What Is Training Good For, and What It's Not Good For, by Robert Bacal

Editor's Note: One reason training gets a bad rap in business is that it's often misused. Training is good at solving some business problems, and useless or worse at addressing other business problems. In this article, we outline the functions of training, and when training is not going to address the problems at hand.

There are good reasons to mandate training and development in your organization, and there are bad reasons for mandating training. There are ALSO good reasons for NOT training, in some circumstances, and bad reasons to refuse. Knowing what training can and cannot accomplish enables you to make the right decisions at the right time, ensuring that your limited training dollars are used effectively.

The Chaotic Work World

If our work worlds were stable, and un-changing, we might not need to worry too much about training. We might still do it to provide employee development but it would be less critical to our organization's success.

It ain't so. All you need to do is look around at your own organization, and what you are likely to see is significant changes that have occurred during the last year. You may have lived through down-sizing, re-structuring, changed mandates, increased workloads, flattening of management structure, and a host of other changes. It is not likely that these changes will cease in the future, and we may be looking at changed political imperatives that will result in movement towards Special Operating Agencies, and making government more entrepreneurial.

You know all this. Change has accelerated to the point where some organizations are in chaos, and most are at least staggered. What all this means is that as our work worlds change, new skills, knowledge and concepts are needed to achieve our corporate goals. And, our personal goals. Just to stay even, and just to keep our sanity.

Since change is occurring at such a rapid rate, while we may have taken our jobs at a time when we were fully qualified, we may now have gaps in our knowledge. At a management level, the skills needed to manage a flat organization, a Total Quality Management organization, or a Special Operating Agency are different than those we have. At an employee level, it is no different. Technology changes, or changes in the way organizations are managed, or even increased workloads change the actual JOBS in an organization, and change them in such away that new skills and abilities are needed so that new expectations can be met.

What Training Can Do

Training CAN accomplish many things. It can help people learn the new skills that are required to meet new expectations, both formal and informal. For example, a support staff person may have been hired originally for his/her ability to type, to answer the phone and file. But now, with increased workloads, we want that person to be able to do much more...perhaps to solve client problems, to use desktop publishing processes, to handle more of the day-to-day issues, so we can use our time more effectively. Training can help people accept the challenge of their evolving jobs.

Training can also help to:

. build a common understanding of the organization's purpose.

. show management's commitment and loyalty to employees

. develop people so they can increase their responsibilities and contribute to the organization in new ways.

What Training Cannot Do

There are many things that training can't do. Training, on its own, cannot change ineffective employees into effective ones. It is unlikely to address ALL the causes of poor performance. Limited training also will not turn a poor supervisor or manager into an effective one, unless it is coupled with ongoing coaching from above.

Training will not erase problems that occur as a result of poor structuring of work, mismatching of work with the person, unclear authorities and responsibilities or other organizationally related issues.

Training As A Tool

The best way of thinking about training is to think of it as a management tool, much like a carpenter's tool. Just like a carpenter picks the hammer and not a screwdriver to pound a nail, the manager should be choosing training because it is the RIGHT tool for the job.

Also, to continue the analogy, if the supporting structure (the wood) is rotted, only the foolish carpenter would attempt to pound the nail into the wood, and expect it to help. It is the same with the manager. If a manager expects things to improve as a result of training, he or she needs to ensure that the supports are there for the use of the tool, and that there are no other non-training related problems hanging about.

To conclude, training can be a valuable tool for the organization and the manager, provided it is the RIGHT tool to solve the problem or address the identified issues. Even then, there must be supports in the organization so the training can be effective. Other articles in this edition discuss some of these supports.

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Bacal & Associates is a small training, consulting and publishing company specializing in customer service, communication, performance management, and other management challenges.

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