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Article critique: Training can be a waste of money

Companies spend a lot of time on training and development. Find the article, "Training is the Answer...But what was the Question?" by Rob Rosner, May 1999. After reading the article, write a brief summary and answer the following questions:
- What is the author's main point?
- Is training always an effective solution? Why, or why not? What evidence supports the main point?
- What is your opinion of the article? Do you agree with the author? Why, or why not?
- What evidence from the textbook or other sources supports your opinion?
- How does the article support the course?
Use these guidelines to prepare your Article Critique:
- It must be at least three pages in length.
- Identify main topic/question.
- Identify the intended audience.
- Summarize the article for page one.
- Think critically about the article and how it applies to training and development for pages two and three.
Below is the article

Training can be a waste of money. Training can be a great investment. I agree with both statements."
Brandt Sakakeeny, Training-industry analyst, Solomon Smith Barney
A manager at a health insurance company once told me this story: All the managers were assembled for a two-day training session, and early into the program, one participant asked the facilitator what experience he had in health care. "None," the man admitted. You could practically hear the sound of rushing air as the man's credibility deflated. When the training was over, the VP in charge gave each participant a small cactus "to remember the lessons of the training."
It worked, but not the way the VP had intended. "Each time I looked at the cactus," the manager told me, "all I remembered was how they had wasted two days of our time."
In 1998, American companies spent $60 billion on training. That figure will likely increase this year--and some of that money will probably come from your budget. How can you avoid giving people just a cactus, and instead get the most bang for your training buck?
WORKFORCE pulled together a panel of experts in the training field (see "The Experts," page 44), and asked them what HR directors should look for when they put together a training program. They've come up with 20 questions you should ask and answer as you make training decisions. In the words of Bob Pike, president of Minneapolis-based Creative Training Techniques, "Most people come to training with one of four mindsets: as a learner, a networker, a vacationer or a prisoner." The following questions should help you mm your trainees into learners, and keep learning intact after the training is over.
1. Why do you think you need training? What is the problem or opportunity?
Several years ago, a bank hired Mel Silberman, author of Active Training (Pfieffer and Co., 1998), to develop a training program for its employees. They wanted Silberman to teach employees about the bank's products because the employees weren't adequately explaining the products to customers, and sales were lagging.
As Mel got into the project, however, he realized that the employees knew the products inside out. The problem was that they had all come from customer service and weren't used to selling. What they really needed was an orientation to their new job and training in sales.
This kind of misdiagnosis is common. Valerie Obefie, a former vice president at Disney University in Orlando, Florida, who now runs her own training-consulting business,, observes, "I can't begin to tell you how many times I've had a company call saying they have a specific problem, only to discover later that that wasn't really what was broken."
You can avoid misdiagnosing your problem by doing some homework:
• First, identify the stakeholders who are involved: Which staff, managers, customers, or even competitors have knowledge or beating on this problem?
• Second, interview the stakeholders: Ask representatives from every group how they see the problem, and what they would do to fix it.
• Third, test their solutions: Get feedback on them from other stakeholder groups, or run small pilot programs to see how the proposed solutions work.
An additional tip: When you think you've found the root problem, dig a little deeper. Sometimes the first problem you see is just the tip of the iceberg. Says Laurie Simoneau, director of training for Donna Karan International Inc., "The extra effort you invest up front makes the difference between solving a real problem or just delivering a training program."
2. Is training the best solution for this problem?
Training isn't the answer to a problem when it's used to cover up the symptoms. Here's an example: I was hired by an insurance company to develop a training program that would increase the productivity of a key department. Shortly into the assignment, I discovered what the company already knew: The real problem wasn't underperforming employees--it was an unproductive boss. Predictably, instead of obviating the need to fire this senior manager, training only increased frustration in the department.
An unqualified manager is just one problem training can't fix. According to Silberman, other issues include unclear performance expectations and feedback; lack of tools, resources and materials; inadequate rewards; a bad match between employees and their jobs; and lack of job security. If these are your root problems, go for the root fix.
3. How has your company addressed this problem in the past? How have other companies addressed it?
Chances are, the problem you're facing isn't a new one. Others in your company probably faced similar problems years ago. Ask them what worked and what didn't. That will tell you what--and what not--to do.
Simoneau says to use your network-people you've met at conferences, former colleagues, friends of friends--to learn how others have addressed this problem and what the outcome was. Conference presentations, industry journals and business magazines are also good sources of information. Just remember that any public presentation about a company will include a certain amount of "spin." Take the best solutions and tailor them to your company's needs.
