If Performance is Low, is Training the Appropriate Response?

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Often, when job performance is falling short of expectations, managers resort to mandatory training sessions for their employees.  Either workers are sent offsite for instruction, or trainers are brought in to provide new training.  Yet one has to ask, when it comes to underperformance, is holding training sessions the most effective method for improving productivity? Let’s consider the cost. When a company pulls its employees off the job for training, momentum is interrupted and productivity must be decline; the workers are not working.  This downtime has an obvious cost; employees are paid to be trained, and then paid overtime to catch up on their work.  Trainers must be paid to conduct classes.  Materials must be purchased. money Are the benefits what management expects? The answer to this question is, too often, no.  It isn’t hard to see why.  How do we learn any skill we can think of?  Is it ever by being “talked at?”  Do we learn by hearing about something, by seeing something, or by doing?  If you reflect on every skill you have acquired in your life, you will quickly discover that you have learned by doing.  You didn’t learn to ride a bike by being told how to do it, or by reading about it.  That is the same for Baseball, Football, Cheerleading, or dancing.  In every case, though you may see a demonstration of the skill you are going to learn, you learn it by trying to do it. We all know that the first time we attempt a new skill, we usually don’t get it just right; we often fail to achieve success at all.  We usually need a coach – a teacher.  This person doesn’t tell us what to do, he shows us.  He helps us correct those aspects of our effort that are preventing us from achieving success.  Each time we receive correction we attempt our new skill again.  We may improve; we may also still need help to reach the performance level we want.  We repeat this process until we reach our objective: learning the new skill. We go through a process like this for every skill we learn.  It is only after we are able to perform the new skill at a useful level that reading about it, or seeing it done by an expert will be meaningful to us and add to our ability. What does this mean for our question concerning training?  It means that when an employee is unable to perform a work task at an acceptable level, training will not be the complete answer.  The employee needs a different kind of help: he needs job coaching, mentoring, or job shadowing. A job coach is a hands-on teacher.  The employee attempts to perform the task at which he is deficient and the job coach shows him what he is doing wrong.  He also demonstrates how to perform the task correctly.  The employee practices with supervision and correction until he is able to successfully complete the task without further assistance from the coach. Coworkers Job shadowing, which often precedes coaching, has an employee follow (or shadow) a successful worker who is performing a task, watching how the work is done.  He then attempts it himself.  If the task is complex, he may need job coaching after he has shadowed another worker. A mentor is someone who grooms an employee for greater responsibility and a more supervisory position.  When an employee demonstrates a skill level and leadership qualities that suggest his ability to perform supervisory work, or more complex production assignments, a mentor can take him and be both a motivator and instructor in the skills necessary for the higher level assignment.  A mentor provides both the person to shadow and the coach to instruct.  He is also the person responsible for preparing an employee for promotion within the company. In-Work Performance Support I would like to suggest performance support as an additional effective strategy.  When we refer to performance support, we are looking at a tool or other resource, from print to technology-supported, which provides just the right amount of task guidance, support, and productivity benefits to the user—precisely at the moment of need.  The reason why performance support is valuable is that even if you did decide to retrain employees who were underperforming, there is still only a percentage of knowledge fully retained and applied once the training sessions ends. With in-work performance support, employees are provided real-time assistance immediately, so that the knowledge transferred is directly relevant, specific and timely.  WalkMe, for example, provides online guidance on a website or software in which the employee is required to operate, providing for them step-by-step instructions on how to perform successfully any task, no matter how complex.


So when dealing with underperformance, performance support provides direct assistance when needed, provided a solution that is more cost-effective, impactful and longer-lasting the training. The use of job coaching, job shadowing, and mentoring will frequently provide more benefit at lower cost than job training.  There will be less time lost to productive work, a faster learning curve, and less additional expenditure than is the case when bringing in an outside training organization.  They should be the first tools used when employees are not performing up to expectations.