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Is Training the Answer to Performance Gaps?

Training is often requested as a quick fix for performance gaps. But is it really the answer?

If your business instinctually turns to L&D as its go-to answer, then your organization obviously recognizes the value of training and its impact on performance. But as much as we hesitate to admit it, sometimes training isn’t the answer.

We recommend a training needs analysis (TNA) that drives at these four basic questions to determine if training is indeed the answer:

1. How is the performance measured and communicated?

It’s important to first look at the expected performance and validate that the training and follow-up coaching aligns with the measurement. Misalignment in any of these components will result in mixed messages. A prime example may include coaching. Do the team members regularly see their performance data and receive coaching to know how they are performing against the standard and how to improve? The team member’s awareness of their performance is key and opens a dialog about what the team member needs to achieve the performance standard. Let’s face it, we pay attention to important, monitored responsibilities.

To help illustrate this, think of how you respond when you see a police officer when driving. You’re likely to monitor your speed and make a conscious effort to adhere to driving laws. Likewise, when team members know certain metrics are important and monitored, there is a natural tendency to self-monitor and focus on those metrics.

2. Who comprises the gap?

Dive into the demographics of the gap. Is this a team-wide gap, or a smaller pocket? Has everyone been trained? Assuming all received the same training, if there is a team-wide performance gap, there may need to be re-training on specific concepts or tools, additional coaching, or even a job aid to supplement the training. Training may be an answer but not the only answer.

If a smaller pocket comprises the gap, re-training is likely not the answer. Continue to dive further into the demographics to determine if there are commonalities. What is the tenure of the team members? If they are all newer team members, they may need a little more time and coaching to grasp the process. Or are they tenured team members, work the same shift, or report to the same supervisor? They might have a supervisor or team lead providing opposing direction.

3. When did the performance gap occur?

The timing of the gap can also provide vital information. For example, has the team member ever demonstrated proficiency in the skill or process? If they’ve never demonstrated proficiency, then they may have not ever grasped the concept. Look closer at what additional coaching they have received and whether they are capable of that performance.

Some team members may require more coaching to grasp the concept. Conversely, others may not be able to meet the performance expectations regardless of how much training and coaching they receive. Are they a good fit for the role?

4. Why is there a gap?

By asking the previous questions, you may have already discovered the reason(s) for the performance gap.

For example, by looking at the timing, you may have concluded factors such as system outages or a learning curve from implementing new processes or technology may have disrupted a pattern of past performance.

In the case of long or complicated processes, competing productivity goals and incentives may have motivated the team member to take shortcuts contributing to the gap. If the team member knows what to do and how to do it, training is not the answer. Coaching and accountability are more appropriate solutions.

As discussed, multiple factors could contribute to a performance gap. An effective solution addresses the root cause. Multiple root causes will result in multiple solutions. Here’s an arsenal of situational solutions for performance gaps:

  • Align training, coaching, and metrics to define clear expectations, provide support and motivation, and ensure accountability.
  • Training is an obvious answer when there is a lack of knowledge or skill, such as when they have not been trained, or substantial changes have occurred since their initial training.
  • Job aids and other resources are ideal compliments for lengthy or complicated concepts and to help remediate pockets of team members.
  • Additional practice, guidance, and coaching are key when they possess the proper knowledge but need additional resources and support to implement it.
  • Remedy conflicts with competing processes, incentives, or obstacles influencing the team member to deviate from performing or complying.
  • Evaluate the capability when training, resources, and support have been provided, and the team member is not able to demonstrate performance despite their best efforts.
  • Evaluate willingness and motivation when the team member has demonstrated proficiency through past performance, although their current performance is inconsistent or declining.

Delivering training that does not address a root cause is ineffective and results in little to no sustained performance improvement. It wastes time and money and risks your hard-earned L&D credibility. It’s worth the time to ask questions to ensure training is the right answer.

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