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Comfortable? You're Probably Not Learning!

If you have tried some training in your business, especially soft skills training such as communication, teamwork and personal development, you already know that it does not “work,” meaning that it’s really hard to justify investing in them. Here’s my compilation of the most severe training mistakes businesses make in applying business training, either to themselves or their people.

9. Avoiding a Return On Analysis on the Training Programs You Invest In.

Buying intangible stuff, like training programs, is hard to cost-justify, for a good reason. It’s hard to know whether the investment made in a training program turned out to be a good one. With the hard stuff we buy, computers for instance, there is some comfort in knowing that even if the purchase did not work out as expected, we at least have the physical possession of the goods. We can get someone to fix it. In the worst case scenario, we can give it away or use it as a door-stop.

Not so with training. If it does not “work,” you lose all of your investment, with nothing to show for it. Worse, there may be other intangible losses to bear, such as reputation, credibility and that promotion you were shooting for, simply because investing in training is considered a risky business to begin with. When buying tangible stuff, we can allow ourselves to get away with a relatively smaller return on investment, say 20%. But buying training, especially soft skills training, is a different matter altogether.

There is good news though. There is so much inefficiency locked up in human behavior that it’s relatively easy to look for and find situations and scenarios where you would get at least, and I say at least, 3 times the return on investment. If you hire out your training, a competent training company should be able to help you create a program where such an ROI is the target.

If they say it can’t be done, don’t hire them. I say this with confidence because the only clients I accept are those where we expect 3 to 5 times the ROI, minimum. If it’s not feasible to create such a scenario, I turn down the business. In most cases, we can find scenarios where a high ROI is not only possible but logical, even common sense.

10. Viewing Training as a Commodity.

What’s a commodity? It’s a product or service that is identical in its features regardless of who you buy it from. In other words, it’s something that you can comparison shop from multiple sources because the only thing that’s different in getting it from different sources is its price.

Some business people pride themselves in being great bargain hunters. They take three bids and get the bidders to fight amongst each other so they can get the lowest price possible. This may be a good strategy when buying certain products and services but not with training services, which in most cases is a not a commodity. Office supplies? Yes. Building materials? Possibly. Training services? No.

To avoid viewing training as a commodity, you must tie training to actual, measurable improvement in the behavior of the people being trained and the results they produce.

“How do you ensure that training will produce a sustained change in behavior?”

“How do you translate the results of your training to the financial results of the organization?”

“How do you make sure that these results are validated in tangible, measurable terms?”

When training is bought as a commodity, you miss an important opportunity to ask these questions, first to yourself and then to the people who would be delivering the training.

11. Expecting Training to be Easy and Comfortable.

Most mainstream training institutions go way out of their way to make their students as comfortable as possible. No wonder they have to serve so much coffee in their training rooms!

Have you ever played a sport? Were you comfortable when you played it? Most likely not. Even if you were playing a board game, you probably were not very comfortable, as sitting up sometimes causes minor aches and pains. But if the game was really good, if it really absorbed you, you wouldn’t notice the discomfort as the joy of playing the game far exceeded the physical discomfort that came from playing it. Good training programs are like a good game. They engage you, grab you, absorb you and immerse you. And when the training session is over, the participants are a bit disappointed that it’s over.

Children don’t feel threatened by learning because they don’t have much to “give up”. In most learning experiences for the adults, they have to give up something that they thought they knew so that real learning can take place. That’s why, effective learning will inherently include some discomfort.

When training organizers work hard to provide a physical environment that’s comfortable and non-threatening, it’s an indication to me that their training is going to be boring, uninspiring and un-engaging that no amount of caffeine can overcome. Nowadays, if people serve me coffee when I attend a training session, I get concerned that I am about to get powerpointed, lectured or talked down to. That’s when I get the seat right next to the door so that I can sneak out if I have to.

In most workshops I conduct, I make it a point not to serve coffee unless the participants ask for it. And if they do ask for it, it’s an indication to me that perhaps I need to change something in their learning experience.

At Awayre, before recommending any training, we assess your people, your processes and their effectiveness in helping you get the results you desire. We also audit and assess your existing people development and process improvement programs to determine if they are helping you achieve your business objectives. Find out more at http://www.awayre.com. If you have questions or comments, please send them to me at bhavesh@ambica.net.

Here’s the full list of training mistakes that I have covered in this and past articles. I have also been compiling these seperate articles into a small report (or a big article). Shoot me an email at bhavesh@ambica.net and let me know if you would like to receive it and I will email it to you. 