4. What is the hoped-for outcome of the training and how will you know if you've achieved it?
The point of training isn't to create an "information dump"--it's to change the way people behave. As Oberle asks, "What do you want training to do for your people? What will they look like when they leave?" That means before you design a training program, go back to your original problem and define measurable outcomes. Is your problem poor customer service? Then quantify the improvement in service you want to see after training is complete (for example, 50 percent of customers will rate our service "excellent," up from 20 percent now). Let your original problem determine the outcomes that your training should achieve.
Of course, sometimes, training outcomes are too abstract to measure. Robert Reich, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, suggests we look not only for "know-how" (the ability to perform tasks resulting in a measurable outcome), but also for "know-why" (a deeper level of knowledge in which people understand why things happen).
5. Who will the training target?
In-house or outsource? Partner or competitor? Great taste or less filling? Like so many other areas, training has its own great debate. Should training target the upper-level managers who supervise a company's operation, or the line-level employees who implement the company's programs day after day?
Reich says, "I would tell a company to emphasize job training for middle and lower-level employees above conferences for executives." But Oberle disagrees: "All leaders need continuous training if they're to be effective at what they do and effective role models for the behaviors and performance expected of their team."
In fact, both are right. The most effective programs train workers in new behaviors and then train managers to support employees as they apply their learning daily. Simoneau suggests delivering the program to managers first, or inviting managers to an "executive briefing" on the program so that they are enrolled in the change.
6. What is your timeline and budget?
Begin any training effort with the budget and timeframe in mind. That way, you won't spend months designing a Taj Mahal, only to find later you have the budget for a shack. The following chart can help you begin to think about what you want--and what you can afford.
In addition to budget and timeline, consider the timing of your training. Avoid busy seasons, layoff periods, upsizings and other stressful times. Get input from all parts of the company as to what times work best for them.
7. What is the history and reputation of training in your company?
Waiting in the registration line for a training program, I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me. "Excited about today's program?" ! asked. "No," she answered. "I wanted to attend a different program, but my boss made me come here." The boss, she explained, was a "disciple" of the program we were attending. He "didn't understand the other program would give me real tools to do my job."
Unfortunately, this scene is enacted time and time again. Executives get enamored with a vendor, and before you can say "miracle cure," a training program has been bought. No wonder Bob Pike says, "Many employees see training in one of three ways: as a reward, as a punishment, or as a way to get rid of someone. Few see it as an investment."
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to increase the odds that employees will embrace training:
1. Ask for employee input before choosing a training program.
2. Create a track record of effectiveness by starting small. Richard Chang, newly hired as training director for a large corporation, envisioned a worldwide program he hoped to design. However, during his first day, a warehouse manager told him the company desperately needed training for forklift drivers. It wasn't the high-level, high-impact training Chang had in mind. But he provided the forklift program, and an interesting thing happened: The program's results were so immediate and measurable that they gave his entire department a credibility boost.
3. Find natural leaders among the people to be trained who will advocate for the training. This way, training can be "pulled" rather than "pushed" into the organization.
4. Get agreement at all levels on the definition of the problem, the need for training and the training program chosen.
5. Keep people posted on your progress. If you disappear for several months, their support will fade.
6. Test your program before the big launch. Doing a "dry run" with a small group of participants will help ensure a successful program for the masses.
7. Don't train for the sake of training. Training sessions are like meetings: Hold them only when you really need them.
8. Who will be responsible for selecting, monitoring and evaluating the training?
Would you be more open to learning in a program you helped select or in a program imposed from the outside? Your employees will choose the former, so if you want to keep their buy-in, make them part of the selection, monitoring and evaluation process.
Silberman identifies two roles that must be played by managers: the role of training designer, who is responsible for creating the training program, and the role of training sponsor, who makes the decision to go ahead. But these individuals must work extensively with representatives from the group to be trained in selecting, monitoring and evaluating the program. As Oberle observes, "More minds are always smarter than one."
9. Should we use an in-house or an outside trainer? Should we train onsite or off?
Sure, it's easier to write a check to a training company than to develop an in-house program. But that's not necessarily the best way to do it.
Here are some questions you should consider when deciding who should facilitate a training:
• Do you have the necessary expertise in-house? Chang observes, "It's sometimes easier to teach facilitation skills to an insider than to teach an outsider your stories, culture and issues." On the other hand, outside trainers are sometimes perceived to have more credibility (whether or not that's really the case).
• Is the training sensitive or controversial? Sometimes, outsiders can deliver a message that would be hard to hear from an insider.
• Will you need to change your training frequently? Oberle observes that if every training issue sends you to outside experts, you'll exhaust your budget in no time. Better to develop internal training capabilities which you can adapt to your changing needs.
