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To train or not to train – the question is: how do you deal with performance problems?

Using training to address a performance problem is quite common. However, organizations are sometimes dumbfounded when training fails to solve that problem. That’s because people might actually possess the skills and knowledge they need to perform, but other issues prevent them from doing so. In other words, the people are able do the work so additional training will not improve the situation. 

How do you avoid the mistake of using training to solve a problem that won’t be solved by training?

Problèmes de performance

Is there a real performance problem? 

Before you start looking for a solution to a problem, step back and ask yourself “How do we know we have a problem?” It could be that things should be better in some way, but you have to identify something more concrete, something you can measure

How do you measure the difference between the way things are now and how you think things should be? If you can’t come up with a way of ascertaining this, will be difficult to know if any intervention you choose has actually succeeded. 

Measuring performance

Some types of measurements are easy, like the number of items being processed or the time to complete an activity. Some measurements might seem elusive until you think about how you know there is a problem. For example, customer satisfaction can be measured by the number of complaints being made or number of poor reviews being posted. Employee satisfaction can be measured by turnover or using a survey.

Once you have a method to measure your current situation, you can decide what measurement you need to achieve success. That measurement will become your goal. 

Identify knowledge and skills required

The next step is to determine what knowledge, skills and abilities your people need to achieve that which you are measuring and if your people are lacking any of those. Test them on their knowledge and observe them in action as they display their skills and abilities. If knowledge and skills do not compare well to the standards you have set, training is required. But if abilities are the issue. Training cannot fix the problem.  You can teach people how to read music, how to follow a beat, but you can hardly teach people how to sing in tune.

If you have recently changed your processes, introduced new software, new hardware, or had a significant turnover in staff, training is almost certainly required. However, if your organization has not experienced any major changes like this, look for other reasons for poor performance. We’ll look at other inhibitors to optimum performance in a future post.

When we implement new technology or processes, we should know what we are trying to improve and we should make sure that we identify how we are going to measure success.  With a clear measure of current performance and a target, you can track progress and identify the root cause. It’s often more a behavior issue than a skills and knowledge issue.

Louis Jezsik

Instructional designer
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