Thoughts On Why Some Training Doesn’t Work


Over the years I have crossed paths with some really good training professionals.  One is Ronn Lehmann.  Ronn worked with me several years ago to create the Blueprints for Safety® training and compliance series. Recently, I met up with him again and discussed the blog I started and asked him if he would contribute.  This post is from Ronn and my conversation.

First off, understand that Ronn and I are big fans of training.  Each of us has been training or designing training for well over 30 years, so obviously we think it has value!  But here’s a dirty secret:  a lot of training simply doesn’t work.

Why?  Well, for one thing, training isn’t always the right answer to performance problems.  That my seem like heresy, but consider this….  When faced with safety performance problems, an organization’s first response is often training.  But there are six reasons that people aren’t performing:

  1. They don’t know what to do
  2. They don’t know how to do it
  3. They don’t have the tools to do it
  4. They don’t want to do it
  5. They think they are doing it
  6. They don’t feel they have to do it

Training only really addresses Reason #2.  So the first step in making sure training is effective is to make sure that you’re addressing a “how” performance problem.  This is addressed in ANSI Z490.1, and makes it clear that if it isn’t a “how” problem you have to try something else.

Even when dealing with a “how” problem, training still may not work; at least as well as it could.  That’s because:

  1. The training doesn’t have immediate application
  2. The culture doesn’t support the application of the new mindsets, skill sets and tools sets
  3. Leadership doesn’t coach to and reinforce the new training
  4. Learning is considered less important than performance:  e.g., “We don’t have the tie for training….we have to do our ‘day jobs’”

You can improve your chances of getting the most out of training by following a few simple guidelines:

Know the true nature of the problem.  Once you identify the real reason (or reasons) that someone is not performing, you can better select a response.  And that may or may not be training.

Provide training that can be immediately applied to their work.  “Just in time” training is more effective; providing training weeks or months before or after a learner can use it is wasteful.  It’s like being trained to drive a car I January, but never getting behind the week to practice until November.

Make sure your culture supports learning.Your culture provides a lot of learning.  People learn by doing, watching and coaching, as much as through more formal training.  For training to be effective, your culture has to support the application of new learning beyond that of existing “tribal” knowledge.

Have Leaders Coach.  People will rarely apply new learning successfully if it is not supported by their immediate supervisor and other leaders.  Leaders must reinforce training by actively coaching their people when they return to the job.

Make learning everyone’s “day job”.  No one must ever be too busy for learning, especially about safety.  Three is never a best time for learning; but there is always a good time.  If learning is a priority for the organization, it must be demonstrated by providing employees with time, resources and support.  Learning must be seen not as an interruption in work, but a vital step in individual and organizational growth.

Ronn Lehmann specializes in helping top leaders in the construction industry (among others) deal with safety culture issues.  For more information from Ronn on Culture, Leadership and Training, check out