A good approach is to use outside trainers as consultants to help you develop an in-house program, and as an occasional change of pace to give your training a new look. External trainers can also be paired with in-house facilitators for maximum credibility and expertise.
Each side in the "onsite/offsite" question also has pros and cons. Robert Reich believes that "if people go to a conference in a pleasant environment where they are half vacationing and half conferencing, the conference inevitably becomes less substantive because it occurs in a holiday context. Onsite training is more substantive and content-driven, and is applied in a more systematic way back at work."
On the other hand, offsite training "can be magical," says Simoneau. "Neutral turf can take employees out of a paradigm, allowing them to express themselves in new ways. They'll also take more risks. Offsite training can also inspire a deeper level of focus and commitment to the training since participants are somewhat sheltered from workplace distractions." So how to decide? Budget, of course, is a prime determinant. And so is convenience, points out Oberle.
10. What is the best way to "deliver" the training content?
There seems to be a truism in training today: Overheads beat talk, slides beat overheads, PowerPoint Registered Trademark beats slides, and video beats everything else. It's as if the more technology we throw at trainees, the more effectively they'll get the message.
But is that really true? Our experts agree that it isn't. What is tree, they argue, is that the "training delivery system" must be tailored to participants' needs. As Steven Covey, author of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People (Fireside Press, 1990) says, "High tech needs high touch." Often, that means using a variety of methods--from high-tech to good old-fashioned lectures--within one program. So ask providers what delivery techniques they plan to use in each phase of the training, and why.
• Will there be hard numbers and research as well as storytelling?
• Will there be serious elements as well as humor?
• Will material be presented visually as well orally?
• Will there be a mix of active participation, reading, discussion and lecture?
• Will material be presented in large-group as well as small-group formats?
• Will a few key points be made in several different ways? Michael Dominguez, a participant in a Franklin Covey workshop, remarked, "The pattern seemed predictable after a day or two: concept, story, exercise, video, summary, rinse, repeat. However, the pattern served its purpose."
• Will there be short (roughly 20 minute) "learning cycles" after which the subject matter and/or presentation styles change? According to Bob Pike, people can pay attention and absorb new material for only 20 minutes at a time.
11. Does the program offer multidimensional learning?
Any effective training program needs to achieve on three different levels:
• On the cognitive level, it must boost employees' knowledge.
• On the behavioral level, it must boost employees' skills.
• On the affective level, it must address employees' feelings (their attitudes toward the company and each other, for example).
As you examine the contents of a program, make sure it addresses all three.
12. Does the training give participants meaningful opportunities to learn actively?
It's well known by now that the most effective learning is active: People learn not by sitting and listening, but by engaging in activities. Therefore, most trainers have dumped the lecture-only format in favor of a lecture/exercise combination. The problem now is what Silberman calls "the string of exercises"--fun activities that are marginal training tools. Effective training should:
• Explain a concept verbally, then let participants get involved with the issue. For example, participants in a sales program can role-play sales calls, critiquing each others' performances.
• Give participants a chance to teach someone else. "The best way to learn something" says Covey, "is to teach it to someone else within two days."
• Allow participants to discuss and learn from each other. "This is a powerful way to build relationships and teamwork between participants" says Simoneau.
• Allow participants to debrief. According to Silberman, "It's not the games or exercises that are so important--it's the conversation that takes place after the game or exercise."
Active learning can start even before training sessions begin. Franklin Covey asks' participants to fill out surveys in advance of their program. Trainees report that the surveys (which also involve the trainees' co-workers, vendors and customers) are one of the most valuable parts of the training. Employee orientations, which are the most common and often the most boring form of training, can also be spiced up with activities. Oberle suggests that instead of having participants watch a video or attend a lecture, send them on a scavenger hunt in which they explore your worksite to learn what they need to know.
13. Does the program offer "real life" problem solving?
Mel Silberman was hired by a port authority to improve the customer service of its toll collectors. But when the trainees were told that their bosses wanted them to be "friendlier" they balked. "What difference does it make if we're friendly?" they wanted to know. "People will drive over the bridge anyway!"

After some discussion, a group of trainees agreed to try being friendly for a week and then report back to the group. The following week, they reported that being nice to customers actually made their jobs more enjoyable. This experiment persuaded the rest of the trainees to adopt an attitude shift, as well. No amount of training-room-only activity could have accomplished that turnaround.
You can build a "real life" component into your training by collecting material for case studies during your initial needs assessment. Turn those stories into problems and role-plays for use in training sessions.
