The solution to workplace training challenges might seem simple – an employee is struggling, so they need more training. Easy, right?

Jackie has been shown so many times and still doesn’t get it! She needs some training.

Anahera is just not motivated anymore! She needs some training.

Aziz doesn’t have the necessary skills! He needs some training.

It is common for managers and organisations to assume that poor performance is directly linked to a lack of knowledge or skills. “Everything can be fixed by training!” they declare, and immediately schedule the worker for a full day training session next Tuesday. But finding the true cause of workplace training issues is more of a challenge than that.

A performance problem is the difference between ideal performance and actual performance, known as a performance gap. There are a variety of causes for such gaps, and the true cause is not always apparent. Even then, the apparent cause may not necessarily be the real issue.

Examples of workplace training challenges

Jackie has been shown by her boss several times how to fill out a Health & Safety Incident report but has just filed another incomplete report. “Oh, for goodness sake,” their boss rages at her. “I’ll go over it – AGAIN!” Jackie has an undiagnosed literacy issue and finds it challenging to make sense of the complicated flow chart on the form.

The same boss notices that Anahera has been morose the last two weeks and doesn’t seem to care about her job anymore. “Stop being so miserable,” their boss rages at her. “I’ve booked you in for some motivation training next week.” A new male co-worker who started a fortnight ago has been bullying Anahera and telling racist and sexist jokes. Anahera is afraid to report the matter to the HR manager as the new co-worker is the HR manager’s cousin.

The boss also notices that Aziz is failing to file Incident Reports for some events. “You obviously don’t understand the new online e-filing system,” the boss says. “I’ve booked you a refresher session on Zoom with the H&S Manager.” Aziz knows how the system works, but is a new arrival to Aotearoa and comes from a culture and background that has a different perception of risk. He simply doesn’t identify what were common workplace practices back home as being H&S incidents.

Identifying training issues

It can be challenging to identify the root cause of performance gaps in the workplace. By undertaking a needs assessment you can discover the actual problem and then determine the most effective and efficient response – which may not be “more training”.

One question kicks off this process in the book Analysing Performance Problems by Mager and Pipe: Could the person do what was wanted if their life depended on it? 

If the answer is yes, then look for something other than training. If the answer is no, and skill deficiency is a valid concern, training could be required.