1. Failure to Commit to a Single Philosophy or Methodology.

2. Thinking “Training is for My People, Not for Me.” Or “I am ‘Above’ Training; It’s for My People.”

3. View the Trainer as Subservient to You.

4. Training is Conducted to Fix Hiring Mistakes.

5. Wrong Training is Delivered to Wrong People.

6. Putting an Underperformer in Training and Hoping that She will Outperform Your Top Producer.

7. Expecting a “Graduation Date” for Your Training Efforts: Certificate Mentality Versus Learning Mentality.

8. Putting All Your Money in Technical or Skills Training Versus Human Side of Training.

9. Ignoring Doing a Return On Analysis on the Training Program You Invest In.

10. Viewing Training as a Commodity.

11. Expecting Training to be Easy and Comfortable


7 Beliefs that Keep Us Dumb, Numb and Stuck

Whether we attend a formal training program or receive on-the-job training, I believe the following seven underlying beliefs make us ineffective learners, especially in business.

1. Learning is an Intellectual Process

When did we learn the most? That’s right, when we were a little child; when our cognitive, intellectual brain was not yet fully formed. But as we get older, we begin to form opinions about things. We begin to reject more of the stuff that enters the mind. Intelligence becomes a filter through which we let ourselves get influenced by some things but reject the rest. Now for the most part, that’s a good thing. But when it comes to learning, it’s not.

The fact is, when we are intellectually engaged, we are not learning. When we are engaged intellectually - for example, in a speech or a book – when a part of our brain is analyzing the material and comparing it to everything else we know – we are actually filtering. We are validating what we already know. We are not changing. We are not letting ourselves get influenced. True Learning happens when we set aside, even if temporarily, our biases, our prejudices and our opinions. Otherwise, we are just finding supporting information to validate what we already know. And that’s not learning.

True learning is a series of “aha!” moments. When an “aha!” moment occurs, a part of us changes forever and the mind never goes back to its previous state.

New Belief: Learning is an intuitive process. It’s tapping into that faculty of us that breaks through the stuff that we think we have figured out.

2. “Getting Certified” is Mastering It

Most certifications are intellectually driven. Meaning that they are designed to get you to the point where you can “pass the test.” Nothing wrong with that. The only problem, though, is that you have gone only one-fourth of the way to mastering what you are learning. True learning takes you from head to heart, from heart to gut and from gut to actions.

The certification training works great in the academic world. Unfortunately, academics by itself can’t change your behavior or the behavior of the people in your business. If behavior does not change, your results won’t change.

In fact, I believe that the mastery of a new level of behavior and new level of results does not happen during training. It happens after the training, in the real world, applying the stuff that was taught in the class. A test is logical, step-by-step and ideological. There a “right” or a “wrong” answer; there is pass or fail. Real world is not so pretty. Real world is often messy, unpredictable and inconsistent.

That’s why, mastery requires that we not only cognitively understand the material but can also apply it artfully and skillfully in the real world.

New Belief:
I have mastered a new skill, concept or principle only when my behaviors and actions change to get a new level of results.

3. Being Smart is Good For Learning

What does it mean to be “smart?” Here are some definitions of smartness that make us ineffective at learning:

- Knowing a lot of stuff. More stuff on the top of the stuff we already know.

- Asking a lot of questions to the teacher or being a cynic.

- Having opinions and a convincing argument for everything

Have you heard the saying “you can’t teach anything to the guy (or gal) who knows everything?”

There is nothing wrong with being smart as it helps us function in the world. But when it comes to learning, being “smart” can actually get in the way.

Learning does require us to accept that there is something that we don’t know. That there is someone who knows more about a particular subject than I do.

To be effective at learning, we need to be humble, not smart.

New Belief: We have to be humble to be effective at learning.

4. High “Self-Esteem” Makes Us Good Students

Healthy self-esteem, self-concept or self-image is necessary to function in life. But when a part of our self-concept is “I Already Know That,” it does not allow us to open our mind to allow new knowledge to come in. This means that while we are learning, we must get our self-image out of the way before we can truly learn.

New Belief: We must be willing to drop our self-image before we can truly learn.

5. Learning is Something to Strive For

Often, we think that we we have to “push” our brain to learn, like pushing ourselves in the gym to lift that extra pound of weight or run that extra mile. While there is a place for such things in developing our brains, it’s not true learning.

