Courses are not a solution to the problems of companies and employees

Recently, an exhausted friend of mine warned her boss that her team was feeling stressed. In response, HR sent them all to attend an awareness training course. This increased the backlog when they returned to their desks. “What I really need is more staff,” she said.
Training has become the panacea for every problem in the company, the default answer to improve productivity, retain talent and tame the wage price spiral. But it increasingly seems to be an alternative to good governance. I still meet people who are forced to attend workshops that are not relevant to their work, or seem to be a sign of virtuous behavior. “We must always say the course was great, otherwise we will be treated badly,” a tired employee working for a charity told me.
Some poor training is part of modern life. We all clicked on the faint compliance videos as we flipped through our phones or received a lecture from a well-meaning person on how to, simply put, be nice. But as the world spends more money on “learning and development” – $ 370 billion in 2019 – I find it very difficult to find out what really works.
A Harvard Business Review article claims that most organizations do not measure the effectiveness of their training programs. One coach described his sessions as “like a random release of information, we do not know what will remain in the students’ minds”.
In 2020, Theodore Agnew, the former British Minister of Public Service, asked how much Whitehall spent on training programs, only to be told 16 months later: “We think we spend between £ 190m and £ 500m, but we do not know what the courses are. ” what we buy or how effective it is. ” This may be because the training is now comprehensive and is just as much about protecting drivers as it is about teaching Python or the GDPR.
Recently, I met a group of HR professionals who find it just as difficult as anyone else to deal with the demands of hybrid work, digital transformation and improving well-being. They have complained that some managers demand training programs whenever performance declines, even if the problem is actually culture, or a lack of clarity.
At an accounting firm, a senior leader asked HR to offer training programs in remote employee management – when he could just call and ask how employees were doing.
Nobody likes confrontation. In an era when it becomes difficult to object to malpractice work, it can be easier to claim training programs. But training for what? Even when leadership development has become a big business, trust in leaders is waning, according to a new report from behavioral science firm Mind Gym.
There is no shortage of leadership models – authentic, flexible, beneficial, impactful and so on – but “the more we spend, the worse the results”. This is partly due to outdated assumptions that the CEO can fix everything, and partly due to the tendency to focus on empowering employees rather than holding them accountable, Mind Jim says in his report.
The downside is that CEOs themselves are now billed for much more than the share price. In 2018, in a historic precedent, more CEOs were fired for ethical violations at their companies than fired over financial performance or board disputes.
It is not surprising that Starbucks and Sephora responded to the bad news by ordering several company-wide training programs, or that BMW and Ford did the same after losing discrimination cases. KPMG now trains its employees not to talk about ski trips, as this can make other employees feel isolated and excluded.
I’m not sure how it fits into the “your full presence at work” fad. But if people are so pale that they do not realize what makes others feel uncomfortable, they definitely need a reprimand from their superiors or mothers, not an outsourced training session.
It’s easy to spot workouts that include lessons from reps or agility players. But it can be the important element. One of the best team building events I attended was Paintball Day at McKinsey, where the IT staff beat the rest of us effortlessly and won a new level of recognition and respect. It was not described as “training” – it was an optional feature – but I have no doubt that it boosted our productivity.
This is a good idea that makes us all more aware of how discrimination continues. But early studies of unconscious bias training suggest that much of it has little effect, or may even be counterproductive. Employer interviews, conducted by Harvard sociologists, found that some diversity training programs actually reduced diversity. Critics suggest that leaders do not change the way they direct and hire employees to give them ‘franchises’.
Augmented reality and virtual reality can transform learning, but many e-learning paradigms are not always in mind. A friend has received annual fire training at the workplace for the past 20 years, but still cannot remember which fire extinguisher to use – what author Ralph H. Kellman calls the “three-day fading effect”.
His solution was to return to the pupils at intervals after the training program and ask them to write down whether they had started doing something else – which seemed very logical.
Training programs make organizations feel like they’re doing something. She makes everyone feel good – except the people who have to attend her. My attentive girlfriend calls to say her best employee is going to be on maternity leave. “Next time I want a course that shows me how to clone myself,” she says.

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