When is Training Appropriate?

Tonight I'm planning to ask a group of my students: When is training appropriate? When is it justified?


I am planning to share with them the following interactive presentation (see below): A fictional case study of a desperate business owner and a couple of well-intentioned (but sometimes clueless) consultants.  Can you help me complete it? Can you make it better? I'd love to have your input to improve this presentation!


The Case of the Desperate Client
The Case of the Desperate Client.pptx
Microsoft Power Point Presentation [2.4 MB]

In the case above, Mr. Cheese, a business owner, asks two consultants to help him solve a problem: One of his employees is suing his company.  The consultants first suggest technical training, then a compensation and benefits survey, and finally conduct a Needs Analysis to analyze the situation better (needless to say, neither technical training nor a compensation and benefits survey solved the problem).


Simple stuff - we all know it by heart, right? Yikes, we're talking "Performance Improvement 101." Only offer training as a solution when the problem can be solved by training.


I wish it were that simple.


When I look back in my career, I must confess that I was often in the shoes of the "New Consultants on the Block." Someone asked me for training, what I did for a living was training, therefore I wrote a proposal for training.  The client, on the other hand, was too hassled or too hurried or too concerned about his/her own job and position in the organization to dig too deeply. The results? I helped contribute to what I'll call "The Training Department's Hamster Syndrome." I worked hard and my clients worked hard and the training "seemed" to work beautifully - except that it was the wrong solution for a problem that had not been properly identified.


Here are some additional "syndromes" that often plague training departments:


The Higher Up Syndrome

A request for training comes from a very important person who thinks he/she has the solution.  Questioning the higher up would take time and political capital - so we end up by taking care of the request as quickly and efficiently as we can.

The Survival Syndrome

The training department is rewarded when and only when it produces "training widgets." Rewards depend on the beauty, excitement, and "buzz" generated by the widgets.  Non-widget generation is punished by lack of recognition at best, and painful layoffs at worst.

The "If you build it they will come" Syndrome

Ah, the beautiful leadership development curriculum, gorgeously packaged by a graphic design guru.  Just look at the offerings... wouldn't you want to participate in these programs? After all we are covering all the leadership competencies we found through an extensive literature search (uh-oh...) and we are doing it with a fantastic catalog of unforgettable classes! The training consultants are top notch too! Will you come?

The Double Dipping Syndrome

Don't get me wrong - I have a lot of respect for training consultants (I am one too!), needs analysis specialists, and evaluators. I understand the need for outsourcing some of the learning functions.  Developing a curriculum from scratch takes a lot of time, and we can't do it all.  My problem is with asking the same consultant to run a needs analysis to identify training needs, design a training program to meet those needs, and evaluate the effectiveness of the training he/she led.  Sounds absurd? It is absurd. And by the way - the absurdity does not lie on whether the consultant is external or internal.  Instead, the problem is to ask the same group to perform all three tasks.  There's that pesky little word called "bias," you see, that might, err.., impact the results a wee bit.

I would love my readers to suggest other Syndromes. What have you seen in the workplace that represents a "worst" practice? How can I help my students avoid any of these Syndromes as they advance in their HRD careers?

As an "add on" to my posting from yesterday: I have been trying to create (with the help of my good friend and fellow Linked:HR member Jim Foord) an excel spreadsheet to simulate the calculation of a training ROI. In the case simulated below, the HR  manager of a small company is asked to put together a training program for 30 people (assume that the program will not be repeated). I made some assumptions for the costs of the program and the possible increase in sales.  Could you give me some feedback and suggest changes in this spreadsheet? What haven't I included? What have I included wrong?


As you play with the spreadsheet (and correct it) you may want to keep a copy for your own use!

ROI Calculator
Microsoft Excel Table [65.6 KB]

Write a comment

Comments: 31

  • #1

    John Persico (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 13:49)

    Good slide presentation. It seemed a bit simple but it covered many of the issues that face a "training" consultant. Too many managers think training will solve all of their problems. I like your "case" management approach. I think I would add more alternatives. Discussion needs to take place around "why" certain alternatives are not good solutions.

  • #2

    Alan Hill (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 13:49)

    I love the spreadsheet. But what about when the benefit is not sales, but Productivity? or Quality? or Morale? or increased Capability?
    Perhaps these could be converted into reliable dollars in the spreadsheet(s)?

