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Why so much training fails…

Why so much training fails…

Used with permission of the author
Author: Andrew Hofmeyr
Business Education Design (Pty.) Ltd.

30 April 2007

Back to ... Workinfo.com Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 7, 2007

Most managers in SA are disappointed in the limited extent of real, value-adding impact from training – particularly at lower levels in the organisation. Indeed, if we really believed that investment in training was justified, government would have no reason to try to bludgeon us into it. So why are the returns just not there?

At a major SA corporation with which I work and that will remain nameless, training is colloquially called “slaapies” – sleep time. It’s a break from the tedium of work, you get free lunch and a chance to grab 40 or more winks. That’s the view of the trainees. Sadly, it’s also the view of their trainers, and of their managers, who have become resigned to training being rather like sick leave – a costly, inevitable evil. The tragedy is that at the level of policy, this company is highly committed to training – two days a month for every employee. What this means in effect, though, is that for some 10% of their work time, the staff are asleep. While the example may be a little extreme, it’s not unrepresentative. Most training is not delivering adequate returns for the investment made.


What’s gone wrong? Why, in a country in such desperate need of a widened and improved skills base, is training so poorly regarded? The answer lies in two simple and related areas – perceived relevance and methodology. By perceived relevance I mean relevance as seen by the participants, not their managers. Unless we see something as relevant to ourselves, it makes a lot more sense to have a kip than to pay earnest attention to what the trainer is going on about. And herein lies the first challenge – how do we get our staff to see the relevance of the training we provide? Neither endless entreaties, nor dire threats, will work. You can’t beat relevance into people.

The challenge is that, to see the relevance of training, one needs a clear perspective from which to appreciate that relevance. And the relevance of training lies in the logic of business itself. If training is not directly linked to profitability we shouldn’t be doing it anyway. We train so that we can become more productive, so that we can increase revenues and reduce costs, so that we can become more profitable, so that the business can grow, so that shareholders, customers, and staff themselves can benefit from this growth. That, in a nutshell, is the relevance of training. And without their clearly understanding this flow of logic, one can hardly blame staff for taking a kip, rather than listening to the trainer.

So, what should we do? Train all staff in business theory? The short answer is, yes. The investment is well worth the return – not just in getting staff to see the relevance of all training, but from a range of other, and proven, perspectives (see later). Of course when one tries to convince managers of the need for business training, one common response is that staff could not learn business theory – they’re “just not up to it”. And this brings us to the question of methodology.

Training methodology – indeed training design in toto - in SA tends to be seen fairly narrowly – if it is addressed at all. The vast majority of training programmes use traditional, “talk and chalk” methodologies and programme design appears to consist of little more than throwing together handouts and transparencies from other programmes. Given the people development and learning challenges we face, this neglect is little short of criminal. In a context where most of our formal education has been inadequate, we need innovative and appropriate methodologies to ensure that learning actually occurs. We need to ensure that we get the biggest bang for our training buck.

Sadly, appropriate methodology is hardly ever considered when training is bought by HR or line in this country. Perhaps it is a function of the cynicism of training buyers that they simply couldn’t be bothered with worrying whether anyone will actually learn form the training being bought. Buying training has become commoditised – like buying toilet paper (especially ‘soft’ training). So, training tends to be bought purely on the basis of price, or the attractiveness of the vendor, or ‘what we‘ve always done’.

There is an alternative. Staff at the lowest levels can be taught business theory, develop a passion for business, see the relevance of their training, and implement training’s outcomes in a value-adding way.

Editor's note:
See a summary of the research results by Dr Gillian Godsell, Wits Business School and the NPI.
Also read Education (as opposed to training), for productivity?by Andrew Hofmeyr.

Andrew Hofmeyr (BA, HDE (PG), BEd. Med, MBA) lectured in educational theory at the Johannesburg College of Education and the University of the Witwatersrand from 1977 to 1992. During that time he studied research methodology and educational technology on an international fellowship at the University of Surrey, UK. He is a founder member of Business Education Design, whose training programmes are used by leading corporations and business schools in South Africa and theUSA. He can be contacted at and at the Business Education Design website www.bused.co.za.

Short description
Most training is not delivering adequate returns for the investment made, because of misconceptions in perceived relevance and training methodology.

Keywords and relevant phrases
Business theory, development, investment, learning challenges, methodology, perceived relevance, skills, talent, training, training policy.

Back to ... Workinfo.com Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 7, 2007

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