When training is not the solution and chips are cakes.

July 9, 2008

Soon to be sticking out like a sore thumb in the potato chip section of a grocery store near you is Pringles, recently determined not to be a chip (crisp) at all but a cake. Thanks UK! Apparently the UK courts don’t know that I try to avoid cake. A cake that conveniently fits in the cup holder of my car. Did you know we eat one billion dollars of Pringles each year? I know right?

I’m sure you have (or have had at some time) some ‘pringle-like’ content in your training. You know the one…the course/class that is actually training for something that does/did not require training.

Remember the mandatory ILT for a group because one person has crappy customer service skills? (And they didn’t think the training applied to them anyway). Remember the off-the-shelf soft skill e-learning to address morale-type issues that are actually the result of a bad manager (yet no training for the manager…waahhh?).

Although you won’t be the most popular kid on the block this is probably one ‘fight’ worth fighting. At least I’ve always thought it was. Why? Because your training solution will fail – that’s what people will see. And you’re employees won’t be happy with you. Training that didn’t work. Yuk. No one wants that. You want to be helpful. You want to improve the performance of the work force. No time to be a yes man/woman. But being a realist, if you must provide training, at least don’t cave without stating your position. “I’m not confident it’s the right solution because…blah blah blah…I’m just sayin’.”

A process for handling (and rejecting) incoming requests should be part of your trainer DNA. Here are some suggestions for triaging those incoming requests.

  1. is it a learning strategy item? (if not, why? is it new? should it be discussed? should it be politely turned down because of other strategy-linked priorities?)
  2. is it tied to the organization’s business plan? (if not, why? is it new? should it be discussed? should it be politely turned down because of other strategy-link priorities?)
  3. is it a problem that requires training intervention? (ask five “why” questions…Q: why do you think you need this? A: because we have complaints from the customers. Q: why? tell me about it. What prompted it? A: well, we received a complaint that was elevated to the C-level so I got a call to get some customer service training in here. Q:(thinking…aah, now we’re getting to it)…hmmm…one complaint? that doesn’t sound like much of a problem given the fact your employees are on the phone all day. why do you think you need this again? A: basically, I don’t. but I do have to address this promptly. Q: Why not a discussion with the one person that the complaint is against? Is it a pattern? If so, will training help this person or is it a performance issue or are they in the wrong job? A: I’m not sure that customer service is right for this person but she’s been coming along. Q: Why don’t you think about it – and the money that can be saved – by not making everyone attend training they may not need. A: OK. I’ll call you back.
  4. is it funded or can funding be obtained? (the greatest solution in the world won’t fly if there’s no funding for it.)
  5. if it’s not a strategy item…don’t turn it down right away. Is it something that can save the company money and be done quickly and inexpensively? (flexibility, value is a must)

I do hope you enjoyed the cheesy tie-in (or should I say Pizzalicious because that’s my fave) of Pringles and training. Proof that I am way uncool and always thinking about training. Sigh.

  • http://www.blood.ca/ Alistair Robertson

    Hey Janet,

    Nice! That’s exactly the battle that we’re fighting here.
    Our Corporate Training group doesn’t own the content – we give expert advice to various groups.
    What we’ve done is give BUs and content developers a process with an Assessment Phase and Analysis Phase. This allows us to divert ‘training’ to non-training solutions (process change, individual performance, effective tools and support, etc.) before the BUs put in too much work. In the Assessment we get them to ask the hard questions. In the long run, it saves time and resources and allows us to concentrate on making the existing or new training more effective.

  • http://www.blood.ca Alistair Robertson

    Hey Janet,

    Nice! That’s exactly the battle that we’re fighting here.
    Our Corporate Training group doesn’t own the content – we give expert advice to various groups.
    What we’ve done is give BUs and content developers a process with an Assessment Phase and Analysis Phase. This allows us to divert ‘training’ to non-training solutions (process change, individual performance, effective tools and support, etc.) before the BUs put in too much work. In the Assessment we get them to ask the hard questions. In the long run, it saves time and resources and allows us to concentrate on making the existing or new training more effective.

  • http://www.blood.ca/ Alistair Robertson

    Oh…and I like Pringles.

  • http://www.blood.ca Alistair Robertson

    Oh…and I like Pringles.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Thanks for your comments Alistair. Having a process in place is a great plan to address this ongoing problem. It’s hard to ask the tough questions – especially when the culture does not traditionally view training as a service (vs. provider).

    This is for you…

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Thanks for your comments Alistair. Having a process in place is a great plan to address this ongoing problem. It’s hard to ask the tough questions – especially when the culture does not traditionally view training as a service (vs. provider).

    This is for you…

  • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/ Karyn Romeis

    In the UK, Pringles were recently categorised as ‘crisps’, but not ‘potato crisps’ because they contain less than 45% potato. So they are exempt from VAT. Weird!

