What shall we do about training, HR departments and line staff?

Do you really need that three-day training course in London, asks Julian Roche.

Reading time: 4m 30s.

Training in organisations is a good example of the gulf between theory and practice.

In theory, HR departments, or in larger organisations, specialist training managers and departments, should conduct regular, sophisticated training needs analysis based on the changing strategic and operational requirements of the organisation compared to the knowledge and skills base of an evolving workforce, taking recruitment, retirement and retention all into account.

The result should be a workforce that at all times has the necessary capabilities to fulfil all the functions it is required to undertake, together, perhaps, with some spare capacity in the event of sudden additional requirements.

In practice, all too often, training is a bearpit – an opportunity for conflict, controversy and a clash of competing cultures, both within organisations and between them.

The costs, benefits and overall value-for-money of the training, including such issues as delivery method, training provider, group or individual training, feedback mechanisms and any devolution of responsibility to the individual or line management, all properly benchmarked and continually assessed.

In practice, all too often, training is a bearpit – an opportunity for conflict, controversy and a clash of competing cultures, both within organisations and between them. The main problem still lies in a frequently top-down approach to training which still persists within organisations.

It is true that, on occasion, individual staff members may choose to attend training courses for reasons unconnected with their existing or likely future roles within the organisation – often because they are skill-building for a career move, but sometimes out of curiosity, or even for more nefarious reasons such as desire for foreign travel or even to get out of the workplace for a few days or longer.

But this is extremely rare: for the most part, empowered individuals choose training courses they need. Individual employees, and then their team leaders in line management, are therefore the right place to start for training requirements – they need more than just ‘input’ into training requirements, they should drive training requirements.

HR and training departments should therefore provide them with regular opportunities to study as comprehensive yet easy to navigate overview of what is on offer, so they can make suggestions for themselves to be decided upon in the context of an overall training budget and strategic organisational priorities, of which the HR and training departments obviously need to be fully aware. 


Unfortunately, HR departments and training departments, admittedly sometimes under pressure to meet CPD requirements, frequently do not have the necessary highly specialised skills required to identify specific courses of use to particular individuals. 

Seeking a leading role in the process, they still persist in ordering individuals onto courses that they do not need, either because they already know the material to be delivered, or because the material is not and will never be relevant to their work.

It is a problem which accelerates as the overall level of expertise within the organisation increases.

This can happen when employees are enrolled on open courses, in one memorable case for example two dozen people from several organisations were ordered onto an introductory course despite each having an average of more than three years’ experience in the field, simply because it happened to be the only course on the subject available in London during the year

In another case in the Far East a further two dozen experienced employees ended up unnecessarily enrolled on simply because the brochure mentioned ‘cutting edge techniques’.

But the tendency is far more prevalent when in-house courses occur – training departments sometimes operate under the delusion that they are extracting more value-for-money from training the more people they send on the course.

The result can be that the trainer, confronted with both experts and neophytes on the same course, either ends up lurching from simplicity to complexity in the same presentation, or steering a mundane middle course, either way pleasing no one and very probably not delivering a satisfactory result. 

A further problem is that the administration of a training course is front-loaded within an organisation. That is, the ‘output’ is defined as the course itself, instead of the learning that it is aimed at delivering.

In some cases, notably where the organisation is based in a location where a trip to London, for example, is a highly sought-after, training is regarded as a reward for performance, not a stimulus to it.

Provided the delegates give good feedback on the course – and out of courtesy they frequently do – the training or HR department is satisfied, whilst the exasperated line manager may not believe much has been achieved at all.


The solution lies in feedback delivered much later, by the attendees themselves and by their managers: did the training improve organisational performance, and if so how and by how much? Addressing these problems together can help shape the training function within the organisation as one that is largely reactive to individual needs, as well as proactive in anticipating training that will meet future needs.

The one potential objection to this approach is that conceivably, a misalignment of incentives will result in both line management and individuals concerting their efforts to obtain inappropriate training – that week in London problem again.

The solution to this lies in the final, additional function of the HR and training department, which might be described as internal audit. For that, if for that alone, experienced and knowledgeable training managers are required, well able to sift through requests to determine genuine needs and likely value-for-money.

If line managers and employees feel empowered, yet still retain a healthy respect for the intellectual calibre and professional knowledge of training managers and HR staff, all is likely to go well. If not…


About the author

Julian Roche is course director at Redcliffe Training 



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