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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
612-978-3050

Does Training Really Work?

the evidence to convince skeptics is in your daily newspaper

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

Different companies and organizations value training and employee communications quite differently. Some companies put a lot of effort into guiding employees to best practices, to reinforcing the skills, attitudes, and knowledge they need to advance strategic aims. Others do very little explicit training, little formal internal communications with their staff.

And many, many companies engage in training, but don't really seem to be convinced that it makes that big a difference. (Those of us in the training business know this last category exceptionally well.) They feel some level of training, at least on certain topics, is necessary, but they don't seem to believe -- or don't behave as if they believe -- that a more vigorous training program would really make all that much difference to how their employees do their work.

So what evidence do we have that internal training programs can have a major impact on how employees perform, on the way they approach their jobs, on how they react to customers, work with each other, follow company policies and strategies, or work with suppliers and investors?

Plenty, in the form of the current economic turmoil that has dominated the recent news.

We have seen wave after wave of bad news arising from the conduct of employees at a variety of mortgage companies, banks, insurance companies, quasi-government agencies, and so on. By conduct, I mean that the employees did their work in ways that contributed to the problems we are seeing, that they made decisions and took actions that inevitably led to trouble.

But these were not rogue employees! They were not working against company procedures and policies. Rather, they were carrying them out very effectively. The companies that have hit truly hard times, or even disappeared -- and spread so much grief among the rest of us -- were not organizations with sound practices and good principles, undermined by employees who didn't do as they were told.

They were companies with bad practices, with unsafe (and sometimes unethical) principles, whose employees did exactly as they were told! Employees throughout each of these organizations were following the same procedures, applying the same decision guidelines.

In other words, different employees within any given organization took very similar approaches to their work. And many of those practices were different than they would have been, say, ten years ago, so they weren't just following what their predecessors did. They were deliberately pursuing specific practices that had been explicitly communicated to them as the preferred way of doing things.

In other words, they had been trained, all too well, in anything-but-best practices.

Now, I'm not blaming the training departments, obviously. Their job is to deliver management's message to the employee audience.

I'm just saying, they obviously got the message across. They had an enormous impact on employee behavior in whole industries, as new practices were systematically spread throughout the work force.

Sure, those new practices turned out to be harmful, sometimes fatal, to the organization's health. But that's beside the point.

Training -- delivering that message to employees to change how they perform their jobs -- works. There is no better proof that we can be effective in influencing staff to work differently than the current economic situation. If we can train all those people to do the wrong thing for our businesses, we can be just as effective in training them to do the right thing.

The decision about what is the wrong thing or the right thing rests with company leadership. But if your company's leadership doubts the potential of training and employee communications to make a real contribution to how the company works, just point to the current mess for proof of the impact you can have on employee practices.

© 2008 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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