Also, break up your training into segments, with tasks and tests taken back to the job and used, then discussed and evaluated during later training sessions.
14. Does the training match your corporate culture?
Oberle tells of a company that hired a vendor to conduct an "empowerment" program in hopes of improving its customer service. During the training, the employees kept asking, "Will my boss really allow me to do this?" But the trainer ignored the questions.
Post-training, the newly empowered employees tried to use some of the approaches back on the job, and they met with management resistance. The company culture didn't allow front-line workers to give suggestions or make decisions. The employees quickly stopped trying anything new because of management opposition.
The moral of the story: Don't undertake training until you know the training jibes with your culture!
• Start by defining the culture. Ask yourselves: What would people say about the way things are done around here? Is there a strong environment of cooperation and teamwork? Is there a sense of urgency to get things done? Is there an obsession with quality? Is it a fun and friendly company? Is there a strict chain of command? Does the company demonstrate (not just say) that employees are important?
• Next, make sure your trainers know your culture, too. Ask them to describe it, and to describe their own company's culture, as well. (If theirs is similar, there's a better chance of a fit.)
• Third, weigh all aspects of the training against the unwritten rules by which your company operates. If your company only wears tuxedos, you don't want your trainer recommending, or showing up in, old brown shoes.
Craig Taylor of the Disney Institute also points out that training can be used to reinforce a company's culture. "Training is the lubricant that builds a strong culture, and a strong culture helps organizations weather difficult times."
15. What materials does the program use?
If eyes are the window to the soul, then workbooks, videos and handouts are a glimpse into the heart of a training program. So take a good, hard look. What you see is what you'll get.
Ask to see training outlines, workbooks, presentation visuals, training manuals and evaluation forms. Does the content meet the criteria described in questions 10 through 147 Does it meet your specific training needs? Does it respect your employees' intelligence? Is it well organized, moving logically from one subject to another? Are the materials aesthetically pleasing with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar? Show the materials to people who will be taking the program, and listen to their feedback.
Ask if the vendor will modify the activities, examples or even the look of the materials to suit your company. Training materials should match the look, quality and tone of other company materials (the annual report, sales brochures or other externally focused publications) if you want employees to take them seriously.
16. What are the qualifications of the training program?
No-Brainers Trainers did a whiz-bang job for your husband's company, so they'll be great for you, too, right? Not necessarily. Are your company's needs the same as those of your husband's? Are your cultures similar? Your companies' sizes, industries and budgets identical? If not, put down that phone, because you need a program that's suited to your situation. As you interview prospective trainers, ask them:
• Have you worked with companies in our industry? Of our size? With a similar culture to ours?
• Have you worked extensively on this particular training issue?
• How have you handled this issue in different companies? (Do they customize their program to a company's needs, or is it a one-size-fits-all program?)
•What projects are you most proud of?
• Will we have the opportunity to give input and make changes during the course of the program?
17. What are the qualifications of the individual facilitator?
Silberman tells about going to a training session at which the facilitator barely spoke English. Not surprisingly, as the man begin to speak, eyes began to roll. However, within 10 minutes, the entire group was engaged in small-group activities, and at the end of the session, the facilitator received outstanding evaluations. Recognizing his limitation, he led a program that didn't rely on his talking.
You want a facilitator who can be equally creative and effective for you. As you meet with training companies, ask to meet the person who will facilitate your training.
• If you can't see him in action, ask him to describe his facilitation style. Does it match the style of your company?
• Has she worked with companies in your industry? Of your size? With a similar culture? With your specific training needs? Can she use examples and speak the jargon that will make her credible to your employees?
• How does he know when his delivery is clicking with the audience? What does he do when it doesn't? Great trainers make adjustments as they go along.
• Can she describe a typical program she's facilitated, as well as the process she uses to customize training to a company?
•What was his most satisfying training experience? His most frustrating?
Finally, ask yourself if you would hire this person as an employee.
18. Who has used the training? What do they say about it?
Sure, your prospective training vendors will give you references. They probably have names of former clients printed in their brochures. But you know those contacts will give you a company line.
So how do you get an honest, unvarnished appraisal? Use the FBI trick: Ask for 13 references, then call three from the bottom of the list. Pick companies that used the training six months ago, a year ago, and several years ago.
Ask each one:
• Did you get measurable results?
• How did you measure the results?
• Will you use this company again?
•What did they do best? What could they have done better?
• How did they get buy-in from participants?
Laurie Simoneau says, "Don't fall for name-dropping. It's not just the quantity or quality of the organizations on the list. It's the quantity and quality of the projects they've completed, and how those problems compare to the ones your organization is facing."
