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Training promises but doesn’t deliver!

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Mike WestwoodMike Westwood has contributed three articles for HR Zone and TrainingZONE so far. This is Mike’s fourth article and last in this series, and maybe contentiously, argues that too much training offers more than it can deliver and is let down by lack of follow-up when the trainee returns to their normal work role. Is he right?



Outrageous promises

Details of a training course came across my desk last week. Well, it actually calls itself a “seminar”, which sounds significantly grander than a humble training course. Across the top of the flyer is not so much a title but a promise:


How to Become a Great Communicator


Underneath, in smaller writing, but with even greater confidence, the flyer asserts:


Dramatically Improve Your Ability to Build Winning
Relationships with Everyone, Every Day!


The universality of this is astounding – not only will my ability to build relationships be improved Dramatically, but those relationships will be Winning ones, they will encompass Everyone I meet and it will happen Every Day. And all it takes is one day of my time and £99 +VAT.

Claims, like these, made by training organisations, are outrageous. But they are typical and they exemplify a lot of what is wrong with training today. A large amount of training promises that you, with little effort, will achieve an enormous amount. Yet, it fails to deliver anything close to what it claims it will achieve.

Dressing things up to appear hugely marvellous and promising that you will achieve a great deal without any effort are both common place. There’s not much we can do to change this. What we can do, however, is prevent training making these outrageous promises and ending up an isolated activity.

Going on a traditional course consists of three elements: the bit before, the course itself, and the bit after.

The bit before

The posh term for the bit before is training needs analysis (TNA). The first major drawback of a TNA is that it takes a long time. It will certainly take months and many pieces of paper.

People are presented with a menu and asked to choose which ones they feel they need. The output from all this effort will be a list of courses like Communication Skills, Time Management or Assertiveness.

The second major drawback of this stage is that it removes the responsibility for the development of staff away from line management. Indeed, line managers see TNA and all it entails – appraisals, forms, meetings – as stopping them from doing their real work.

The course itself

The second bit to training is the course itself. Too often, like the course I mentioned earlier, the trainer assumes a responsibility far beyond their ambit. They cover the 5 critical factors, they explain the 4 proven motivators, they teach the 7 specific guidelines. They assume the role of the expert, they teach, they perform.

The emphasis is on what the trainer knows and how good the trainer is at getting it across. Rarely is the emphasis on learning and how to make that learning stick.

The bit after

The third bit in training is where the trainee returns to work. Some managers undertake a course debrief. The three most popular course debriefs are:


“Course OK?”
“You’re back then?”
“Have a good rest?”


Since the training was done at some other place and by somebody else, your manager and your colleagues feel little responsibility to support you. If you did learn something, this means new behaviour and those around you may not be prepared to cope with this. Your training, your new behaviour, is not integrated with the job. You burn up on re-entry.

So, what can we do?

How can we overcome these difficulties, particularly the isolation of training, and prevent its irrelevance and unproductive approach? I have four suggestions.


  • First, instil a belief that everyone is responsible for training, not just HR or the trainer.
  • Second, understand that a training course is just one option available to enable people to develop themselves and to achieve business results.
  • Third, opportunities for people to raise their performance and learn new skills occur every day – at work itself. For example, talking an issue through with a colleague, coaching, delegation, giving feedback – all these contribute to the development of an individual. These can be powerful and rewarding experiences.
  • And fourth, the most powerful and rewarding experiences of all are developmental events undertaken in family units. Don’t send people away on a course that promises to teach you How to Become a Great Communicator. Get the team together and ask simple questions like: How can we be more effective?


In this way you deal with real issues, real people and make a real difference.


Mike Westwood is a consultant with Ambit which is a training organisation whose aim is to work with clients to develop individuals and teams, to solve performance problems, focus staff, drive through major change

Mike’s previous articles for HR Zone and TrainingZONE are:

Team working and senior management,

Organisational Solutions that don’t work and;

Metaphors in new management


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