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Often, when job performance is falling short of expectations, managers resort to mandatory training session for their employees. Either staff members are sent offsite for instruction or trainers are brought in to provide new training. Yet one has to ask, when it comes to underperformance, is holding training sessions the most effective method for improving productivity?

As the Director of Professional Development, one would think ¬– since my job security depends on people needing training – I would promote training as a means to address all performance issues. The truth is, training is not always the complete answer.

When I think of addressing a performance issue I ask four questions:

  1. Is it a knowledge issue?
  2. Is it a skills issue?
  3. Is it a motivation issue?
  4. Is there something else preventing the person from being effective at their job?

KNOWLEDGE is something that is definitely taught, but a teacher does not always need to be present. Some knowledge is best transferred simply by reading about the subject you need to learn. An alternative to traditional training may be writing out work instructions or sending the employee(s) an update or reminder about a particular process or procedure.

A SKILL is developed by applying the knowledge you have learned. In some instances, this take time. Skills are developed through repetition and that takes practice before a person is proficient enough to meet expectations; if the task needs to be practiced or repeated over time before proficiency is met, it’s a skill. This means it is not something that is taught once.

MOTIVATION comes from within. Once knowledge has been transferred and a skill has been developed, motivation becomes a choice of whether or not an employee chooses to perform the expected task as outlined in their training. Motivation is usually something that training cannot fix and must be addressed in a different way.

Is it SOMETHIING ELSE? At times, the environment is NOT aligned to support the employee to meet performance expectations. For example, workload or workflow issues may need to be addressed before you address employee performance, or the employee has been given conflicting priorities and believes they are meeting expectations.

For example:
–Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
–Skill is learning a tomato does not work well in a fruit salad.
–Motivation is taking time to seek an alternative to using a tomato.
–However, something else may be preventing you from finding an alternative in the salad.

Most training evolves around developing a skill. How do we learn any skill you can think of? Usually it not by being “talked at.” If you reflect on any skill you have acquired in your life, you will quickly realize that you have learned by doing. You didn’t learn to ride a bike by being told how to do it or by reading about it. Though it’s important to see a demonstration or be told about the skill you are going to learn, you ultimately lean a skill by trying to do it.

We’ve all experienced the first time we attempt a new skill; we don’t always get it right. Often we need to fail to achieve success at all. We usually need a coach – a teacher. This person does not tell us what to do, they show us. They help us correct those aspects of our efforts that are preventing us from achieving success. Each time we receive correction we attempt the new skill again. We repeat this process until we become proficient at the new skill.

What does this mean for the question concerning training? It means when an employee is unable to perform a task at an acceptable level, training will not be the complete answer. The employee needs a variety of help: knowledge, practice, coaching, redirecting when necessary and monitoring.