The Right Questions to Ensure “Training” Gets An ROI

Skill DevelopmentWorkplace Success

Last summer I received this email inquiry:

Hi Skip –

My boss would like to train our entire IT department (36 people) on Communication.

We are trying to improve the way we manage projects and we are finding that communication is our biggest weakness.  

We would like to have training that would focus on the following:

  • How we communicate when dealing with others
  • DISC assessment or something similar
  • How to create an effective communication plan for a project

We would like pricing on training 12 people on 3 different days or 18 people on two different days.  We cannot have our entire staff out at once.


Training is an arbitrary, random solution to a specific problem.

Organizational leaders know something is amiss and they need to do something.

The default strategy is training.

Personnel problems? Let’s train our personnel on communication skills.

Sales down? No problem, our employees must need sales training.

Inter-office problems, productivity down? Let’s train people on teamwork or do some offsite team building activities.

Low morale and negative attitudes in our workplace? Let’s train people on how to be happier and have positive attitudes.

The problem with throwing training at a workplace problem is that often there are significant issues underlying the problem that require something more specific and in depth than training.

Offering training will make the problems worse.

Training is usually never the answer to a company’s problems.

One very specific question to ask is…

Is it a skills problem or an attitude/emotions problem?

If it can be identified as an actual skills deficit then training is the solution.

If it’s an attitude or emotion problem (which most workplace teamwork, cooperation and silo issues are), training will only make the issue worse.

A classic example is “communication,” as was requested of me in the above email.

I was hired to work in that organization and offered training only after facilitating focus group sessions with all 36 staff members to identify the core, underlying issues. I ended up limiting the training to the senior leadership team and those with management responsibilities.

The buyer at this company, who has since become a very trusted client decided to also do the communication personality assessment training.

It backfired. The feedback I received during my focus groups was that it was a waste of time and no one understood how or why they should be applying it.

Even the training I delivered for the leaders and managers isn’t being used as it should. It was well received but I left four months ago and I’ve already learned that two of the participants in the program are not applying what they learned interacting with each other.

What’s the chance they’re using it with those they lead and manage? Zero!

The thing that has worked for this group is the output from the focus groups and the decisions my client was able to make after evaluating the contributions from all employees.

So, the next time you think you need “training” for your organization ask these questions –

  • What ‘problem’ are we trying to solve?
  • Is this a skill deficit problem or an attitude/emotion problem?

If it’s the former training is the answer. If it’s the latter, an initiative that includes deeper facilitation with individual and group/team coaching is more likely the answer.