CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Stop wasting money on training!

By Carter Hammett
Special to the Toronto Sun

With up to 70% of all training and professional development failing to transfer directly to the job -- and therefore company profits -- performance consultant Harold Stolovitch offers a simple solution: "Kill training departments."

Correct. You read that properly. Stolovitch, clinical professor at the University of Southern California and co-author of Training Ain't Performance, suggests much training fails because it is inappropriate, ineffective or just plain insufficient to enhance performance. In total, North American corporations spend roughly $100 billion on training, a pretty expensive investment that fails to yield much return.

Because of this, Stolovitch suggests shutting down training departments altogether and replacing them with something he calls performance support groups.

"In the old days, you used to have personnel departments, and these were transformed into human resources units, and the same can be applied to training departments," he says. "In learning and performance support groups, everyone becomes performance consultants who work co-operatively to identify and close performance gaps, offer solutions, monitor, update and improve performance."

Collective responsibility

This, he says, leverages "human" capital -- the sum total of all knowledge, experience and performance capability an organization possesses, which is applied to create wealth -- as a collective responsibility, not just training.

"When you look at performance issues, there are more variables beyond the individual affecting performance," he says. "These variables include clarity of expectations, timely feedback on performance and access to the appropriate information and resources."

Stolovitch is quick to point out those variables are environmental in nature and account for at least 75% of training's failure to impact on performance. The remainder falls to the learner, who carries the skills, knowledge, capacity and motivation necessary to reach desired goals on behalf of the company.

"It's cheaper to try to fix the environment," he says, "but we continue to try to fix people."

Stolovitch says it's critical to look "one level up," to supervisors and managers, and ask if training expectations are clear, if support is available. Often the answer is no and training will simply have insufficient results if there is no post-educational structure to support desired performance outcomes.

Behavioural change

Training also suffers from poor or irrelevant instructional design. Stolovitch says too many subject matter experts simply "tell" learners rather than transform them. "Learning is about behavioural change. You can't dump content on someone and then be expected to practice what you can't do," he says.

"Senior managers often look at professional development as a default form of intervention and fail to realize that inadequate performance may not be due to a lack of skills, but a rather a lack of fit, or appropriate incentives, and these issues need to be looked at holistically if change is to occur."

Stolovitch points to adult education associations that are shifting their emphasis to outcome-based approaches in their training that corporations would do well to emulate.

"If you look at groups like the American or Canadian societies of training and development, they're shifting their tag lines to learning and performance," Stolovitch says.

"There's now a focus on helping people transform performance in ways the organization or individual values," he says.

"The bottom line is: when human capital grows, the accumulated value of the organization grows."

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