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Evaluating a Training Situation

The first question I always ask when someone comes to me asking for training is, "does this situation require training, or are there better ways to solve the problem?"

Sometimes what's needed is feedback, sometimes it's consequences. Sometimes it's coaching, and sometimes it's mentoring. There are lots of ways to address problematic performance, and training is only one of them. But how do you know what to use when?

Let's look at a few examples, and I'll show you what I mean.

Feedback, Training & Consequences

I worked with a woman who was making a lot of typos and errors in a weekly, organization-wide email. Her manager came to me and asked for training on attention to detail. And the first diagnostic question I asked was simple -- does she know there's a problem? When the manager's answer was no, I sent her back to do some 1:1 feedback on the emails and what, specifically, was wrong with them.

Some time went by, and the errors got better, but they were still a problem, despite regular feedback from the manager. So she came back to me and I asked my second diagnostic question -- does she know how to (or have the skills to) proofread/review her emails effectively? When the manager's answer was no, we booked some training time with the proofreading team.

The errors got better for a bit, but unfortunately continued. Now we knew she knew there was a problem, she had the skills to proofread her emails, but she still wasn't doing it. It was no longer a question of can she do it, it was a question of will she do it?

At that point, I recommend consequences. Despite sounding like it, consequences don't have to be dire -- you don't have to fire someone, or write them up. You don't even have to loop in HR (though it's usually a good idea). Consequences could be an uncomfortable feedback meeting every week until the errors disappear. They could be asking the rest of the team for help in solving the problem. They could be taking on a crummy task the team needs to get done. What they shouldn't be (if you're interested in the employee improving performance) is taking the task away and doing it yourself.

And something I learned early on from my parents is that consequences don't necessarily have to be directly related to the task at hand to be effective. (I once had my desk moved out of my bedroom for two weeks because I was lying a lot. I didn't care two bits about the desk, but something about seeing it moved into another room made me stop lying cold turkey.)

The manager did something smart: instead of imposing her own consequences, she asked the employee what a good consequence would be if the errors continued. And the employee came up with something the manager never would have imposed -- she said she'd pay a dollar for each mistake until they were gone. And it worked!

Training, Coaching & Mentoring

I worked with another woman who wanted to move from the director to VP level but her manager felt she wasn't ready yet -- she didn't have the experience or "gravitas" that was required. She came to me for training. Since the difference between those two roles was less about what she did and more about how she did it, we first had to identify any areas in which training would be effective. There was an opportunity for her to learn around digital marketing, so we got her that training. But for the rest of it, the manager's main concerns, training would only be minimally effective. (Also, who has training on gravitas?)

So I started coaching her on her need for control and inability to see the account strategically. We incorporated the manager's feedback and concerns, came up with a set of goals for the coaching and addressed a lot of the how issues in the coaching. But it still wasn't quite enough -- after all, as a coach, I don't have the direct business wisdom and application tips that come from a mentor. So we got her connected with another VP in the organization and soon after our three-pronged approach, she was promoted.

You'll notice these examples require looking at an individual's performance on a case-by-case basis. But what do you do if it's a whole team or department that's not doing what you need it to do?

Essentially the same thing. Look at whether or not they know it's a problem. And then, do they have the skills they need to address the problem? And then, when they do, do they have the support -- whether that's accountability, another perspective, or a helping hand -- to be successful using their new behavior?

Another thing that needs to be shared in the process is WHY the new behavior is important, desirable, or required. This context often helps overcome the willingness hurdle because it puts the employee's behavior into a bigger picture.

Want more help diagnosing whether something is a training issue? Reach out to me! I obviously have a lot of tools for getting to the root of a problem.

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