Why traditional training methods no longer work

In a faltering economy where managers and leaders are challenged by stretched budgets and shrinking teams, traditional leadership training is no longer working. The ‘talk and chalk’ model is failing senior business leaders under pressure to deliver results in a market that requires innovation and creativity to remain or increase competitiveness.

Jo Ellen Grzyb, co-founding director of training consultancy Impact Factory and qualified psychotherapist, explains why these traditional methods are no longer working and which methods and approaches can be applied to help leaders examine their own behaviours, deliver difficult messages and identify and utilise motivating factors.

Tick box

The term ‘training course’ is often greeted with a resounding sigh when uttered in the boardroom.  Too often leaders and managers have experienced poor training offerings, prescribed, dull, PowerPoint based sessions which have left them bored and uninspired.

Too often training is just seen as an unnecessary waste of a working day or a tick box exercise which leaders reluctantly submit to in order to ‘do their bit’, and appease the CEO or HR director.  So what has created this resistance and negativity towards something which essentially should enhance participants both personally and professionally?

It is important to state that there has always been good training, but among the many good training offerings available have been some awful offerings which have given the rest a bad name. Poor offerings rely heavily on theoretical teachings, and have a prescribed format which is wheeled out time and again, regardless of the audience.  They rely heavily on PowerPoint and reams of handouts, which often create an instantaneous glazing over of eyes when produced.

Theory test

It is impossible to influence behavioural change theoretically.  Much like the ancient Chinese proverb, ‘tell me I forget, show me I remember, involve me I understand’, there is no better way to ensure learnt behaviours are understood and used than experiential learning. For example when demonstrating how leaders can give effective presentations, using experiential techniques will mean that as the leaders try out each technique they are simultaneously assessing how they feel about each technique. As a result of having experienced each technique they will automatically retain and use the technique they feel most comfortable with in the working environment. As humans we learn much more effectively through experiential methods, and are energised by getting up and moving around, interacting with each other.  We are social, mobile beings and not designed to be quietly stuck at desks taking notes. Just think back to school and the boredom of endless dictation.  Not only this but the traditional classroom environment is conducive only to sleep, with dimmed lights, carbohydrate heavy lunches and comfortable chairs.

Me myself and I

Another problem with a lot of traditional training offerings is that they are not designed around the individual. They take the same approach with all delegates and often there is not contact with those delegates prior to the course to identify needs, objectives and personality. This is a huge mistake and creates a feeling of the delegate being taught ‘at’.  No wonder so many participate reluctantly feeling that the course has little or no relevance to their own needs. When pre-care is provided, such as a questionnaire or contact call, the delegate instantly feels cared for and has ownership of the process. Much like bespoke tailoring, a bespoke training offering tailored specifically to the needs of the learner will feel so much more comfortable than one which comes off the peg and takes little or no consideration of the learner’s needs.

Otherwise engaged

Engaging an audience is a vital consideration for any trainer or leader looking to effect change. Good training will be reactive and will judge the reactions and mood of the people in the room and alter the content or format accordingly. Body language is key for this, and a good trainer will read signs of engagement such as nodding, eye contact and note taking, or conversely signs of distraction and boredom and react accordingly. A good trainer will never assume that they have been understood, they will check they have been understood by interacting with their audience to confirm this.

Working to the adage ‘it is the audience’s job to sleep and your job to keep them awake’, it is vital to keep the session fresh and reactive, fun, and memorable.  Idiosyncrasies within trainers such as quirky humour, unusual accents and memorable clothes and appearance will all help the audience to remember the session.  Added to this fun is a key factor, people remember happy times full of laughter far better than dull boring times which are quickly forgotten.

A key way of getting people to take on board new behaviours and foster those behaviours within the organisation is to use exercises that present them with the opportunity to examine their own behaviour.  People don’t respond well to being told what to do and how they should behave, after all who gives one person the right to decide what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in terms of behaviour and dictate those behaviours to someone else.  Instead, the use of scenario playing, for example on how to manager difficult team members, will create an environment in which delegates can see the benefits and negatives related to different scenarios and unpick their own behaviours, as well as trying out those they could use. It is only by being stretched and a little scared – and that means sometimes stepping outside of a comfort zone – that people can undergo real transformative change. This needs to be done in a fun way however, the more laughter the better.  If people enjoy a training experience and are happy together they will be motivated together.

Post event

Too often the contact with training participants ends when the event finishes, and the material is filed away in the drawer and forgotten about, another box ticked.  It is my view that without good follow ups and after care for training, there is little point in doing it in the first place.

