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    “Great graduation present!”

    Inspired to extend a helping hand to ambitious women working in corporate America, a veteran executive offers honest, practical, slightly irreverent advice about navigating companies that are run and populated predominately by men.


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  • About the Author

    Jennifer K. Crittenden earned an MBA in finance and worked for over twenty years in the US and abroad, rising from financial analyst to chief financial officer. She is the author of five books, including the award-winning Discreet Guide for Executive Women. She offers professional development programs through her company The Discreet Guide.

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Why Does Our Training Stink?

It hit me while I stood looking out over the enormous San Diego Convention Center exhibit hall at the ATD annual conference. I surveyed the 600-some booths, promoting training and learning as far as the eye could see and thought, Why doesn’t this work? Most people are unhappy at work, and surveys tell us that employee disengagement is a terrible problem. My clients tell me me they like what they do but they hate their jobs because of the people. They tell me awful stories about bad managers, weak leadership, stupid decisions, and office politics. They report tolerance of poor performers, flawed hiring practices, favoritism, and retaliation against those who speak up. And yet, here I am, looking at all this, an abundance of resources, technology, intelligence, research, psychological assessments—a jaw-dropping display of glitzy, expensive, high tech designer booths. So, why isn’t it working?

In my quest to make our workplaces better, it’s frustrating because after decades of study, we know what good management looks like, what good communication skills are, and how to create strong leaders. Why isn’t it happening? So I started asking the training experts who came to my booth. I jumped on the poor elearning guy who happened to stop by first. “Hey!” I said, “Let’s take sexual harassment training as an example. We’ve been doing mandatory training for decades. Well, that worked, didn’t it.” He looked like he had just swallowed his gum. When he recovered, he said he thought some topics didn’t lend themselves to online training. Fair point.

I’m really going to pick on sexual harassment training here for a moment. A colleague recently told me that the employees in her company discovered that if you turned off the audio for the online slides, you could more quickly advance through them to get to the “exam” at the end. And this is in a company where hidden cameras were discovered under the desks of two female employees. Another told me that her sexual harassment training emphasized that if someone starts to tell you something, you must immediately warn her that you may have to report what she says. People! That is no way to treat someone who may be a victim. Have you no heart? There are better ways to work around that problem. In my opinion, the training should focus less on legal issues and more on civility, so that we can actually learn to work productively together and make our organizations successful.

Back at the exhibit hall, other training experts said that some employees are too egotistical to accept training, that some leaders aren’t fixable, that some managers have bad habits. No one said that our training just stinks. They all blamed the consumer. Most admitted that their workplaces were unhappy.

Also disturbing was that when I asked them what they did, some responded with such a mutant cross of techno babble and educational gobbledy-gook that I literally couldn’t understand them. I wish I could give you some examples, but the mumbo jumbo went in one ear and out the other. ATD’s name change also bothers me. Instead of the clear and simple “American Society for Training and Development,” it’s now the woo “Association for Talent Development.” It seems to me that an organization seriously devoted to training should retain training in its name.

Setting aside our excuses and internal confusion, I’m going to throw out my theory about why training isn’t working and see what you think. I think it’s money. Since I’m a former CFO, you’re probably not surprised to hear me say that. I think we’re simply not spending enough money on training. We’re in such a hurry to execute check-the-box training and say we did, that we don’t focus on its effectiveness. We look for quick fixes to serious problems and then look the other way when they don’t work. I’m not pointing fingers; we’re all complicit in this.

The thing is, we can teach the soft skills that are needed to fix our workplaces. We can teach good management and leadership. We can even teach subtle complex skills like empathy, confidence, mediation, and decision-making. Give me a few thousand dollars, and I’ll give you back a more sensitive, confident, and enhanced employee. My clients leave me with broader skills, and they are better equipped to handle whatever their terrible workplaces throw at them. They have a semblance of a relationship now with their psycho boss, and they have learned how to cope with their sadistic co-workers. You may think I’m kidding—I’m not. You have no idea how bad your workplaces are.

But here’s the rub: it’s going to take a few thousand dollars. For the kind of one-on-one training that many of these problems require, a significant investment is necessary. Which means that most companies need to increase their training budgets by a factor of ten. And that kind of training is going to take time. My clients take between six months and a year to complete my programs.

We know that most CEOs are impatient and uninterested in training budgets, usually because the numbers are presented by the human resources department, a function they have little regard for to begin with. Senior management doesn’t want to hear that a solution will take time and money. They too want quick fixes. So, what are we to do? I believe we have to make better arguments to resolve this dilemma. We need to quantify the cost of turnover, of unresolved conflict, of disengagement, of bad managers and poor performers, and ultimately of legal settlements. Those are all the result of a lack of sufficient training in the right things.

The time has come for us to adopt an aggressive “fix or fire” approach to improving our workplaces. We should analyze our problem employees and provide specific and intense training to address areas they need to develop. If it doesn’t take, they should be let go. Getting serious about performance and training is the way we will rid our workplaces of bullies, harassers, and those who stand in the way of a work environment where our employees can thrive. What do you think?

© 2018 Jennifer K. Crittenden

Join my quest to make better workplaces! Join my mailing list at http://eepurl.com/dqLRjb

Jennifer offers professional development training programs through her company The Discreet Guide® on interpersonal, communication, performance, presentation, and language skills. She writes and speaks frequently on topics related to gender, communication, and work. She can be contacted through her website https://www.discreetguide.com/

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