Not every performance-related problem merits the same solution.

“We need training.”

This is a phrase we hear all the time from prospective clients seeking to overcome performance-related challenges within their business. Often, they are right—better training would be of great help to their organization. In these cases, our instructional designers quickly get to work partnering with the company to create better outcomes through smart training programs.

More often than you might think, however, we find ourselves responding, “Are you sure?”, challenging companies to reassess their needs before jumping straight into training development.

This approach may seem counterintuitive for a company like Radcom that prides itself on delivering high-quality instructional design services. We know, however, that it’s in everyone’s best interest to identify the true root of a problem before trying to apply a fix.

Training is an excellent way to fill knowledge gaps and develop skills. What if that isn’t what’s causing a problem, though?

Sometimes new training programs can help organizations work around issues, but they don’t always address core issues within the organization. We’ve found that a little digging into why a performance issue is cropping up can go a long way towards making a more lasting impact.

Consider the following scenario, for example:

A manufacturing company operates with multiple shifts of workers assembling products around the clock. An operations manager looks at the production data and realizes that one shift is lagging behind the others consistently in the number of products they’re assembling. “Clearly there’s some sort of deficiency,” she thinks, and she reaches out for assistance with developing a training program to fix the problem with this shift.

“We need training,” seems like a reasonable conclusion for the operations manager to reach, but in reality, training may not be the right answer. What if…

  • …the employees on the “problem shift” aren’t informed as to expectations and standards against which they are being evaluated, or they aren’t being provided with timely feedback?
  • …the employees aren’t receiving appropriate incentives or facing consequences from shift managers based on the job that they’re doing?
  • …the employees don’t have access to the right resources to do the job, whether that means tools, systems, experts, reference materials or otherwise?
  • …some employees working the problem shift simply don’t have the capacity to do the job well, whether due to personality, preferences, limitations or other constraints?
  • …there is a motivation issue with workers on the problem shift, causing a negative mood or low confidence in their ability to get the job done effectively?

If some of these factors are in play, training may not be the best solution to the problem. Environmental or other factors may be limiting performance, not necessarily a gap in knowledge or skills that could be improved upon with training.

This is more often the case than not, according to research done by Dr. Peter Dean. As explained in the book “Training Ain’t Performance” by Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps, Dean found that 70 to 80 percent of the hundreds of workers he interviewed designated environmental factors as the root of performance problems within organizations. Even when interviewing managers about other workers’ performance, Dr. Dean found environmental factors were more likely to be identified as the core problem than deficits related to individual workers’ performance.

When we find that environmental factors, not the individual, is the main cause of performance issues, we find that making changes to environmental design, processes/procedures, the way information is communicated, organizational structure, workplace culture, or other aspects of the way business is conducted may be more productive than developing additional training.

Ask the Right Questions

So, how do you know if training is the right solution to your performance-related issue? Before you do anything else, we recommend you run through the following questions:

  1. Are expectations clearly defined for those workers I believe might need training? If so, are we giving them useful feedback in a timely manner? If not, changing the way you communicate/make information available may fix your problem. Be sure employees know how they’re performing and how they should be performing.
  2. Do the workers in question have access to all the resources they need to do their job well—whether that means physical resources like tools, adequate facilities or instructions, or simply adequate time? If not, changes to the physical environment, better documentation, or other adjustments may be the solution, rather than more education.
  3. Are proper incentives and consequences being offered to the workers in question? If some workers are being incentivized more or held accountable less than others, it could explain differences in performance.
  4. Do workers have capacity to execute their jobs effectively? A worker may know how to do a job properly, but lacks the ability to carry it out, which training won’t necessarily fix. They may just not be the right fit for the task, or they may be tasked with too many other things to handle.
  5. Are workers properly motivated to carry out a task correctly? Different managers, different levels of communication, or different micro-cultures within an organization can all affect employee motivation to do their job well.
  6. Do workers have the knowledge and/or skills to do their job up to standards? If not, this is where training can help! We can create useful instruction to get employees competencies to where they need to be.

Whatever your performance-related problems, chances are good we can help you tackle them. We regularly help clients identify the root causes of issues and develop solutions, whether those solutions involve training or not.

  • Our instructional designers can help you create training programs designed specifically to your organization’s needs that combine the information employees need with ample opportunity to practice what they learn.
  • Alternatively, we can help create better process documentation, smarter procedures, new manuals and job aids, or create other recommendations based on environmental factors affecting the organization.  

Start by walking through the questions above. You may also want to consider working through this helpful flow chart that provides a visual means of identifying whether training is the right solution or not. Once you do, reach out! We hope you find these resources helpful in answering your questions, and we are always ready to jump in to help as needed.