We all know that training is about developing skills and competencies. If an employee doesn’t know how to do something (or is at least not very good at doing something), he or she turns to training to fill the gap. This may be true, but it actually only addresses half of the picture. The other half is why: Why are we spending time and money developing these skills and competencies?

The short answer to that question is a competency model. You’ve evaluated the job in question, and you realize people need these competencies to perform well in that position; therefore, you are offering training as a solution. Again, it’s perfectly logical, but it’s still missing something.

That missing piece is workplace culture. Your organization has a culture, and that culture places a value on certain kinds of behavior. These behaviors are not limited to one job. They are system-wide, and they greatly impact the success of the organization. For example, I know of two global companies that compete in the same space, one of which has a culture of hoarding information. In meetings, when someone asks for information, everyone swivels his or her chair to avoid having to offer anything up. In the competing organization, however, the culture is very different. People are eager to share information and pitch in, but in their case, they suffer from the fact that people are not very good at letting others know that they are there to help in the first place. One manager described the company as “roving bands of experts,” where if you’re lucky, you’ll happen upon one and get the information you need.

In both cases, the organizations do not have any problem with job-related competencies. Their employees are among the smartest in the world. They know how to do their job. But the systems are failing themselves. In the first case, they could probably use some training on giving and receiving direct feedback. The next time someone swivels their chair in a meeting, I want the other participants challenging them on it. I want people having direct conversation about where the information is and how to get it in the hands of the right people. In the second case, the training might be more technical – like helping them learn to use their company intranet so everyone knows what everyone else is working on and these “bands of experts” can be found more easily.

You may argue that such feedback training and technical training were already identified inside the competency models. That’s true, but they weren’t prioritized in the right way. For whatever reasons, the first company developed a culture where information was being hoarded, so while both the feedback and the technical competencies are important and relevant, the feedback/technical skills are more important right now. They have a disproportionate impact on the organization’s success.

Every culture, at any given moment, will have components that are either getting in the way or driving success in that disproportionate way. That means that for training to have the biggest impact, you should be constantly aiming and adjusting your initiatives to match the cultural priorities. Yes, competencies are important, but perfectly competent individuals working within a culture that is fundamentally mis-aligned with what drives organizational success will fail consistently. Smart training programs continuously balance competencies and culture in order to fine-tune organizational success.

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