  • #3

    czacher (Tuesday, 08 February 2011)

    just did a quick review; clever interactive approach; at least when I went through it, some of the text boxes appear to come up in an illogical order; reading is usually left to right on screen and thats not how I got it appearing. not sure of your complete context to offer you much else

  • #4

    Keith Siegel (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:01)

    The higher up syndrome, if approached properly can be mitigated. You mention that questioning would take time and political capital...I agree with the former but not the latter. Genuine assessment of the needs, asking questions about how the "higher up" expect training to solve the problem and attempting to uncover the linkage seem like consulting 101. If the higher up isn't willing to give the consultant/employee the knowledge to ensure apporpriate resource use, bigger problems lay ahead for the company and the employee/consultant.

  • #5

    Rick Blackstone (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:18)

    Case study is very well done. The point is simple, yet all too often overlooked due to time or money constraints - conduct a needs analysis to determine root cause. This looks like a fun activitiy that would really stimulate discussion and interaction. All college profs should look for creative ways like this to make content interesting and relevant.

  • #6

    Alex Taylor - TJ Taylor (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:29)

    The simple ROI calculation works well if we can isolate the cause and effect, and the improvement comes out directly in sales.
    If we're looking at increased productivity or reduced turnover, however, I can suggest a ROI calculator that's freely available on our website at
    Hope it helps,

  • #7

    Luann Chevalier (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:34)

    I agree with Keith. You can't effectively solve a problem without understanding the root cause. Nothing is worse than implementing solutions to a problem that isn't the solution. I might start with some sort of employee engagement survey to determine how wide spread the issue was be it morale, working conditions, leadership, etc as well as talk with employees.

  • #8

    Larry McMullen (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:37)

    Case study is simple, and makes and teaches the right lesson.Obviously in the real world many consultants would take the money for the technical training and call it a day, but of course the problems would not be solved. That said it is not always the consultant's fault alone .Many times the client only sees the opportunity for the seemingly simple fix as well and even if the consultant attempts to go down the proper path of exploring additional organizational barriers, will be resistant or defensive about opening up issues such as less than accomplished managers and other organizational ills. You need to include training for the consultant on how to have those discussions with the client.

  • #9

    Sheila Fonseca (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:37)

    I agree a 100% with the comments above. Yhe presentation is very clear and illustrate a common situation in the corporative environment. Regarding your question I think that training is part of the solution. When a situation like that or similars raised is because there are much more problems that it seems to have. Any situation is an unic one and need to be evaluated in order to propose the best solution. Normally when we talk about low pwerformance, bas results they are linked with leadership style and communication process. We need to understand that everybody wants to grow and do your best. Get the commitment of the employees is mandatory.

    In my perspective before propose any solution we need to evaluate deeper and better.


    Sheila Fonseca

  • #10

    Dean Russell (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:39)

    Great, loved the visuals and the points about instant gratification and short cuts. The repetition on the failure at the end of the PP was genius.

  • #11

    Sandra Trincat (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:41)

    I like it lots! simple and straight to the point.
    I would even go further and find a way to add a voice that will gide readers of the presentations in a theatrical way in order to increase impact and fun.

  • #12

    Wendy Gordon (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 14:56)

    I always think the idea of case study discussion is so valuable and keeps the participants thinking and contributing. After spending several years in Associate Relations before moving over to training, I can definitley appreciate the importance of teahing them to dig for "root causes" before jumping to a solution. this should be an enjoyable learning experience today for your students.

  • #13

    Dan Regouby (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 15:00)


    I LOVE your creative interactive approach and really would enjoy observing you as you present it to your students. I agree with the "czacher" comment addressing the fluidity of the physical presentation itself and would like to challenge you on another thought.

    I read many references in your presentation to very comfortable "assumptions" and "responses" to the stated scenarios and would challenge you (and your students) to consider what it might look like if Pat and Chris provided a process through which Mr. Cheese AND his employees could together analyze their "Scenario" and their culture as to how that may be "affecting" the training reception and the associated behavior.

    Can Mr. Cheese measure his culture? Can he identify and measure leading indicators that can encourage the reduction or even elimination of risk?

    Odds are that the observable "Scenarios" are only the tip of the iceberg that contains the root-cause of the disgruntled employee/s emotions and corresponding legal behavior.

    I love scenario-based education and am simply throwing some practical real-life experience questions into the mix with a challenge to re-consider the value of the standard well-trodden paths of assessments and surveys.