A great way of ensuring that learnt methods are being used and personal training objectives achieved is to have both pre and post event contact, perhaps creating a permanent and interactive record of the objectives and to follow up on how these have been achieved, or how new techniques are being used in the workplace.  Making trainers available to answer any queries after the event can help to provide the reassurance and advice required to ensure that the learnt behaviours are being implemented in the workplace successfully and the company is achieving return on investment for its training investment.

In an age when training budgets are being streamlined and spent very selectively, it is vital that training is being retained and implemented for better performance of the business and its people.  It is my view that this can only be achieved by taking an approach which really engages and inspires, for better business now and in the future.


About the author

Jo Ellen Grzyb is a counsellor/psychotherapist and broadcaster as well. In the media, she was featured in The Human Mind series (BBC1) and SKY TV’s Angry Britain displaying the ‘magic’ of intensive anger management. She also writes for publications as diverse as the FT’s Financial Advisor and Brides Magazine.

Jo Ellen Grzyb and actor Robin Chandler founded Impact factory in 1991. They formed the company to bring those two professions together to create a unique body of Professional Personal Development work.



8 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. As a consultant, trainer, educationalist and therapist I agree totally with the sentiments expressed in this piece.
    I was once told off by the meeting of senior managers next door to tone it down a bit as we were having too much fun and laughter. Guess which meeting was the most memorable!
    Using a Brain Friendly Learning approach by allowing the mind to make new connections, enhances learning and memory. Providing opportunities to hear, see and feel the subject matter challenges the trainer and excites the participants.
    even more important is the follow up support for delegates to encourage reflection on their new practice and behaviour.
    We also encourage measuring the efficacy of outcomes to ensure ROI suing our Corporate Diagnostic Tool
    see htt[:// http://www.amc.co.uk

  2. The title of the article is misleading. It’s not about ‘traditional’ training, it’s about poor training. Very simply, poor training doesn’t work. Never has. Never will.

    One of the silver linings in the austerity cloud is that companies have to think smarter about how they spend their money on training and what returns they are looking for. That focuses on how training supports companies to deliver top or bottom line performance and that, in turn, means training has to be relevant, engaging, practical and measurable. Poor training methods simply don’t stack up and that’s good for everyone committed to delivering training that genuinely makes a difference in the real world.

  3. This article highlights the importance of having fun and experiencing techniques during training.

    I agree that poor training does not work and in my opinion even one person not engaging in the training equates to poor training.

    The role of a trainer has now changed and it is the way that the trainer explains and passes on information that is important. Creating an environment where people are able try out new things and have a laugh whilst doing so is a wonderful skill.

    People learn far more when they enjoy the experience and it is up to people who commission training to understand that just because there is lots of laughter in a training room does not mean it is now a powerful learning experience.

    Training this way must always go hand in hand with pre course intentions of the people attending training and a measure of how they integrate what they learn into the workplace and what impact this has had.

  4. While I totally agree with the argument, I too disagree with the title summary. Perhaps there is no such thing as ‘traditional’ training – there may be bad training or out-moded techniques but training is a moveable feast and constantly evolving.
    ‘Training’ is often something that is done to you or ‘delivered’ and in this case has very low impact.
    Maybe semantics, but learning and development is something to participate in, to experience, to try out and to put into action with the intention of change. Rarely has change been so badly needed and it is fantastic that so many organisations have retained the will and the budget to support their people in making the change happen. Measuring outcomes is a key to success and much neglected. When you are setting up training please add measurement against your objectives and action feedback strongly in the mix.

  5. Anna is correct – this is about poor training and does not lead us to think about modern training methods which are now based around remote learning using tablets and phones, through structured fin courses using video, audio and much more. New Learning and content management systems can deliver exciting training and be supported using group sessions and one to one mentoring. They can be tailored to indidual responses as well as unique business requirements. Students can learn at their own pace and teachers can monitor and control the outcomes.
    WIthout learing there is little progress – so budgets must be spent if businesses are to survive. Control and excitement are the key elements here not poor delivery.

  6. Totally agree with the point about what happens post training. So often people do the training, tick the boxes and then think that’s it. They go back to work, old routines take over and the new training is never implemented so their behaviours don’t alter. If regular contact is made with the trainer post course, this won’t be allowed to happen.

  7. The frightening thing about this article is that someone thinks what should be the blindingly obvious has to be spelt out, though I agree that there is a lot of poor training ‘out there’. One of the reasons for this is betrayed in this article by the references to training, rather than learning. I suspect we have forgotten the art of learning: it has got lost in the welter of introspective individualism provoked by learning styles and the focus on differences to the extent that we have forgotten what we have in common. The core ingredients for learning, which the best trainers foster, are ignorance, incompetence, discovery and play… as the best learners int eh world (children) knowm instinctively.

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