Training: A Solution Looking for a Problem

While listening to the radio the other day, the person being interviewed spoke about the need for training for those responsible for ensuring clean water in many remote Canadian communities. Now, I’m not going to say that training is not required, but making the leap from a performance issue (lack of skills, abilities, knowledge; lack of access to appropriate data and resources; etc) directly to training as the only solution, is the wrong approach and the most costly. As a taxpayer, I don’t want government to slap training bandaids on any problem that involves work performance. Some barriers to performance that are often overlooked when prescribing training include:

  • Unclear expectations (such as policies & guidelines);
  • Inadequate resources;
  • Unclear performance measures;
  • Rewards and consequences not directly linked to the desired performance.

In some cases, these barriers could be addressed and there would be no further requirement for training. Where there is a genuine lack of skills and knowledge, training may be required, but it should only be in cases where the other barriers to performance have been addressed. A trained worker, without the right resources and with unclear expectations, will still not perform up to the desired standard, and the drinking water supply may still be in danger.

I have noticed that many large organisations have this tendency to slap on the training bandaid once any issue has been labelled a human performance issue. Training that is not directly related to performance wastes time, bores workers and costs money. Here is a general diagram of the high level process of performance analysis, and here is another showing several of the barriers to performance. These posts, and the diagrams, are Creative Commons licensed, so go ahead and use them. You might even save some money.

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