    Karyn Romeiss last blog post..What do you want them to DO?

  • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com Karyn Romeis

    In the UK, Pringles were recently categorised as ‘crisps’, but not ‘potato crisps’ because they contain less than 45% potato. So they are exempt from VAT. Weird!

    Karyn Romeiss last blog post..What do you want them to DO?

  • Karen

    Janet, Thanks for the reminder. It’s easy to slip back into being order takers rather than asking the right questions up front.
    (love and miss your sense of humor!)

  • Karen

    Janet, Thanks for the reminder. It’s easy to slip back into being order takers rather than asking the right questions up front.
    (love and miss your sense of humor!)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Karen! I miss you! Thanks for the comment.

    It’s tough (and exhausting) to ask the questions up front. And, I think people aren’t used to it and sometimes get defensive. It’s really about retraining a “training” culture to become a “learning” culture; elevating yourself to a collaborative problem-solver vs. an order-taker. I think that’s how we’ll get repeat business in training.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Karen! I miss you! Thanks for the comment.

    It’s tough (and exhausting) to ask the questions up front. And, I think people aren’t used to it and sometimes get defensive. It’s really about retraining a “training” culture to become a “learning” culture; elevating yourself to a collaborative problem-solver vs. an order-taker. I think that’s how we’ll get repeat business in training.

  • Deb Buckingham

    You’re so right Janet. I frequently get the generic, “We need training” request when actually it’s not training that is needed at all. I usually get the old “deer in the headlights” look when I ask the questions you mention, but I find that by asking questions, it really does help get at the “need”. In the end it saves time and money and I believe employees appreciate not being sent through training they don’t need.

  • Deb Buckingham

    You’re so right Janet. I frequently get the generic, “We need training” request when actually it’s not training that is needed at all. I usually get the old “deer in the headlights” look when I ask the questions you mention, but I find that by asking questions, it really does help get at the “need”. In the end it saves time and money and I believe employees appreciate not being sent through training they don’t need.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Abso-freakin-lutely Deb. Rather than ‘deer in the headlights’ I always thought ‘the look’ was “who the heck do you think you are?” Think ‘I AM TRAINING GODDESS!’ and you’re sure to ask all those questions with a smile.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Abso-freakin-lutely Deb. Rather than ‘deer in the headlights’ I always thought ‘the look’ was “who the heck do you think you are?” Think ‘I AM TRAINING GODDESS!’ and you’re sure to ask all those questions with a smile.

  • http://daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    The dark side of this situation is that many managers — and not only the ones one level above where the alleged problem occurs — want training as ritual. Hopping onto your metaphor, their mental model is, “Someone must be hungry. Give ’em some Pringles.”

    Learning is much messier than training. Most managers aren’t eager for mess. Alistair’s approach — working collaboratively with business units to help them make the best use of their resources (including time) — is an essential part of changing that mindset.

    Depending on the relationship, you can try cooperative candor. “Look, we can create a one-day session on ‘good customer service.’ What do you see as the difference in what people do afterward?”

    When the reply starts with, “Well, they understand…,” you know how to follow up. Not with training jargon about behavioral objectives, but something like “What do they do differently? What do they say? How do they act?”

    Which could lead to exploring whether the people do know how to act — or whether the group as a whole does. Maybe there’s an opportunity to find out how the workers see good customer service, even get front-line ideas of what good service looks like, even pull in comments from actual (or, alas, former) customers…

    Messy, but if you can adopt the viewpoint of the stakeholders, it’s a lot easier to convince them you want to work on real problems that matter to them.

  • http://daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    The dark side of this situation is that many managers — and not only the ones one level above where the alleged problem occurs — want training as ritual. Hopping onto your metaphor, their mental model is, “Someone must be hungry. Give ’em some Pringles.”

    Learning is much messier than training. Most managers aren’t eager for mess. Alistair’s approach — working collaboratively with business units to help them make the best use of their resources (including time) — is an essential part of changing that mindset.

    Depending on the relationship, you can try cooperative candor. “Look, we can create a one-day session on ‘good customer service.’ What do you see as the difference in what people do afterward?”

    When the reply starts with, “Well, they understand…,” you know how to follow up. Not with training jargon about behavioral objectives, but something like “What do they do differently? What do they say? How do they act?”

    Which could lead to exploring whether the people do know how to act — or whether the group as a whole does. Maybe there’s an opportunity to find out how the workers see good customer service, even get front-line ideas of what good service looks like, even pull in comments from actual (or, alas, former) customers…

    Messy, but if you can adopt the viewpoint of the stakeholders, it’s a lot easier to convince them you want to work on real problems that matter to them.

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