Why People Hate Training, and How to Overcome It

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“It’s not that people don’t like what you do; it’s just that nobody likes training. Nobody. You do an excellent job, but still… people hate training.”

That’s a direct quote from an organization’s senior human resources manager. It represents one of the biggest hurdles that learning and performance professionals must deal with. It’s the type of statement that has trainers pulling their hair out with frustration.

It’s also completely true.

Instructional design blogger Cammy Bean recently shared an excellent example of this in her recent post, “The CBT Lady.” (CBT stands for computer-based training.) In the post she tells someone what she does for a living. Their response is typical:

“The guy made a cross with his fingers and hissed at me saying, ‘Oh no, you’re the CBT Lady!’”

Lots of people feel that way. So why do people hate training? And what can we do about it?

Training Isn’t Linked to Workplace Performance

This, too, is hard to hear. The harsh reality is that a great deal of training has very little to do with actual workplace performance.

Consider compliance training. In most cases, organizations don’t actually keep track of workers’ behavior after they’ve completed compliance training — only that they finished it.

The message is about getting it done, not about what value it might have to a worker. And this is a problem we see in all sorts of training.

Value is determined by the worker, not by the training department using a label like mandatory. Workers need to see the benefits of how a training program is going to help them do their job better. If trainers can do a better job connecting to that value, they wouldn’t need to worry as much about getting all the boxes checked on their LMS completion report.

Training Is Treated as Disciplinary

Training can be an excellent part of a performance-support system. However, organizations often include training as a disciplinary reaction to a worker’s sub-par performance. The employees are being punished by being told to go to training. No wonder they hate it.

The impulse to treat sub-par performance with more training appears to be almost sub-conscious, in many cases — I’m not sure managers even realize they’re connecting “doing something wrong” with “so do more training.

It’s as if the assumption is that the training didn’t “take” the first time, and that sending the person to training again will fix that. That’s just not the case.

There are all sorts of reasons people underperform, and “needs more training” is pretty far down that list. Things like the working environment, worker incentive, and motivation all have huge impacts on performance, and have little to do with training. But by sending an underperforming worker back to do training on skills they already have is asking for people to turn against it.

Training leaders need to have the courage to ask questions when an employee is sent to training as a result of disciplinary action. If a lack of training isn’t the underlying cause of poor performance, don’t force it as a solution.

Training Isn’t Necessarily the Answer

This, to me, is the biggest reason people hate training. It’s implemented in situations where it doesn’t address the real problem. For some organizations, delivering training is the go-to solution for just about any new problem.

Robert Terry, in a recent editorial in the Financial Times, cites statistics saying that employees ultimately utilize only 5 to 20 percent of what they’re taught in training courses. Jane Hart, writing on her Workforce Collaboration blog, responded to the FT piece, writing:

“In all likelihood, there was probably nothing instructionally wrong with the courses/training in question; it was more likely to be the case that they were the WRONG solutions for the problems they were intended to solve.”

Hart explains that training (or “organized learning solutions,” as she calls it) is viewed by some L&D departments as the end and the means, while more well-rounded departments see education as only a part of their business, which is, ultimately, to improve performance. Sometimes other kinds of performance support are more appropriate than training.

Unfortunately, workers in many cases have learned that despite their company’s investment in training, their job performance isn’t likely to improve as a result of new training — that training often isn’t the right solution. We need to learn that lesson for ourselves, and start adding other performance support tools to our portfolio, and use training only in situations where it’s appropriate.

David Kelly is the director of training at Carver Federal Savings Bank and ember of the ASTD National Advisors for Chapters. He is also the author of the blog Misadventures in Learning, where he discusses the future of the learning field and curates the backchannel of learning conferences.