How often have you heard a manager utter the phrase “we need to get training for X”? Probably quite often.
How often have you then developed a course as requested, only to find that there is little to no performance improvement as a result?
Part of the remit for L&D teams is to analyze training requests carefully. And one of the easiest ways to ensure your team is being as efficient as possible with their time and resource allocation when it comes to course development is to ask the question: are we sure training is really the answer to this problem?
Training Needs Vs. Performance Issues
As corporate learning leaders within the organization, L&D must take every opportunity possible to educate on the difference between training requirements and performance management issues.
When a manager approaches you with a training request, there are things you can do to ensure your team doesn’t waste their time designing training that will not solve the underlying issue:
- Perform a thorough needs analysis
- Identify the root cause of poor performance before diving into a training solution
- Provide some alternatives to training development and explain how they may be more beneficial for improving performance
By identifying the root cause of subpar performance, you can find the most efficient and impactful solution and remedy the problem correctly. Take this useful graph by Scitron Web, for example. Using a tool such as this when discussing the issue with management can help them to see that training may not be the most appropriate course of action:
But to dispel the notion that training is a magic wand to be waved over any performance issue, you may need to have a more in-depth conversation with the training requestor. So here are five questions you can include at the initial training request stage to ensure you identify the problem correctly and that training is the appropriate answer.
Training request questions to help identify performance issues
You might address these questions in meetings or follow-ups with the requestor. But including them as part of your standardized training request form can save you a lot of time. You’ll also get a better picture of the situation much earlier on in the process.
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Is this a new issue? Or one that has developed over time?
This one can tell you pretty much instantly whether it’s a training or performance issue. Using the grid above, if an employee once knew how to do a process (that they regularly use), but results have now started to slip, management should be addressing some pretty clear motivation issues rather than recommending re-training. If the employees need re-training, help management to establish an overall performance improvement plan that includes the training.
Other elements to consider here are:
- The tenure of the employee(s) in question
If the issue is with new employees who have never managed to grasp the process/concept, then training may indeed be the answer. But if the performance is occurring with employees of longer tenure, management may need to take a much deeper dive to figure out the problem.
- The resources, tools, and processes
Management can sometimes be too quick to point the finger at the employee for their poor performance. But employee-centric organizations have learned to question their own role in poor performance first. That often means assessing the tools and resources you are providing to employees to help them do their job. If you’re not setting employees up for success, you can expect to run into performance issues.
- The timing
Has the team recently hired a new manager? Are there broader organizational shifts happening that may be making employees feel uneasy or de-motivated? An unstable work environment or change in culture often has employees running for the door. So it’s no surprise that it may also affect on-the-job performance.
How many employees are impacted by this problem?
Again, the tenure of employees and what they “should” know must be taken into account. But generally, the fewer people that are experiencing performance issues, the less likely it is that training will make a significant impact.
- Only one or two employees on the team are affecting performance
This is an especially good indicator of performance issues if they have been through the same level and frequency of training as others on their team. Re-training is unlikely to make an impact here.
- It’s a team-wide issue
Conversely, a team-wide issue may indicate a need for training on a specific process, tool, or knowledge base. However, it’s also possible that things like job-aids or amending the processes themselves are all you need to do.
What has been done already to try and rectify the issue?
Some managers are repeat offenders when it comes to training requests. When you regularly see the same request for training land in your inbox, it can be frustrating when you know it’s having little or no impact on the performance of their team.
By including this question on your training request form, you can encourage managers to think about whether the training they want is having any effect. You’re also laying the groundwork for a conversation about other options for performance improvement.
How much training has been done on this topic/process in the past?
Identifying the amount of training that has already been conducted can help you divide the employees who “can’t” from the employees who “won’t.”
An employee who “can’t” because they don’t know how to perform a task is a prime candidate for training. An employee who knows how, but doesn’t want to perform a task well, is far more likely to be suffering from a motivation issue. The training department cannot solve a motivation issue, and nor should they try. If the root cause of the issue is environmental or motivation, it’s a management problem.
It’s also an opportunity for you to turn the lens inward and consider if the problem may be the training itself. If employees consistently fall into the fourth quadrant of the performance grid (wants to + doesn’t know how), go through training, and are still coming out the other side with performance issues, L&D may need to reconsider how they are structuring and delivering that training. Another answer may be to create job-aids or encourage peer mentoring amongst the team.
How is performance being measured?
Performance management should include some hard and fast results-based data wherever possible to accurately assess an employee’s performance. To really move the needle in terms of performance, L&D need evidence of:
- The specific knowledge/process/task the employee needs to learn
- Their existing knowledge level/how they need to improve
By encouraging management to discuss how they capture and measure employees’ results, the path to training creation or performance management becomes more apparent.
For example, “my team needs customer service training” doesn’t give L&D a whole lot to go on when it comes to designing courses or deciding if training is the best solution. But understanding that customer service employees are receiving low ratings on complaint calls gives L&D a lot more perspective into the root issue and how it should be addressed.
Other important factors
Even if you establish that the employee(s) need training, select the type of training carefully. For example, if it’s a case of processes being done incorrectly, perhaps some on-the-job training with high-performing peers would be more beneficial than an elearning course, and less of a drain on L&D resources.
In other instances, employees may have been through several marathon instructor-led training courses and were overloaded with information. Therefore, bite-sized elearning courses with regular refresher sessions, assessments, and ongoing job-aids may be more impactful.
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Establishing training needs versus performance issues benefits everyone involved. L&D can distribute resources more effectively, employees receive the training they actually need, and managers start to see improvements rather than wasting time on training that is not required. By including these questions upfront, L&D can quickly get to the root of the problem and decide the best course of action.