  • #14

    Maureen Degen (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 15:05)

    Robert Mager had some great, simple questions to ask when confronted by a manager that a training program was needed. I don't have my Mager Six-Pack here but if I recall correctly they were something like; What is it the employee should be able to do? Do they know they're supposed to be able to do it? Were they able to do it before? What may have changed that is preventing them from doing it?
    The questions were so simple but I've used them many times to try and get to the root cause without "scaring off" the manager by asking to do a needs assessment. Often the manager thinks needs assessment cost money and take too much time.
    I think your presentation hits the Mager points but you could point out that a needs assessment can be quick and easy to get you pointed in the right direction.

  • #15

    Mark Lorenz (Tuesday, 08 February 2011)

    While I don't know the knowledge level of your students, the content seems rather basic, and the questions are a bit leading ... to the obvious answer. But maybe that's just me. Rather than yes/no questions and the interactive format, what about encouraging people to defend a point of view. e.g. on slide 6, why WOULD you offer a technical training solution?

    Overall, this process reminds me of a chart I have in my own toolbox: "Is Training a Solution?" that we used internally and with our clients when I was consulting. It is a straightforward flowchart / decision tree asking questions such as: Is there a performance gap? Do employees receive meaningful feedback? and so forth. I use this tool when discussing with people who so often say, "We need a training course because [person ABC] isn't good at communicating." ... and often they leave better educated about when training does/doesn't make sense ... though there are shades of gray.

  • #16

    André Escórcio Soares (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 15:38)

    Great job!! I think i have another syndrome, i call it symptom based prescription. Imagine that an individual suffers an headache, he just has to take the same medicine than his friend took when he had an headache. The problem is the fact that the headache may have different causes. With the training there is the same problem, sometimes the consultant thinks that he already faced theses problem (symptom) and he uses the same approach without understand if he is facing the same cause.

  • #17

    Ralph Wilson (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 16:00)

    You asked for other "syndromes" . . . what about the "Just So Long as It's Training" syndrome. This is the one where, at some point,there is mention of the need to train/retrain employees (either in general or in a specific area) and management doesn't really have time to investigate any aspect of the "training". Management (especially first line management) may develop the "Just So Long as It's Training" syndrome and send their employees through any 2 week course that claims to address the problem ""Just So Long as It's Training."

    Having done so, management will then either declare the training completed (with expectations of all manner of improved performance) or the employees "untrainable" (with, at best, no expectations of improved performance and, at worst, an expectation that all of the employees must be replaced in order to achieve any improvement).

  • #18

    Jack McGuinness (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 16:14)

    I wish I was taking your class tonight! I really like the simple but powerful interactive approach to your powerpoint case. It certainly is true as Mark Lorenz points out that the content is basic but, in my opinion, it is addressing this type of basic thinking that gets consultants and clients in trouble. Getting at the root assumptions as pointed out by several other folks is critical.

    In my career I have used a few different approaches to address this issue of developing the right client alternative. One is based on the work of Peter Block and is well documented in his book "Flawless Consulting". It is a great and simple approach to client contracting that forces both parties to get at the root assumptions. The other is much more recent and based on some research by a PhD candidate at GWU. In her work Christine Cataldo uses Edgar Schein's work to derive an excellent model that combines context (what's the situation), content (what problem are we trying to solve/address?), and process (what is the best approach?) theories of change. The following is a link to access the article

    Good luck!

  • #19

    Laura (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 18:19)

    Yes. As I began work as a trainer I discovered this messy reality. I was helped by the book "The Courageous Trainer." The key for me is having the courage to turn own requests. I'm more able to recognize the red flags. I also have developed other skills (coaching or offering facilitated meetings). These can sometimes be an appropriate approach. If none of these solutions fit, I'm willing to turn down the work.

  • #20

    A Ajaya Shankar Gupta (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 23:05)

    Training will definitely help to improve sales, but we can not take full credit. It may be around 30% in normal case and it will vary depending upon the situation.

    To solve any problem (like one in your case study), you have to analyse for all potential causes and narrow down to single/few root causes. To solve those root causes, if Training is one of the solution, then only you should design the Training Module to suit the situation/Cause.

    TNS/ TNA (Training Need Survey / Analysis) should be done every year after Annual Target/Goal setting. You should identify Gap over last years actual performance and next years target.Identify opportunities/solutions for bridging the gaps.Then go for TNS/TNA.

