Though there are many articles on how to measure the effectiveness of training, and though a few will offer statistics that prove its value, few articles question the efficacy of skills-based training in the first place. In fact, the assumption seems to be that training is always good for employees and their companies.

The truth is training isn’t a panacea, and being aware of how and when we can deploy it not only makes training more effective; it also avoids asking training to do more than it’s designed for.

The Job of Training

Why do we expect training to solve all corporate challenges? Skills-based training provides skills and techniques to aid in specific situations. Move too far from that original intention, and it becomes less effective — which is the best-case scenario. Failing to see when the tool doesn’t fit the task is eloquently summed up in the old adage, “If the only tool we have is a hammer, than every problem we come across is a nail.”

The point here is that skills-based training is good at what it does, but, like everything, it has its limits. Think about it: Can a leader really learn how to lead from a leadership course? Can an armful of tools on culture change help someone implement a culture change? Can a leadership team create forward-thinking strategies by learning leadership tools, models and techniques?

A Tool or a Way of Thinking?

What those challenges have in common is that their success depends on a person’s ability to flex his or her thinking. Take developing strategy as an example: If future strategies follow the same model as past strategies, then the business limits itself. If leaders simply follow leadership models, they limit their ability to respond to situations outside the remit of those models. Successful culture change requires the ability to visualize a future state and then navigate the nuances of a business to make it a reality.

In other words, the success of those endeavors depend not on a tool or technique but on a way of thinking.

Creating Change

That statement probably doesn’t come as a surprise, because before any successful change — before a person can quit smoking, before a culture transforms, before a leadership team galvanizes around a new strategic direction — a shift in thinking happens first.

That shift begins with curiosity about what’s possible, it grows with a willingness to push our thinking beyond the obvious and it embeds itself as we design new ways of working informed by that shift in thinking.

Beyond Training: The Mindset Zone

Here is where we run into the limits of training again, because that way of thinking can’t be taught. The way we think is the product of how we see the world, so helping someone flex and adapt their thinking, if they’re not used to it, falls into a realm beyond training. Welcome to the mindset zone.

Mindset development doesn’t offer skills, models or techniques, because a flexible mindset can create the tools it needs for the job at hand. And, because mindset development is concerned with how people think — what drives them to behave the way they do — it does more than offer a salve to a challenge. It also addresses why the challenge exists in the first place.

A Mindset Development Approach

Let’s take a situation that organizations might typically address with skills-based training: poor communication. Traditionally, a company may offer communication skills training, perhaps a better meetings course or even a personality profile to help people understand each other’s communication styles.

What might a mindset development approach do in that situation? It would begin by asking a question: Why does the communication challenge exist? If people can speak and write, then communication isn’t the problem; the problem is why they don’t use the skills they already learned. Or, perhaps a lack of trust is the issue. Again, the mindset development approach would ask what’s driving the mindset that colleagues in the business are untrustworthy.

Mindset development helps you reach different outcomes, because it starts in a different place. It doesn’t look at the symptoms and prescribe a course. Instead, it looks for the drivers of behavior, sees them as a reflection of a way thinking and then seeks to shift the thinking.

Shift the thinking, and everything shifts.

The Gift of Mindset Development

When we shift the way we think, we automatically behave differently. We can now solve our own challenges, because shifting the way we think about something opens new possibilities. It’s like arriving in a foreign city for the first time: Things you never knew were possible are now available to you — but they were always possible; you just needed to take a trip to experience them.

The gift of mindset development work is that it offers participants an excursion into a different view. It challenges and highlights the limits of current ways of thinking; it pulls at the curtain of what might be possible. Unlike training, mindset development takes a fluid approach. We don’t all think the same, so how can we all shift our thinking in the same way?

For some, exploring a different way of thinking might be a complete change in direction. For others, it will be a welcome transition. Either way, if we’re willing to take that leap, mindset development has another gift to give: Growing our own thinking helps us shift the thinking of the people around us. Each shift in mindset creates the opportunity for others to think differently, too.

Who knows where that might lead?