Training is not the answer when trying to be a better leader

Training is not the answer:

I’ve spent over a decade working with leaders on how to develop their people. 99% of the time their best idea is to put the employee in a training course. Even HR partners pivot straight to training as the main source of people development.

What’s infuriating is that the majority of leaders and HR partners know that training is not as effective as other methods of development. They know by heart the 70-20-10 ratio, which states that 70% of development comes from on the job activities, while 20% comes from coaching and mentoring, and only 10% comes from formal classroom training. When faced with a real employee, leaders forget that learning by doing and practice are the only real ways to build lasting skills.

The research on how people learn

We have known that since the 1st grade. Reading, writing, math, critical thinking, presentation skills, working well with others, being a good friend, etc… are all skills you learned through practice. You didn’t learn how to multiple by taking a 1 day training course, you did it by practicing your different multiplication tables. You didn’t learn how to be a good friend through a PowerPoint presentation, and you didn’t build your athletic skills from a guest lecturer.

The research backs this up. When you sit in a classroom you retain less than 20% of the content. In a 1 day training you are lucky to walk out with 1 to 2 concepts. What a waste!

On the flip side, when you are practicing a new skill under the direct supervision of a coach you are retaining 75-90% of the content.

What to do when training is not the answer

So, what should we do about this? First off, stop thinking that training is going to solve your problems. It won’t.

Instead, focus your efforts on finding the right coach. He/she doesn’t have to be a professional coach, it could easily just be your colleague who is better at the skill than you are. Since we have evolved as social animals, we are naturally driven to help others. When you ask your colleague for help, they will most likely say yes. Don’t forget, your request strokes their ego as well. I mean, who doesn’t like being thought of as an expert.

Learn through experiences

If you do face a situation where you have no experts who can coach you or your team, don’t use traditional training. Instead, find a training company that specializes in experiential learning. I always recommend business games and simulations. Think about it. Would you learn more about change management from a presentation of the different change models, or through a simulation where you lead your team through a change. Simulations are one of the best ways to practice your skills in a safe environment with a coach ready to give instant feedback.

So the next time you are thinking of how to build your skills or those of your team, just think back to what worked when we were children. We learned by doing. We learned to play football by playing football, not by sitting in the classroom.

Training is not the answer

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We retain over 75% of things we learn from practice under coaching supervision, but less than 20% of classroom training. Don’t go to training, get a coach @Caveman_in_Suit # better leader

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2 thoughts on “Training is not the answer when trying to be a better leader

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  1. Totally agree. The same can be said of language learning. Until language teachers embrace the concept of experiential (aka communicative language teaching or learning ) they will have poor success rates of students actually able to speak the language they’re learning. For the most part language classes consist of students learning irrelevant dialogues and studying grammar rules. A recipe for minimal retention and gross boredom. The key is as you say, remembering how we learned as children. Experience and practice. Speak a language to learn it, not the other way around.

  2. A very well-written blog-post based on good thinking! I completely and utterly agree with you!

    It all begins with writing a Business Case: What is the problem that we will solve, what is the effect of the problem, is it really a problem and how can we solve the problem. You suggest that a coach is a better solution that training, and I do agree that a one-off training session or course will not lead to a changed skillset in e.g. leadership or project management.

    However, for starting changing the mindset, a training session can prove valuable, a good starting point for a maturity and skillset journey.

    A specific problem with training is unfortunately that so many trainers suck at what they do, and do not understand the topic they are training in. A clear tell-tale sign of this are trainers that base their training on a PowerPoint presentation. If you cannot provide training without a powerpoint presentation, maybe you shouldn’t be training?!

    Bst wishes,

    Andreas Trautner (Mentor, coach and… dare I say it…trainer in project, programme and portfolio management)

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