  • #21

    Beverley Spies (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 23:57)

    I generally use Maureen's comments most of the time .I also lead the senior management with the same questions What is it the employee should be able to do? Do they know they're supposed to be able to do it? Were they able to do it before? What may have changed that is preventing them from doing it?
    These questions help them understand the training need our business its all about the cost so it can
    really help when the senior management understand the need for the training .
    I find that most senior decision making managers dont hold training as their biggest priorty and get the business in the messy state as in your scenario ...helping them realise the need and then the output is important ...
    The R.O.I tool was so useful ..thank you for sharing .
    What about including recruitment costs in the R.O.I ?

  • #22

    Thy (Wednesday, 09 February 2011 00:01)

    I like this type of failure case. I believe that the case will trigger lots of discussions in the class and your students will learn a lot from it.
    One small point: the question on slide 6 (do you offer Mr Cheese a technical training?) may make the class divide into 2 groups. One with Yes option, other with No. What would you do with the No group?

  • #23

    Imran (Wednesday, 09 February 2011 01:33)

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  • #24

    Lesley (Wednesday, 09 February 2011 02:56)

    I agree with most of the comments here. Well done on the calculation tool and the presentation. Perhaps feedback on how it went would be nice? I DO like Dan's idea of a integral approach, although it all depends on the client organisation. I work primarily with conservation organisations, NGO's, and local municipalities, and they tend to be fairly hierarchal and unlikely to want to allow all levels to contribute. I also deal A LOT with clients who have already put in proposals, and attained funds FOR TRAINING. SO then the training MUST be done. This is a difficult scenario, and where I am not brought in at the start, but only as a training consultant, this is all too often the case. Any ideas on that?
    In addition, I also would like ideas on calculating returns and break even points when NOT linked to sales, but linked to performance, motivation, etc., as raised by Alan Hill.

  • #25

    Paul Iv (Wednesday, 09 February 2011 10:48)

    Thanks for sharing the case & ROI table. In my practice I consider the 4 levels model first described by Mr. Kirkpatrick useful. This allows to think about the relation of current & desired behavior & business result before you implement a solution. You can also receive results on different levels (from smile sheets to business impact data) using that approach, and calculate real positive/negative ROI (the field is described by Mr. Phillips). From that point of view it's important to isolate the business effect of training in the ROI Calculator to make it credible, because the sales increase 20% may be related to different factors (like market increase, new product launch etc, training effect etc.), so you might add the isolation method (could be a control group in your case). Another opportunity to be more credible is to include lossess related to being out-of-business while training.

  • #26

    Steve Guine (Wednesday, 09 February 2011 12:10)


    This is a classic mistake that even large and established consulting firms make. This slide show should be seen by all current and new consultants as a refresher/review of what potentially can (and normally does) happen on an engagement.

  • #27

    Dave Mortensen (Wednesday, 09 February 2011 12:33)

    I have an approach to needs assessment that sometimes flummoxes some prospective clients but it gets down to the point rather quickly. The question is, 'Could the person expected to do whatever it is do it if their life depended on it?'

    If they couldn't, even with a gun to their head, they need something but it might be as simple as access to information or some kind of job aid.

    If the answer to the question is they could, you have a motivational problem, not a training problem.

  • #28

    Christian Merz (Saturday, 12 February 2011 10:16)

    Dear Cris, have you ever done any calculation of Intellectual Capital and the ROI of training? The AREOPA IC model offers a solid for your question

    See more

    or get in contact:



  • #29

    Seraphyne Novyta G (Tuesday, 15 February 2011 01:44)

    Great material thank you for sharing, learn a lot from it. But what about the main issue about morale or business ethics?

  • #30

    Mr. C (Wednesday, 16 February 2011 12:13)

    Nice presentation. My only question is would details of the lawsuit give you a hint as to what the issue really is? We were never given those deatils and as a result had to guess the underlying issue.

  • #31

    peter gerdes (Saturday, 19 February 2011 19:55)

    A bit late, but as a young Training Officer who had just leant to conduct TNA, I experienced the "we need to be seen to be doing something" (or "provide training instead of my managerial responsibility) syndrome. I was asked to run "telephone techniques" training for all the admin staf who took turns answering the company switchboard (all females, of course). When asked why, it transpired that there had been complaints about one individual's telephone manner. I of course suggested a more appropriate course of action. The manager and I were both standing in his office having this discussion, and I recall him physically backing into the corner as he blurted out "I know, but just do it".

    For what it's worth, I did get a bit confused with the interactive buttons, however a great presentation of a mistake I have seen often over the years.

    Peter Gerdes
    Brisbane, Australia

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