Think about it — if training is not seen as relevant by the learner, or their manager, how likely is it to change behavior?

People don’t care about stuff they see as irrelevant, especially when they are busy. They certainly don’t care about training they see as irrelevant. If they are forced to sit in the training room, they will be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me,” and then they will disengage. Who wouldn’t?

Without relevance, learners won’t engage and won’t translate their training into new action — and without new action, there is no ROI. Therefore, without relevance, training is pointless and a waste of money.

To give your training any chance of being successful, you must prove genuine relevancy. And there is only one way to do that — through a performance diagnostics process.

Getting Started

Someone asks for training. It’s what they want, but is it what they need? What someone wants and what they really need can be two quite different things.

If it is what they genuinely need to solve their problem then this need should be provable, and the relevance established for all to see. If it is what they want, but they have not really thought it through properly, there is work to be done to establish the real need and see if it aligns with what they say they want.

It’s critical that you establish the real training needs before investing training budget into programs that somebody says they want. Only by delivering what they truly need will you have any chance of success, so find out what they truly need. They probably don’t know, although they think they do, so you must help them discover what they need. Once they get visibility of what they need, they will align their wants to that newly exposed need.

Let’s assume the person asking for the training is a manager. Let’s call her Mary. Unless it is for compliance reasons, she is asking for training because she wants the people on her team to do things differently. Ask her what people are doing or not doing that needs to change — in other words, focus on behaviors.

Behavioral Needs Analysis

Doing a training needs analysis (TNA) or a learning needs analysis (LNA) is a tacit admission that a training or learning intervention is the optimal solution. It probably isn’t, certainly not on its own, so start with a BNA. Start with the end in mind, start with the desired behaviors. Focus the requesting manager’s mind on what their people need to do rather than a knee-jerk idea of training as a solution.

Given a task, how does Mary want them to do the task instead of what they are doing now? How will she know they are doing it adequately well? Brilliantly well? Poorly? A BNA should result in a list of the required behaviors and against each one, some means to see or measure whether that behavior is taking place at the required level.

Thinking about the required behaviors will inevitably bring some focus to the current behaviors and the evidence Mary is using to prove their existence. In other words, what evidence did she use to arrive at the conclusion that she needed to ask for training? Thinking about current behaviors establishes the behavioral gap between the current and the required behaviors.

Here’s a useful question to ask Mary at this stage of your BNA: “If you don’t make any changes, and the existing behaviors continue for another 6 months, what will this cost the organization?”

Very few managers have thought about this, but with some prompting, most can come up with a very rough estimate of the negative impact on the organization for not crossing the exposed behavioral gap. You need to know what this estimate is so you can prioritize requests from different managers and understand where the often-limited L&D budget will have the most impact for the organization.

Crossing the Behavioral Gap

The next step is to figure out how to get employees to cross the behavioral gap. In other words, how can you deliver the required behaviors to the employees who need to do them?

An obvious question at this point is why the required behaviors are not already happening. What is inhibiting them? What is present or absent that is stopping people from doing the required behaviors and thus rendering them incapable on the job? To answer that question, it’s necessary to dig into what we mean by “capable on the job.”

Capability on the job, at the time and place an employee is asked to perform a task, is dependent on two components: individual and environmental competence. If these two components are at or above a threshold level, the employee will perform the task well. Notice that this has shifted naturally into talking about performance and it is probably a lack of performance that brought the manager to you with their request for training.

Individual competence is made up of knowledge, skills, the insight and understanding of how to apply the knowledge and skills, mental and motivational state and sometimes physical abilities.

Environmental Competence

Environmental competence is made up of all the things outside and surrounding the employee that affect how they do their job. It includes things like systems, processes, IT provision, tools, spare parts, organizational culture, management provision, support from colleagues and more.

It’s common to talk about the competence of an individual, but people seldom talk about the competence of the environment surrounding that individual to support them in what they are tasked with doing. A competent employee can be rendered incapable on the job if their environment conspires against them. Ask yourself: When an employee is unable to perform a task, is it their incompetence, or the incompetence of their environment that cause the lack of performance?

Consider your own experience; think back over the last month or two at your job. When you couldn’t do a task, was it you or your environment that was cause of the poor performance? Most people, when asked this question, say they knew what to do and wanted to do it, but couldn’t because of outside factors. In other words, it is more common for the environment to cause poor performance than lack of competence of the employee.

Of all the components of individual and environmental competence required for performance, the only ones directly affected by training are knowledge, skills and understanding. If, and only if, these are lacking will training be relevant, and then only as part of a holistic solution that addresses any other inhibitors to performance.

This is why a performance diagnostics process is essential to establish the relevancy of training and to give you an ‘audit trail’ to prove that relevancy to other stakeholders, especially the delegates and their managers. If you can’t prove that training is required with this process, don’t do training. You need to find another solution to the performance problem, and that solution is probably now much more obvious after the performance diagnostics process.

Mary, the manager who requested the training, should now see whether the initial desire for training was valid or whether this was wishful thinking that would not have solved the performance problem. Let’s assume that the diagnostics process did indeed confirm a need for better knowledge and skills and that training, amongst many other possible L&D interventions, looks like the best way to proceed. The next step is to establish the relevancy of the training to the target employees. You must ensure that the training is not only relevant – it must also be perceived as relevant to delegates so they see what is in it for them.

This means you now have a marketing exercise to convince the delegates, and any other important stakeholders, of the relevance of the proposed training. They all need to see that it is relevant to them personally, or they simply won’t invest much of their precious time and energy into engaging with your training, and even less into transferring what they see as irrelevant learning into action in their jobs.

This raises the concept of learning transfer. Relevance is one of many factors required to ensure learning transfer and thereby make training effective.

Returning to the first sentence of this article, “Think about it – if training is not seen as relevant by the learner, or their manager, how likely is it to change behavior?”

If you seek behavior change through training, your training must be relevant.

Think about it!