How to Know When Your Employees Need Training

Employee training has some big problems.

It's a big expense. There's the cost of hiring a trainer and developing the materials. You have to pay employees to attend. Many companies have to run overtime to backfill shifts while staff attends a class.

That investment might be worthwhile if the training worked. It often doesn't.

There are many reasons why training doesn't stick. Managers are often too busy to prepare employees for training or coach them through implementing new skills afterwards. The training itself may be poorly designed. Or employees may not be fully bought in.

Training is also overprescribed. 

There are many situations where another solution is more appropriate. My own analysis suggests that training only accounts for one percent of customer service employees' performance.

The best solution to all of this is to train employees when they need to be trained and not train them when training isn't an appropriate solution.

Here's how to know.

The Three Issues Training Can Fix

Training can only fix three types of issues:

  • Knowledge: the employee lacks sufficient knowledge.

  • Skill: the employee lacks sufficient skill.

  • Ability: the employee lacks sufficient ability.

So the only time that training is an effective solution is when employees have gaps in one or more of these areas. 

Some people ask me about the distinction between skill and ability. Skill is the technique involved while ability is a combination of natural talent and skill.

Imagine a warehouse worker lifting products onto a shelf. Skill is the technique the worker uses to lift products safely. Ability is how much the worker can actually lift. The worker can lift heavier weights through training, though there's a limit to how high that weight can go due to the worker's natural ability. 

Here are some issues that can't be fixed by training:

  • Lack of standard procedure or process

  • Poor policies

  • Broken procedures

  • Insufficient equipment

  • Poor attitude


Test Your Knowledge

Here are three training requests I have actually received. Read each request and determine whether you think training might be an appropriate solution. The answers are in the video below.

Scenario 1: A small department is having a hard time working together because two senior employees create an uncomfortable work environment. Will team building training fix the problem?

Scenario 2: Employees don’t know how to use the organization’s new computer system. Will computer training fix the problem?

Scenario 3: Employees can’t keep up with their workload due to a staffing shortage. Will time management training fix the problem?

Watch this short training video to learn the answers. You'll get to see a group of people from a live train-the-trainer class discussing each scenario before I finally reveal the answers.

More Resources

The short video was from my online course, How to Design and Deliver Training Programs. The course is available on and LinkedIn Learning. You can get a 30-day Lynda trial here.

You may also want to explore alternatives to training. Here's a handy seven-step action plan.

Finally, check out one of the classic training books, Telling Ain't Trainingby Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps. This book has been one of my go-to resources for many years.

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