Training just isn’t working*

Training just isn’t working*

Before we start… we are not going to refer to training again. It will be learning, or learning and development. We will explain later!


Ok, the headline is a big statement. But we’re calling it out. As consultants, our role is to enable and embed behavioural change in individuals, often through L&D solutions. We are passionate about the impact of learning on individual and collective performance, and believe it’s time to look at things differently.

The pace of change and evolution in the world will only continue to accelerate, which means that organisations and individuals need to continually evolve, adapt and improve. ‘Learning’ has to deliver more.

Whilst trendy ‘tech’ solutions may be revolutionising the delivery and interface of learning, the essence, and many of the fundamentals, of L&D haven’t really changed in 20 years.

There is a * in the title though. A caveat. Because there are examples where learning is having a massive impact on performance in organisations. And because we also believe that learning should, and can, be a key driver at the core of every organisation.

This is the first of a series of articles that will explain in more detail why we believe things are broken and how better results can be achieved.

Article 1 – Take a big step back and think WHY and WHO

This is about re-thinking the purpose of learning in your organisation. For HR and L&D teams this could be re-framing the perception of the purpose of learning across senior teams and the wider business.

Why are you investing in learning? What do you want learning to do for you? What is the key outcome / return you want from your internal L&D function and/or the external specialists that you buy in?

When we ask these questions to senior management teams, the usual answer is one of the following:

  • Our people want it so it is good to tick the box
  • We want to ensure our people are engaged and motivated
  • We want to retain key people
  • We want our people to develop
  • Our competitors all do it
  • It’s good to get them away from work now and again

Now, we can’t argue against any of these points. And learning interventions can certainly deliver against them. But so could just giving people a break and a bit of fun. Learning is there to do something more fundamental.

Not many senior management teams respond to the WHY questions with something like this –  “to drive our vision for the organisation by measurably improving individual and collective performance”.

This is the primary purpose. If this is agreed and understood then this will help position L&D as a core business driver with an ACTIVE performance improvement role. Not a passive ‘nice to have’, something on the periphery of the organisation, the thing that we should offer our people as they want it and it might keep them here, it engages them, our rivals do it, we have to tick the box.

The next question to ponder is the WHO. Well it is two WHO’s?

  • Who is the customer / consumer of L&D?
  • Who defines the need and the learning offer?

The answer to the first question has always been, rightly, the organisation and every person who works in it. Learning should service the needs of every individual which means that you are then delivering the outcomes for the business.

But the problem is that this doesn’t really happen. Because, moving on to the second question, the needs of the customer and the solutions offered are usually defined by the wrong people. Traditionally this means a mix of senior management and HR / L&D teams because they ‘know what people need to do differently to drive the strategy’.  Often then, a Training Needs Analysis is undertaken which usually serves to validate the solutions offer that has already been established (more on TNA’s in the next article!)

The result – a raft of programmes, schemes and interventions are developed (often, of very high quality) that match the current (and maybe even future) needs of the organisation and are ‘pushed out’. And have very little impact.

It isn’t working. And we explain why in the next article.

But before then…. Why don’t we refer to training? Because most people attend ‘training’ courses and programmes don’t they?

We have observed professional sports and military teams on training programmes. It’s an intense process of learn, practice, practice, review, refine, practice, practice until it is taken directly and habitually into performance.

We don’t believe that most ‘training’ in organisations delivers this. A lot of ‘training’ is simply supplying knowledge and information. This is one of important processes of learning but on its own will not drive new behaviours and performance improvement. The athlete knows that more time in the gym will improve muscle tone… but unless he gets in there and works out he will not win the next race!

theGrogroup are experts in advising organisations on how best to improve performance by effectively executing and embedding required change. We do this through our proven framework; clarifying strategy and change needs, enabling people through skills, behaviours and mind-set development and creating the systems, processes and infrastructure to lock in change as the new normal.