You Can't Train Everything - Blog Post


You Can’t Train Everything


One of the hardest things for leaders to understand is that you can’t train everything. It’s tempting to believe that all of the struggles with our teams can be fixed with the appropriate training; but alas, it isn’t that simple.

For example, consider the impact of “trainings” on sexual harassment. It’s seems obvious, but having people just watch a video doesn’t count as a training. The hope is that said video watching will change behavior, but that approach clearly doesn’t work.

Life inside an organization is complicated – despite all of the organizational charts to make it appear less so – and leading all of those people is just as complex. Sometimes the challenges actually have little to do with the immediate skills of the manager.

For example, one senior leader I worked with was complaining that his team wasn’t handling the rollout of a new software system well. The result was a lot of frustrated people on the ground floor, which resulted in the feedback on the system itself being poor. He felt that his team needed training on how to communicate change and training on how to give feedback. While this may have been true, it wasn’t the sole cause of the problem.

As I questioned him about the entire scope of the project, it became clear that there were several other problems that had nothing to do with the leadership team’s ability to give feedback and manage change. As a matter of fact, his team had been giving a great deal of feedback, and much of the feedback had been flowing in both directions.

Here was the real issue: First, it wasn’t clear who was the project leader, i.e. who was ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the implementation. Second, there was no specific process put in place to handle questions or issues that would certainly arise during the process; no one knew who to contact when they had problems. And lastly, there was no set timeline to demonstrate the success of the rollout or a description of what success would look like after implementation.

In this situation, a training on the skills of giving feedback and managing change wouldn’t have solved the issues that the team was having.

However, let’s imagine that prior to this company-wide implementation, the senior leader had decided that change-management training and even project management training would be beneficial and implemented this with the team. Perhaps this type of training might have been helpful had it been conducted prior to the project beginning. But even then, these new learned behaviors would need to occur after the training, and an approach would still need to be put into place to support the new behaviors to take root and be implemented.

I questioned this leader a bit further and asked what he thought of the feedback that was being given and what steps had been accomplished thus far. He stated that he felt the team was simply resisting the change and that, “It wasn’t as bad as they were saying it was.” I gently suggested that perhaps he was actually receiving feedback. And was it possible that he himself was resisting that feedback, therefore making it appear that his team wasn’t giving him feedback?

Maybe what was actually happening was that there wasn’t a system in place to support the behaviors of feedback and change; maybe it wasn’t a training issue so much as a system issue.

The point is this: You can’t train a pilot to fly a plane and then put him or her on a boat instead. You can’t train everything; skills and competencies must work within a system that supports them reliably taking place.

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