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Aiming the Arrow at the Target

Business results are down, sales are in decline, errors are creeping into production, profits are in decline, margins are in a freefall, and things just aren’t being done as effectively and efficiently as before.  For many business leaders, that is the time when they reach for their trusted “go-to” reaction and decide to heap training upon their organization.  All it will take is some good old-fashioned remedial instruction to realign people’s efforts and get things back to expected levels of performance.

Unfortunately, that is not always appropriate and may not provide the organization (or the boss) with what is the expected outcome.  Before engaging in the “knee-jerk” reaction of foisting training upon direct reports, it is necessary to better understand whether employees really NEED to be trained at all.  In certain instances, the issues preventing success may be beyond the reach of trainers and training to impact.

Start with the KSAs

Training and trainers are capable of impacting the following:

  • Knowledge – do employees KNOW what to do, why to do it, and understand their role/importance of what they do to the entire organization’s functioning and success.
  • Skills – do job incumbents have the capability to DO the job (they kow what comes first, what to do next, how to recognize what needs to be done, have the manual dexterity, mental acuity, etc. required to successfully complete the job’s tasks).
  • Abilities – do employees have the capacity to integrate the work tasks into their performance completely, correctly, appropriately, timely, etc.

If the job not being performed correctly cannot be addressed through improving the above three things, it is not a training issue.  It may be addressed through changing compensation, incentives, or evaluation systems.  Potentially it may be improved through better resource availability (employees can be trained to use software, but if they do not have computers on their desks, it won’t change performance) or through different reporting relationships (supporting different functions or departments, etc.).

Training is best applied to situations where there is potential to close a gap between current KSA levels and those needed to meet existing or future business needs. To do that, the company must first understand the current KSA level before determining whether training is appropriate, and if so; what that training is to contain.

Before training employees, be sure you know what needs to be trained.

How to Uncover a KSA Need

There are a few ways that one can truly determine the current status of KSAs within the organization.  The following are among the most commonly used ways.

Observations – simply watching or observing how someone does the task and identifying if it is being done correctly, according to standards, what difficulties emerge in the completion of the job, etc.  The positives of this approach is that it is an “objective” view of performance.  It is not dependent on one’s memory or perceptions.  It is the actual performance.  On the other hand, if the employee is aware that it s/he is being observed – it may lead to a change in behavior (the so-called Hawthorne Effect).

Interviews – asking people to reflect and share on what they believe, perceive, observe, etc.  The positives are that it is not especially expensive, can be done reasonably quickly (as compared to observation).  However, there are decisions to be made (who to interview?  The job-holder, the boss, the subordinate, the peers/co-workers, the customers, etc.?).  It is also dependent on people accurately reflecting reality and not just feeding the interviewer what they want to hear.

Survey – having people complete either an online or paper-based surveys and having them respond to prompted questions about their performance can be quickly administered and very inexpensively scored and measured.  The same concerns that exist for interviews apply here as well – with the additional hindrance of inabilities to read body language, ask follow-up questions, confirm understanding.

Test/Role Play/Simulations/Gaming/Case Study – employees can be assessed by putting them into situations and then analyzing their performance.  Similar to observations, these approaches allow for behavior to be seen “as it would occur” (assuming it is a well designed activity).  This approach does allow for controlling variables so that the behavior to be measured can be isolated and extraneous factors are limited or eliminated.  However, these approaches can be expensive to create in a way that is realistic in some situations or may be subject to influences beyond those that are intended.

Training may be the right answer to performance issues within companies.  However, for it to be effective, it should be targeted to the specific behaviors it is meant to impact or influence.

David Zahn