You Can’t Fix Every Problem With Training

I know … it sounds funny to hear a training professional say that. But it’s true.

And as tempting as it may be when we get the call asking for training…if it’s not a problem that can be fixed with training, the answer should be “no”. Here’s why.

Let’s say the vice president of operations runs into your office. She complains that managers can’t seem to get work done on time. Says she wants time management training. Can you put together a time management training program? Of course. Do we know that the reason managers aren’t getting stuff done is poor time management? Not really.

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This is where training pros can get a bad reputation. Some would do the training just because senior management asked for it. Because heaven knows it’s rare that senior management is asking for training.

But what if the training doesn’t fix the problem? Six months later, someone says the word “training” and that same vice president says, “I don’t think training brings value. I asked for training to help me with an issue and it didn’t fix the problem.”

What people hear is “training doesn’t fix the problem.” And companies become reluctant to devote time and resources toward something that doesn’t appear to fix problems.

So, how do you figure out if training is the right solution for a problem? Ask these three questions.

  1. Does the person have the skills to do the job?
  2. Does the person have the desire to do the job?
  3. Is the person being allowed to do the job?

◊ If the answer to all three questions is “yes”, then training is NOT the answer. It could be an equipment problem.

◊ If the answer to #1 is “no”, training may/may not be the answer. The answer could also be coaching.

◊ A “no” in #2 means you may have a motivation challenge.

◊ And a “no” for #3 might mean a policy or procedural issue.

These three questions will tell you if the issue can be properly addressed using training. And if training is the answer, then you can start working on an assessment to figure out where employees currently are and where they need to be. But, you need to figure out if you should even be doing a training assessment in the first place.


  1. says

    Great advice, I really like the three questions, I work in the public sector in the UK and I think often too quickly training can be thrown at problems. Which I agree with you, that if you don’t look at the reason behind and issue you risk training that is the wrong kind , or as you say training which isn’t actually needed.

    Thanks, great post!

    HR Mole recently posted..DISCIPLINARY: Complex HR Investigation Tool – Evidence Matrix

  2. Brendan says

    Thanks for this. Counseling gets a similar bad rap, especially among law enforcement, for similar reasons.

    The standard grad school joke is about how many counselors it takes to change a light bulb – only 1 but the light bulb has to want to change.

    The bugger of it is that counseling, like training, is hard work and a major investment on the part of the professional who is responsible and bound in various serious ways, even if the person served is not.

    I do mostly psychological testing now, and it’s also similar in that I don’t have a “B” game. Every eval gets my best effort, even when the request is pro forma.

    As with training, it’s a powerful force for good and so it seems like the answer to every problem and when I/you balk because it’s not the right answer to a particular problem, the assumption is that we’re lazy or indifferent.

    If that were true then I’d show you my B game to shut you up.

  3. says

    Hi Sharlyn:
    Good article! I have preached this to my managers many times over the years. I also utilize a Performance Analysis Quadrant which you can find by typing it into your browser, to determine if the employee was a good fit for the job, whether the issues he is having I’d due to internal resources that are hindering him from doing his job, if the issue is due to lack motivation, or if the employee actually need training. This tool looks at the factors listed in your article, job favorableness, or willingness to perform the job, and job knowledge. The PAQ provides coaching guidance for managers to assess which factor pertains to the performance issue. Check it out and let me know what you think. It’s a great tool for managers to utilize before suggesting training. Like you said, training certainly isn’t always the answer.

  4. says

    Hello Sharlyn,
    I couldn’t agree more with you. Sometimes companies, specially big corporations think that training is the answer to all their problems. I used to work in a british company back in Venezuela as the Coordinator for Organizational Effectiveness and gladly the company realized that training was not the best solution for under performance. Business coaching can be a very effective tool and in some cases less expensive for the company.
    After reading your article I was inspired to write about this topic in my blog. Check it out and give me your opinion about it, I would really appreciate your feedback.

    HR Pit Spot –