It’s Not Always About Training

Don’t get me wrong. Training is a powerful organizational intervention when used properly. However, it is too often used improperly. In these situations it is more than simply a waste of scarce organizational resources, but it is also a lost opportunity to fix the problem the organization actually faces. Furthermore, it can drain enthusiasm for future, more appropriate organizational interventions.

You may be wondering why I am ranting about training interventions on a Saturday afternoon, Well, part of the answer is that I don’ t have much of a personal life these days. More importantly, I was just browsing though the gazillion (it’s a word, isn’t it?) unread items on my RSS reader and I ran across two offenders. By the way, thanks to ASTD blog for sending these out.

Federal Job Training For The Underemployed

The first of these articles talks about a congressional initiative to provide job training for the underemployed. Our congress people have their hearts in the right place on this one. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed and we have to do something about it. However, I am sorry to say that this specific measure is unlikely to have to effect our leaders are hoping for. Underemployment is the target problem. Proposing enhanced training suggests that a deficit in knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s) is the root cause of the problem (or at least a major contributor). In other words, this is a hypothesis concerning the relationship between KSA’s and underemployment rates. Is this really the reason so many of us are out of jobs? I can think of a few ways of testing this. For example, we can determine of availability of highly trained individuals has decreased at around the same times as unemployment rates have increased. We could also examine differential employment rates among people with lots of education/training and those with comparatively little. I will be the first to admit that I have not done the research on this, but if you have been paying attention to the economic news at any point in the past year, it is pretty clear that employment rates have a lot more to do with global macroeconomic forces, at least this time around. More money spent on retraining will likely result in a reshuffling of unemployment numbers across segments of the labor market, rather than a net decrease in unemployment.

Police Bias Training

The second article I read involves police harassment of people engaging in “homosexual conduct.” Yes, really… it is apparently NOT 2009 everywhere. The relevance of training in this scenario is clearer cut in this situation than in the last. If we insist that a training deficiency is at fault, we must assume that the root problem here was that the peace officers did not know that this type discrimination was wrong. I can think of a bunch of different reasons that one group of people would mistreat another group of people; lack of training does not breach the top 20 on this list.

The Proper Role of Training

I wish these examples were unrepresentative of approaches overall. Sadly, they are not. I have seen it happen many, many times. Every time a politician or an executive gets caught abusing their powers or misleading the public, I hear a clamoring for ethics training. If you have worked for the State of Illinois in the past few years, you are probably very familiar with this online ethics training course. I guess ex-governor Blagojevich forgot to take it. Ad he taken it, I am sure he would have known that exchanging political favors for personal gain was a “no-no.”

Training has its place. It is a specific solution to a specific organizational problem. Before spending a dime, organizations must engage in organizational diagnosis. Briefly, this involves:

  1. Objectively defining the observed problem or deficiency
  2. Developing hypotheses about the nature of the problem and its potential causes
  3. Objective measurement of the organization to validate that the potential deficits are indeed deficits
  4. Design and implementation of an organizational intervention (training is only one of the available options)
  5. Follow-up assessment to validate the hypothesis in question

Anything less than this comprehensive approach is likely to fail to yield the desired results. In some cases it could even make matters worse. If you are unsure about how to go about this, it is perfectly understandable. Have a chat with your friendly, neighborhood Spiderman I/O Psychologist. They will be very happy to help, lest they get forced into re-training.

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~ by George Guajardo on July 18, 2009.

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