Let’s start with the obvious: There’s tons of training/coaching programs and workshops out there that can do amazing things for people in the workforce. And I’m sure you’re not too stupid to find out which trainers or facilitators are among the good ones either: Most frameworks have some sort of rating platform online where you can look up past participants’ satisfaction levels to make an informed choice.
So what’s my beef with trainings about? Is this another rant-posing-as-article about how no one except me could possibly add any value in a professional setting because everybody else is just too simple-minded to see what the working world really needs?
Choosing vs. being chosen to go
First, mine is not a beef with trainings/workshops per se: The operative word in the title is “sending” – as in, you choose and decide on the trainings your employees visit. It’s usually an honest mistake, based on good intentions – but it leads to failure in achieving the promised outcomes and possibly more frustration with the status quo than before. Why is that? I’ve touched upon the underlying reasons here before:
- You might have read about how good intentions like “best practices” can lead to work environments that are curated by force – and how that ruins employee engagement and happiness, much the same as a waiter that insists “You simply have to try the special!” can ruin a restaurant visit.
- Some of you have also explored how organizational change programs usually fail to address what organizations are ultimately about – (hint: it’s people) and how standardized change leads to absolutely unpredictable outcomes because they ignore that humans are individuals.
If you send individuals, expect individual results
The problem with most organizations’ approach to trainings is the same: People get sent against their will, or at least without actively deciding to go themselves, and end up in a situation that very rarely benefits anyone. Here’s my – slightly exaggerated – personal experience with workshops I’ve had forced upon me; I’m sure you’ve been in similar situations:
- In 80 % of trainings attended, I entered the room with a negative attitude. I felt this session could in no way do anything good for me and I resented the trainer/coach for wasting my time. I would spend the majority of the time lying in wait for them to say anything I could pounce on to validate my negative attitude: “That’s where you are wrong; this does not apply to my situation! It won’t work for me!” Unsurprisingly, I’d walk away with nothing.
- 18 % of the trainings I attended were so good they brought me out of my negative mindset and got me engaged with the material at hand. I would feel the trainer really understood what my profession was about and admire him for his brave insights. A handout would end up pinned next to my monitor and I would vow to give this approach a go! I’d never actually get around to it, though, because daily business somehow didn’t allow for that … and looking at that handout would begin to make me feel like a failure instead of motivated. Eventually I’d throw it out when I got around to cleaning my desk a year later.
- 2 % of trainings really connected with me on a professional and personal level. These were like revelations; catalyzing subconscious suspicions and vague feelings I’d had into empirically valid facts and actionable advice! These were “I can’t believe I didn’t see this before!” moments that instantly improved my quality of work life. Afterwards I would follow up and build on the insights gained without having to think about it. Then I would turn into some kind of evangelist for what I’d discovered; zealously pushing my new wisdom upon my peers or superiors without being asked – and I got frustrated when they failed to see that my new religion was the best thing ever.
So while I got some personal growth out of 2 % of my trainings, my employers didn’t reap any benefits: Because even in those rare cases I failed to influence the system I was a part of in a way that made meaningful application of what I’d learned impossible. I actually ended up making the very same mistake that sending me there had been in the first place: Assuming that my new favorite thing was the one that everyone needed to adopt for the world to become whole again.
The bosses darling ≠ everybody’s darling
So stop sending your employees on trainings that you choose for them – the “We had this guy at last years’ leadership retreat; he’s really good and we want you to profit from him as well!” approach doesn’t work because
- most of the people on that retreat will fail to implement any meaningful change based on that coaching (yes, managers are people, too; the above problems are theirs as well) and
- their subordinates are in totally different situations; both as a group and as individuals. Whatever time management hack may actually have worked for the VP of sales is very unlikely to work for a group of junior salespeople.
Instead of going through these same motions year after year, consistently achieving failure, invest your next training budget and your people’s time into setting up an individualized system that allows for people to grow into what they’re meant to be. If you’re in an urban setting, chances are that lots of material is being covered by seminars open to the public (who says every team member needs to go to the same course?) – otherwise you can embrace the highly-individual and versatile world of online trainings.
And remember: Just because someone that got famous favors a certain method, doesn’t necessarily mean they got successful as a result of that method – or that you will.