Wake up and smell the coffee

An interesting post made by Rob Wilkins, is a confirmatory data point of what I’m seeing in the corporate learning sector:

This morning the CLC (Corporate Leadership Council) released the results of a survey that asked CEOs which areas were to suffer the most in response to the crisis. L&D [learning & development] came out on top at 38%. So this means, globally, that a third of organisations surveyed will stop investing in development of employees. Recruiting was second and IT infrastructure was third.

As I said in Opportunities in Difficult Times, there may be a silver lining, but not for everyone in our business. When your department is number one on the CEO chop list, you should be thinking about your reason for being. Training is seen by this group of CEO’s (and I would wager many others) as superfluous to the company’s bottom line. Obviously all of those initiatives like blended learning, competency-based training and learning style inventories haven’t convinced the boss that L&D is important. Neither have all the ROI calculations that get discussed during training conferences. The CEO and the CLO must be using different calculators.

The reason that these companies will stop investing in the development of employees is that they don’t see a direct correlation to their business. People go on a course and come back no better prepared for work. A successful course is where you learned perhaps 10% of what was covered. The rest of the stuff is interesting and might be useful – some day.

At the risk of repeating myself, the following message doesn’t get through to many training departments, and now they will pay the price.

Too many people in the training department make 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. This is the wrong approach and the most costly. Even the CEO may play into this, with statements like “We have a training problem” and no one challenges that statement. There is no such thing as a training problem.

Here are some “training problems” that are not solved through training:

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

These barriers can be addressed without training. Only when there is a genuine lack of skills and knowledge, is training required [repeat as necessary]. Training should only be delivered 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.

Training departments have allowed themselves to be lulled into a comfortable spot while times have been good. Everyone feels better after a little training, so that is what was prescribed – for all that ails you. I have met too few L&D professionals who can actually analyze work performance and come up with something other than training as the solution. Well, it seems that the days of the one trick pony are over.

I, for one, do not regret the demise of the L&D function. Perhaps our profession will wake up and start helping the organisations we serve.

For a follow-up on this post, read Tom Gram on What’s a self-respecting learning function to do in an economic crisis?

9 Responses to “Wake up and smell the coffee”

  1. Daniel Lemire

    I am not really in the training business (high ed. is not really training).

    My impression of what training is all about is not very good, frankly. When I have been offered trainers, I have usually been unimpressed by the credentials of the training. “Learning to write better research papers”. Ok, Mr Smith, how many research papers have you written… oh! Zero? I have written lots… what are you going to teach me exactly?

    I see a lot of support staff spending what seems to be a large fraction of their time in “training”, usually for the most mundane things. The minute my organization ads a new web form, everyone seems to get a day of training. Isn’t it great? How much does it cost? 30 000$?

    Some years ago, there was a major investment in “endnote”, reference annotation tool. EndNote does something almost entirely trivial. The people who took the training should know how to use a Word Processor, if they do, this new tool takes 5 minutes at the most to learn.

    Almost everything I have learned, I have learned on my own. Of course, I am a social beast and I have learn by emulation to others, but if I want to set the time on my VCR, I will “train myself” thank you.

    That is, of course, not entirely fair for training in the workplace. In terms of “important training”, the famous video “Inbox Zero” comes to mind. This one was an eye opener and I really wish more people within my organization would “take this training” (read: watch the video).

    In short, I certainly acknowledge the value training can add, but I must say that I have never taken it seriously. If I were to become a CEO (which will not happen), I might just take training for something to keep the employees happy, and get the unions out of my office.

    (I’m equally harsh with the IT department, but that’s for another day. Maybe.)

  2. Dave Ferguson

    Harold, I’ve been rereading a lot of Geary Rummler lately, and it’s either astounding or depressing how little some things have changed.

    Asked last year by ASTD what currently frustrated him about the training and development profession, he said:

    “The same thing that frustrated me 45 years ago—the fact that it’s a solution in search of a problem. People have developed all this wonderful stuff around learning and development, and it’s become a thing in and of itself rather than something that exists to help people be more effective in their jobs…

    “In fact, training has become in many ways the enabler for bad management because now the default solution is to fix the people. You’ve got vendors inventing things, business publications promoting them, managers reading them and thinking they should be doing this, and the training department going along with it all too eagerly. It is a whole business.”

  3. Steve Gillis

    Could it be that training is not taken seriously, because educators are not respected in our society? K-12 education is viewed as nothing more than a glorified babysitting service by many. I think that this attitude flows through to workplace – if learning was a joke in school; learning will not be valued in the workplace. Attitudes must change!

  4. Harold Jarche

    Steve, I wouldn’t say that attitudes must change, but that the learning (training & education) profession must confront reality. The free ride for educators may be over. Pete Reilly’s recent comment on the state of public education and its similarity to the auto industry sums up the issues:

    “Pumping out dis-empowered learners into a world where manufacturing jobs have disappeared, where we are competing with others globally, where the jobs of tomorrow require curious, self-directed, self motivated, collaborative workers, and confident, life-long learners is analogous to pumping out Hummers in a time of great global transformation.”


  5. Steve Gillis


    I agree with you that there is a complete disconnect between what goes on in the classroom and what happens in the “real world.” Teacher education programs certainly do not prepare new teachers for the reality of the information age – faculties of education are still focused on the industrial model of education.I’ve had several student teachers in my classroom in the last few years and I have found that I’ve had to undo what they have been taught so that they can function in the information age. Simply put, the teaching profession has to wake up and smell the coffee.

  6. Rob Wilkins

    Hi Harold,

    Link is in fact behind a firewall. We have a corporate subscription.

    I will see if I can re-produce with CLC permission.

    Sorry about the late post but am in the middle of merger activity!

    Kind Regards,



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