Danger! Corporate Training Initiative AheadPoorly planned training, or poor communication about sending people to training can create more problems than the seminars solve. For more on training and learning, visit The Training and Development Free Resource Center, where you'll find hundreds of articles on all aspects of training design and delivery, corporate learning, and our unique knowledgebase.On occasion I come across organizations that feel that they must set up training programs to meet some identified (or ill-identified) corporate need. Whether it is sexual harassment programs, multi-cultural interventions, or any other topic, these across organization programs tend to be top-down driven. That means that the impetus for training comes from senior executives or management, sometimes in conjunction with human resource units.
Is there anything wrong with such initiatives? First, it makes sense that efforts be made to develop a more cohesive organizational culture, or new set of skills across the organization. The problem is that executives are not always in touch with the needs and wishes of staff that will be attending training sessions, and may forget that learning will only take place when attendees see that the training is relevant and useful to their own lives. When participants see the training as irrelevant, or worse, suggestive of skill/attitude deficits on their parts, the result can be wasted resources or worse.
A recent front page story in the Winnipeg Free Press (Oct. 11, 1995) illustrates the point. According to the report, the City of Winnipeg arranged for two day seminars for sixty civic employees (human resources staff) in "anger management, mediation, conflict resolution, aboriginal awareness and diversity, and sexual harassment issues". Again, according to the article, two anonymous employees in the building faxed what appears to be an irate fax to the Winnipeg Free Press. The article presented the following quote from the fax: "What does this have to do with our jobs? This blatant waste must be stopped".
Now, keeping in mind that the media is not always accurate in its reporting of government activities, and the fax was sent anonymously, this may be an example of training that has been decided without participant input, and motivated by factors other than enhancing the skills of staff. And it certainly is an example of training which is perceived as unnecessary, irrelevant, and possibly insulting. So what are the consequences?
The municipal government looks foolish, attracting negative attention from media who are always looking for stories of this type. Second, what are the effects on the credibility of these, and other training initiatives? In this particular case we don't know, but we can make the general suggestion that training which is not driven by participants, or is communicated badly will have a significant negative impact on the credibility of those that have arranged for the training (management, human resources, etc).
1. As a general rule, whether training is top-down driven, or driven by properly designed focus groups, surveys or other needs assessment processes, potential participants should be consulted as to the relevance and usefulness of the proposed training. Input is required, not only to keep the training relevant, but also to ensure some level of employee "buy-in" to the issues and the training.
2. In cases where training is mandated by new or revised corporate initiatives (eg. respectful workplace, technological change, new policies, etc) we MUST remember that marketing and framing of the training is critical to ensure that it will be perceived as useful and relevant. Just because management feels the training is necessary does not mean that staff will see it the same way. So the critical part is framing/marketing the initiatives from the point of view of the participants.
In practical terms, these means a communication strategy that focuses on how the training will help staff succeed -- do their jobs better, with less frustration. On occasion, it may seem on the surface that some training endeavors won't bring benefits to staff, but the truth is that almost every training initiative can be framed in a way that focuses on staff benefits.
Look for those benefits, and communicate the purpose of the training in terms of the benefits participants will receive, not just the benefits the organization will receive. Keep in mind that you may have different communication strategies for staff and your customers. The reasons why some change may benefit customers will be different from the benefits to staff.
3. Be aware that staff can be offended by the notion that some manager or executive thinks they need a particular kind of training. This is because the presupposition is that staff need this training because they aren't good enough at something. Most people don't like to admit they aren't good at something! So, it becomes very important, especially when dealing with interpersonal skill development, or attitudinal development, to be vigilant and consistent in affirming the existing expertise while suggesting that "we can all get better".
4. In some situations it may be advisable for managers and executives to attend the same training sessions as staff, and as full participants, not observers. This sends and re-affirms the message that managers and executives recognize that they too can benefit from training on the relevant issues, and helps break down organizational barriers.
5. In some situations, training may be mandated for all staff members. There may be reasons why we might want ALL employees to participate, and sometimes there may be legal reasons why this is necessary (eg sexual harassment). However, when possible, present the training as optional. Allow staff to self-select. At the least, this will confirm your sense that the training is necessary or desired by some.
Setting up training properly, with needs assessments and proper marketing/framing is critical to avoiding the kind of situation cited earlier in this article. That is one reason why Bacal & Associates ASKS participants ahead of time what they need with respect to our Defusing Hostile Customers seminar. Yes, the needs assessments guide us, but they also help staff buy-in to the process, and reduce the possibility that staff will be insulted by being asked to participate. We also counsel our management clients that attendance at such seminars should be voluntary, or marketed in terms of staff benefits, not corporate benefits.
The consequences of ignoring basic principles is that large amounts of money can be wasted on staff who feel insulted and demeaned, and resist the training. In addition, considerable embarrassment can occur, when staff take an active hand in resistance, and approach the media.