Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Business of Training: Is the Customer Always Right?

The Big Picture

There is a difference between a Systems Approach to Training and a Systematic Approach to Training.

In a systems approach to training, training is one of the functions that support a business at an “organizational level” (1).  Training supplies a product of use to the overall system (the business).  For example: A means of communication company policies, documentation that an employee has been trained to meet a regulatory requirement, enhancing the company brand, or fixing a performance problem.  Graphically it could look something like:

A systematic approach to training concentrates at the “job/performer” level; (1) it focuses on how best to help humans learn with the end goal of creating a performance potential.   Or, the application of instructional systems design. (Refer to my first post).  Graphically it could look like:

When Worlds Collide

There will be times when Training as part of the business system and the known good practices of Instructional Design will conflict.  You’ll know it when the hair on the back of your neck try stand up so quickly they may just fly off and you just want to smack some sense into someone. Following are a few I have encountered.

Situation: Training as a panacea.  Using training to fix a performance problem that it can’t fix. 

Example:  Performance Concern: Supervisors need to spend more time in the field.  Non-solution; send the supervisors to leadership training and tell them to spend more time in the field.

Business advantage:  Implementable, track able and auditable.  Yep we did something.

Why not to do it: Training can impart knowledge, skills and attitudes but it will not fix a work load problem. If a manager does not change the working environment to allow a supervisor to spend more time in the field, the odds are the situation will not change no matter how many times you train them that is a good practice. 


Situation: Authoritative body makes decisions regarding: implementation, content, or instructional methods against what the analysis shows (read personally or politically motivated).   

Example: One size fits all training; sending employees to training that doesn’t apply to them.

Business advantage:  Appeases some political body.  Offered as a bone to achieve some other agenda.

Why not to do it: It goes against the adult learning principle of “Adults become ready to learn when they experience in their life situation a need to know or be able to do in order to perform more effectively and satisfyingly.” (2)   It is a waste of resources.


Situation: Authoritative body makes design decisions based on business needs not good learning principles. 

Example: Mandating a standard template with branding.

Business advantage: A means to advertise your product, facility, or company.

Why not to do it: It goes against the instructional message design principle of “coherence”; where extraneous visuals, words, and sounds should be omitted. (3)  It prohibits creativity in the design process. It prohibits matching a theme with the content. Can reduce or inhibit learning.

Ok enough of the examples.  I think you have either lived it or get the point.

What’s an Instructional Designer to Do?

I would like to offer three suggestions that you may find useful.

First, if you have the time and resources, build a before (the way they want it) and after versions (the one applying good instructional design principles) and present them to the powers that be.

Second, appeal to authority.  Provide, in a kind and gentle manner, the principles, facts and research findings from authoritative sources that support how an alternative method would aid learning or provide better results.  Present results from an analysis.

Third, take your case to the next higher authority in the management chain.  I think all of know of the inherent dangers of doing this.  But, it is an option.

Lastly, as the sage says, “Don’t Push the River”.  That is: yield to the natural order of the environment you are in, use your energy wisely, and rest with intention.   And, don’t forget who pays the bills.  Since knowledge is power; being able to relate your training situation to the “training systems function” may empower you to persevere.

Your Turn

Your comments, candid and kind, will be appreciated.  It would be great if you could share other solutions that have worked for you when a conflict has occurred.  And, please take time to answer the polling question.

Best regards,



1.   Rummler, G. & Brache, A. (1995). Improving Performance, How to manage
    the white Space on the organization chart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

2.   Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Cambridge Press.

3.   Colvin Clark, Ruth & Mayer R. E. (2008) e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Second Edition. Pfeiffer.  San Francisco, California.


  1. how about training as punishment? All very frustrating. It helps sometimes to internally market myself as a consultant (who are paid to give advice, not to make sure the advice is followed). Also, sometmes level 3 evaluations help.

    1. Thanks for your insights. Control the things you can.. your attitude. I see a lot of peace and freedom in you consultant perspective.

  2. Good article. I could relate to the situations noted.
    Keep up the good work, Chris!

    1. I like your post, especially the contrast between a systems approach and the Dick and Carey model. I also enjoyed your recommendations.

  3. Great post CJ:

    Added your site to my Favs :)