Six Rules of Training Every Manager Should Know

Only Managers2While working with one of our new clients last week, I found myself speaking with a manager about what you can and can’t expect from training. Our conversation revolved around the following rules of Bob Mager’s:

#1 – Training is appropriate only when two conditions are present: (1) there is something that one or more people don’t know how to do, and (2) they need to be able to do it.

Most managers we work with seem to know Rule #1 intuitively; the most common time I find myself pointing to this rule is when the timing for training isn’t quite right. People may not know how to perform a given task, but they also don’t necessarily need to do it right now. In that case, we often recommend a well-crafted job-aid or a simple eLearning module than can be called up when it’s needed.

#2 – If they already know how, more training won’t help.

There’s a sick joke in our industry, “If you hold a gun to someone’s head and you ask them to perform a task, and you find that they can do it, it’s not a training issue.” The joke is just a different way of stating Rule #2. I think the reason this joke exists (i.e., people tend to find it funny) is two-fold:

  1. it illustrates a fundamental truth about training requests (that they’re not always necessary);
  2. it’s a lot easier to point to training as a reason people aren’t doing what they’re “supposed” to do, than it is to examine deliberately the other environmental factors that effect performance.

Speaking of other environmental factors, let’s look at the next rule.

#3 – Skill alone is not enough to guarantee performance. Successful performance requires these four conditions: skill, an opportunity to perform, self-efficacy, and a supportive environment.

In conversations with our clients, I refer to Rule #3 more than any other. When we build a training program for you, we want it to “stick” just as much as you do. The most common SelfEfficacy2reason training doesn’t last is the environment into which trainees return, after training, is not supportive of what was taught.

In order to build or confirm that supportive environment, it takes only a little extra time and effort on the front ends of projects, but it pays off. When assessing the environment we look for several things:

  • Expectations and Feedback — Do the performers know and understand what they are expected to accomplish, under what conditions, and how well they are performing in relation to those expectations?
  • Tools and Resources — Do the performers have the tools they need? And the work processes to guide them? This may include expert consultants/colleagues, reference documentation, system access, and environmental variables such as heat, light, and other general human factors.
  • Consequences and Incentives — What are the intended and inadvertent consequences of behavior, both monetary and non-monetary? Are there negative consequences built into the work processes that punish doing the right thing (e.g., failure by other departments to fulfill orders)? What are the informal social consequences of performance — both positive or negative?

#4 – You can’t store training. If you don’t use it, you lose it. If learned skills are not exercised, they will deteriorate.

Again, this is seemingly intuitive. At the same time, we find that managers often mis-think this, or don’t plan for it, especially when they rollout training without adequate support for those who don’t use it right away. Job-aids and eLearning modules, along with structured on-the-job practice, can be great ways to help people refresh on skills they haven’t used in a whileSkillAlone2

#5 – Good trainers can guarantee skill, but they can’t guarantee on-the-job performance.

Training consultants and good trainers, more often than not, can prove that by the end of a training program people can perform certain skills, but they have little-to-no influence once those people return to the field. That brings us to Rule #6.

#6 – Only managers, not trainers, can be held accountable for on-the-job performance.

Trainers can get you skills and self-efficacy, but you the manager are in charge of the opportunity to perform and providing a supportive environment.

Original source: Mager, R. (1999) – What Every Manager Should Know About Training: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Money’s Worth From Training.



For professional assistance thinking through the stickiest of your workforce performance issues and/or designing and developing performance-based training, contact Peregrine today.


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