WHY MANAGEMENT TRAINING RARELY WORKS

It’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.

I have long been of the opinion that most formal corporate management training sessions actually deliver very little real benefit to the participants, beyond making them feel good about the fact that their company has been prepared to spend some time, money and energy on letting them get away from their normal work for a short time.

Corporate management training whether it is for negotiation skills, time management, conflict resolution, how to do a performance review or any other topic deemed to be important for today’s managers, is generally done via a lecture process, despite the fact that studies have shown that the average retention rate of a lecture is only about 5%, which is even less than just reading about the topic at 10% (taken from “The Learning Pyramid of the National Training Laboratories Bethel, Maine”).

Author: Vaibhavgang (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Vaibhavgang (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Also, quite interestingly, in 1996 Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger of the Centre for Creative Leadership developed the 70/20/10 Learning and Development model. This concept states that about 70% of true learning comes from on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving, about 20% from feedback, reinforcement and mentoring, and about 10% from courses and reading, and this model has since become well accepted as the basis of how people really learn.

Despite all this, many companies still use the approach to training of issuing a directive that mandates that everyone in the company will receive 2 weeks training per year, and to then proceed to cram as many people as possible into a pre-set series of fairly generic courses, enabling everyone involved, especially HR, to feel good about the fact that the directive has been met.

The problem is that beyond the short-lived “feel good” factor, this achieves very little in actually developing sustainable new skills, knowledge or understanding.

If most of our real learning is done on-the-job with the support of some worthwhile hand-holding, it also does not mean that people should just be left alone to ultimately work it out for themselves. I worked for one large company that believed that management training in any form was basically unnecessary as smart people, once promoted, would ultimately work out what was needed in any management role. Possibly some of them might with time, but I believe that it would have sorely impacted their subordinates while they did so.

Management training is important, but there are some key elements that are critical if any training and development programme is to deliver some worthwhile results.

Training needs to be personalised rather than generic … Just having a generic course for a large number of people may be the most cost effective approach, but it is rare that every sales manager in a company, for example, needs the same level of training on any given topic. Throwing everyone into the one course for say “Major Account Planning” may give some measure of consistency for a short time, but I have never seen any programme like this that actually survived more than about 12 months, and that delivered serious benefits to the company. Training needs to be specific to the individual, their development needs and their growth and progression plan if it is to have even just a valid starting point.

Reinforcement from above … there is no point teaching people how to better do some element of their job, if their manager has not had the same training or if s/he doesn’t reinforce the new behaviour. I have seen training programmes where the attendees come back into the office with the flush of enthusiasm of new converts, only to be shot down by a boss who has not been through the same epiphany, and hence does not support the new behaviour. I have also seen a dysfunctional executive board where politics and backstabbing were cultural standards, but who nonetheless insisted on teamwork training for those below them, in the misguided belief that people would “do as we say, rather do as we do”.

Author: Graeme Campbell (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Graeme Campbell (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Training works better when it’s real world … Theoretical training, no matter how interesting are the case studies, has less value than working on real live problems that face the company. One of the better corporate management programmes I saw was where people were put in groups made up of geographically spread, diverse individuals from various parts of the business and given about 4 months to solve some serious issues facing the company at that time. The programme was run in association with a leading business school, and all teams also had a board sponsor and mentor. The team task was over and above their normal management job responsibilities and it was designed to teach them how to work across disparate divisions with differing priorities, across multiple time zones and cultures, and under considerable time and budget constraints, all being the realities that the board members had to face daily. Their goal was to present their final team-developed and team-agreed solutions and recommendations to the board and the other teams, and to convince the board to accept these for implementation in the company.

Beyond these, successful training also depends on ensuring that the course purpose and outcomes promise and deliver real benefits to the attendees, that the styles of the trainers are a good fit with company culture, that the content is exciting, interesting and results in some epiphanies and awakenings, that participants have the opportunity for involvement and contribution, that the atmosphere is conducive to learning and not just a Powerpoint-fest, that the participants are well selected for cultural mix and that there are some important takeaways that can be measured and reinforced afterwards.

However, it is also important to remember that “Creative minds have always been able to survive any kind of bad training”. Anna Freud (1895-1982), founder of child psychoanalysis, and daughter of Sigmund Freud.

Author: Simon Harriyott; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Simon Harriyott; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


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12 Responses to WHY MANAGEMENT TRAINING RARELY WORKS

  1. Frank says:

    Hi Les, I agree with your views on “generic” management training, though if some “career savers” stick, it can be worth it, but I agree with the customised real world approach.

    You haven’t mentioned “coaching/mentoring” of the managers in their day to day challenges, as an alternative. Lately I’ve been doing just that for some inexperienced managers in IT/Projects areas, and its working.
    Regards, Frank

    • leshayman says:

      Frank, I agree totally on the importance of management coaching and mentoring, and have written about both a number of times separately. Les

  2. Paul Boris says:

    Great insights. This takes me back to my co-op assignment as part of the mechanical engineering program at General Motors Institute (now Kettering). Three months at work followed by three months in the classroom that essentially forced you to put the training into practice in a real world environment. I learned early that the academic and practical worlds are often at odds when dealing with topics like quality, productivity and personnel matters.

    • leshayman says:

      Paul, I once had a discussion with an academic that his management theories would not actually work in practice. His only response was along the lines that my management practices wouldn’t work in theory. :-). Les

  3. Hi, I’m agree with your views on “MANAGEMENT TRAINING” and thank you for telling us info about Corporate management training whether it is for negotiation skills, time management, conflict resolution, how to do a performance review or any other topic deemed to be important for today’s managers. Thanks!!

  4. now a days its really important because no matter how interesting are the case studies, has less value than working on real live problems that face the company.

  5. fongchengwah says:

    Thanks for the insightful post. All valid points. I must however add that for any form of corporate training to be effective, the participants themselves must see the value. Perhaps this was alluded to by you when you mentioned ‘reinforcement from the top’.

    • leshayman says:

      Fongchengwah, to have benefit, training needs to be part of a development plan jointly built by the attendee and his manager, so it has a goal of adding value to the individual and the team/company. Reinforcement is critical for this value to be realised by both. Les

  6. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
    Leadership And Management

  7. Hi Lee,

    Your post really helped me to understand the why management training rarely works. It has great details and yet it is easy to understand.
    That’s what i was looking for. I will definitely share it with others.

    Thanks for sharing.

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