19. Is there a guarantee?
Can trainers be held accountable for the results of their training? Can they be made to offer a guarantee? Trainers talk a lot about "outcomes," yet they're rarely held accountable for meeting them.
Perhaps that's because the issue is so complicated. As Bob Pike points out, responsibility for a training program's success is shared: The trainer is responsible for the instructor and the content, but the organization is responsible for the environment and the participants.
However, that doesn't mean you have to forego accountability. Pike says you can negotiate a contract in which each side is accountable for delivering on its responsibilities. Evaluation of how well each side delivered can be based on surveys of participants, management and trainers.
20. What must be done to ensure training has a lasting impact?
What makes training stick? In a word: follow-up. Training should be thought of as a four-phase process:
Phase 1--Identify the root problem.
Phase 2--Determine your training needs and choose a training program.
Phase 3--Conduct the training sessions.
Phase 4--Follow up the sessions with ongoing reinforcement.
Reinforcement mechanisms include:
• Support for the new behaviors by management.
• Recognition of new behaviors through rewards and mentions in company newsletters, staff meetings and on bulletin boards.
• Reinforcement of the training messages, logos and themes in company materials.
Involve participants in designing your reinforcement program for maximum effectiveness. Remember, too, that training is rarely the only answer to a problem. Do you have the right staff in place? Is communication sound? Do you have the right rewards and incentives? Your original investigation of the problem probably turned up other areas that need strengthening. Fix those if you want your training to stick.
Back in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola directed Apocalypse Now, a movie about the Vietnam War, for an unprecedented $36 million. Clint Eastwood, whose movies cost only a fraction of that amount--and usually came in under budget--was asked what kind of movie he could make for $36 million. "For that much money," he said, "I could actually invade the country."
Well, $36 million pales before the billions that are spent every year on corporate training. We don't hire armies or film in exotic locations. Shouldn't we at least be able to make a sizable dent in our annual training needs with that amount of money? Of course not, says Mel Silberman, because training needs are fluid.
"What you train people to perform today will change next week" explains Silberman. "The real question is: How can you structure your company so people continue to learn?" And that, of course, is the goal of HR--not training per se, but building a culture of ongoing learning. To build that culture, Silberman suggests that companies do the following:
• Create a motto that "everyone is a teacher here," and communicate the expectation that everyone will teach and learn from everyone else, regardless of their rank.
• Encourage people to ask questions more often than they give opinions.
• Encourage people to figure things out on their own.
As Laurie Simoneau puts it: "People want to work for a company that invests in its employees." Companies that follow the above suggestions find that their investment pays off. Morale improves, recruitment becomes easier, retention rates increase, and commitment to the company rises. Now, those are changes that can make every HR person's day!
The Experts
To help us create this guide to maximizing your training dollars, WORKFORCE sought input from a panel of experts. Leading the effort was Valerie Oberle, former vice president, Disney University in Orlando, Florida, and now head of the Oberle Group, where she's a professional speaker, training consultant and executive coach based in Windermere, Florida.
Other members of the panel include Mel Silberman, author of Active Training (Pfieffer and Co., 1998) and president of Active Training Inc. in Princeton, New Jersey; Bob Pike, president of Creative Training Techniques in Minneapolis, and the author of Creative Training Techniques Handbook; Richard Chang, CEO of Richard Chang Associates Inc in Irvine, California, and the current chair of the board of Washington, D.C.-based American Society for Training and Development (ASTD); and Laurie Simoneau, director of training for New York City-based Donna Karan International Inc. In addition, Bob Rosner attended training programs offered by the Franklin Covey Company and the Disney Institute.
-Bob Rosner

Solution Preview

The article is reflection training has on employees and the light in which employees perceive it. Usually organizations think that they can improve productivity of employees by training, a huge budget is set aside for training which keeps on increasing every year. But that is not always effective. Organizations are not effective at putting together a training program which would help the trainees. In the article, trainees have been grouped into people with mindset of that of learner, networker, vacationer or prisoner. Before putting a training plan, there are four questions which need to be answered to convert trainees into learners. These questions are:
- Why is training required? Is there a problem or opportunity which can be addressed through training?
- Is training the best solution for the problem which has been identified?
- How has the company addressed the problem in the past? How have other companies addressed it?
- What is the expected outcome of the training? What are the ways in which outcome can be measured?
- Who will be the target audience of training?
- What is the timeline and budget?
- What is the history and reputation of training in the company?
When company ...

Solution Summary

The author's main point is defined for an article. Whether training is always an effective solution is discussed.