion -- you have a stronger reason to stick with your commitment to your training sessions.

Don't get me wrong, activities are important to achieving objectives, and monitoring them and improving them enhances results. Paying attention to our schedule of physical training activities is a key element in losing weight or getting stronger. Paying attention to how many sales calls we make -- an activity -- can be crucial to meeting our objective of increased revenue.

What I am saying is that in most organizations, focusing too much on the activity rather than on the objective will lead to poor results.

Why "Training" May Be a Dirty Word

When you talk to management and colleagues about training without emphasizing (and I mean constantly) the objective the training serves, people automatically conjure up visions of typical training activities from their own past experience. Those visions probably work against you in several ways:

  • Everyone in your organization has had a bad experience with training and employee communication. We have all seen boring lectures, poorly designed on-line courses, dreadful presentations, unrealistic case studies, nonsensical role-plays. When you focus on the activity rather than the objective, the vision you put forward competes with memories of ineffective activities your audience has encountered.
  • Activities are regarded as costs or expenses, while strategic objectives invite investment. I an often amazed at how many organizations continue to talk about key strategies at the same time that they eliminate activities needed to execute those strategies. When hard times come, no one dreams of cutting their sales goals, their customer retention objectives, or their cost-containment targets. But if they see your training activities as stand-alone events, instead of embedded in these objectives, they'll get the ax.
  • People automatically envision training activities, whether in a classroom, on-line, or at a conference, in isolation. Colleagues and managers of other units hear your ideas and think, "This training may be part of your job, or the job of the training department, but the only thing it has to do with me is using money and employee time I could apply to something else." But there are very few best practices worth promoting that don't cut across functional lines, and produce benefits across functional lines. Unless you position your training across those lines to some extent, you won't be able to gain the support that maintains best practices after they have been introduced.

Broad support makes a huge difference, but only organization objectives get that support, not mere activities. Few best practices take root from a single on-line course or training session. Training that connects to an ongoing pattern of employee communication, that gets mention from supervisors on a regular basis, that is easily associated with common themes that management stresses frequently, is much more likely to produce change in employee behavior -- the objective of all training and employee communication.

Always Say "Training" in Context

If you let your discussions about training efforts and employee communications sink to the activity level, you squander opportunities for your company to instill best practices that can enhance efficiency, control costs, boost revenues, and deliver better products and services.

Learn from good salespeople, who understand how to talk at the right level. After all, what kind of figures do you project for a sales rep who calls prospects and says, "I'd like to get an hour of your time to discuss our new product"? Wouldn't you prefer to hear them say, "I'd like to get an hour of your time to show you how we can help you do X better"?

  1. Commit yourself to a vision of training that always includes the objective that training serves.
  2. Monitor your use of language around "training" to ensure that you really are changing the way you talk about it.
  3. Make sure you are aware of strategic plans and key company objectives, so you know where your activities fit, and you know what themes you can use to leverage the impact of your messages to produce lasting change in employee practices.

Unless you yourself can get beyond the "activity level" of discussion, you will never be able to get others to truly provide broad support for your training efforts. And without that support, you are unlikely ever to see the return on investment you have promised the company.

© 2008 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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