You don’t have to work hard to learn. In fact, if you are trying too hard, you are blocking learning. Learning is natural to us humans. Growth is our basic nature. Have you seen a tree strive to grow? Have you seen a flower work really hard to blossom?

New Belief: We must be willing to let go in order to learn.

6. Learning is Something to Do

Often, we associate learning with taking a lot of classes or reading a lot of books. Such things can trigger learning, but just because we do these things, does not mean we are learning. There does not have to be an external source that “teaches” us. Learning comes from within. The source of learning is already within us. We just need a stimulus from outside.

New Belief: Learning is something that happens to you when you open yourself up to it.

7. The Ultimate Goal of Learning is to Know Everything

The true and ultimate goal of learning is to get to the point where we realize how little we really know. Intellectually, it’s impossible to know it all. Intellect has it’s limitations. When wanting to know everything stops, wisdom dawns. When we realize the limitations of our intellect, we begin to tap into other faculties of our existence, such as intuition.

New Belief: The ultimate goal of learning is to get to the point where we realize that we really don’t know anything.

Role Models?

I can almost hear you saying, But I don’t know anyone who does not have these beliefs! Would you agree that a 5-year old perfectly fits the seven criteria described above? It’s simple really. All you have to do to be an effective learner is to be a child again.

Experience It?

Want to experience true learning? Join us at our next 360 Business Club “business workout session” where you get to practice business-building with like-minded business leaders. Or join our online meetup group.


Training Does Not Work

This is my compilation of 11 of the most severe mistakes businesses make in training their people. 

4. Training is Conducted to Fix Hiring Mistakes

We hire someone because she looks great on the resume and interviews well. But later, we find out that she is not what she seemed to be. We thought we were hiring a star, but we got a dud!

And here’s the mistake we often make: we decide to give her some training to “fix” her weaknesses and turn her into a star that we thought she was. 

In most cases, I would guarantee that you will be disappointed with the results of such training. You see, there are things that often do not show on the resume or in the interview: talent, behavioral traits, emotional predisposition, intellectual leanings and other intangible qualities. A few of these things could be “trained into” people; for the most part it can’t be done. These traits already need to be there, for the given situation, position and job function. 

If a coach is looking for a great tennis player, he would first find someone with a raw talent first and then give her coaching and training. Imagine trying to train someone with no natural talent at playing tennis. That’s what we do when we send the wrong hire to the training program.
And sometimes we make the same mistake with people who have been with us for a while but need to perform better than they have been performing. Which brings me to…

5. Wrong Training is Delivered to Wrong Peopl

Before investing in training, we need to make sure that we have the right people in the right slots, doing the right things. Once that’s in place, giving them appropriate training could take them from mediocre performance to great performance.

There are also those that have become comfortable in their roles and are at a point where they are not willing to change. In such cases, “management mandate” can overcome the lack of will to show up at the training class but won’t convert a non-learner into a learner.

They will give the training lip-service and later claim that it did not work, just as they said it would not. 

6. Putting an Under-Performer in Training and Hoping that He will Outperform Your Top Producer

While this can certainly happen, expecting it to happen is a mistake. Many things have to be in place before training actually results in learning and ultimately a change in behavior. A better strategy is to hire (or find from another department) a better candidate in the first place and then giving them some training. 

One solution to all of the above mistakes is to make sure that you have the right raw talent with the right intangible qualities doing the right things in the first place. Some of the leaders have the talent to spot the such talent. But most don’t. How do you know if you, as a leader, have such a telent? look at the folks you have hired and placed in the past. How did they work out? Be honest with yourself, now. 

If you find out that you don’t have the talent to find and place the right people in your organization, don’t despair. Most leaders don’t. In such case, you need to seek outside help. It’s part of what we do at AMBICA Training. 

Here’s the full list of training mistakes, those that we covered in the past and those that we will soon cover. 

4. Training is Conducted to Fix Hiring Mistakes.

5. Wrong Training is Delivered to Wrong People.

6. Putting an Underperformer in Training and Hoping that She will Outperform Your Top Producer.

7. Expecting a “Graduation Date” for Your Training Efforts: Certificate Mentality Versus Learning Mentality.

8. Putting All Your Money in Technical or Skills Training Versus Human Side of Training.

9. Ignoring Doing a Return On Analysis on the Training Program You Invest In.

10. Viewing Training as a Commodity.

11. Expecting Training to be Easy and Comfortable