The Blame Game

Unfortunately the ‘blame game’ isn’t something linked to my last post about gamification. It relates to a catchphrase that was a running joke in a previous role. In my time as a trainer there were a few occasions where team members received feedback when things didn’t quite go to plan or individuals were under-performing after attending training of some description. You may (or may not) have come across similar examples;

“I wasn’t shown that in training”

“I wasn’t told that in training”

“The training didn’t really cover what I needed”

“The training wasn’t clear enough”

“We ran out of time and things were rushed”

“It didn’t tell me anything new”

“The room was too hot”

“There were no cups in the drinks machine”

Well then….”blame training”, because when under performance is an issue, the finger can rest at the door of the training department. I’ve been thinking about this following a conversation with a member of my network as they had received some feedback on training that supported a large change programme. I also recently came across an online discussion on induction training that linked in well with this topic.

The standout feedback from the change programme related to the guidance provided  around some self-directed learning. The feedback suggested a large number of people would have preferred an instructor/facilitator in the room when they were completing the modules.

The forum discussion started when a group of new employees had been asked how they had found their induction experience. I was quite surprised at how many of the posts described how much MORE information the induction should have covered to prepare them for the role. There were also replies that the induction didn’t prepare them for the role as it was too far removed from what the actual role involved.

In both cases the feedback is of course important for continuous improvement, but it also made me think about organisational culture and the culture of the training department itself; how does this drive the expectation around what training will achieve/deliver?  This includes when existing employees are trained on new processes or products or when any new training need is established and training becomes involved.

In my own experience there is still an expectation from learner, leader and trainer that some sort of formal training will be required as the solution to “get the message across” and this will be done in a classroom setting with a facilitator because “this is how training is done”. It’s also tends to be something that is ‘completed’ with a start and a finish time.

Of course it’s easy to “blame” training, it’s visible, tangible and it can *ahem* be measured. It’s an easy target, one that can quite easily deflect from the root cause and it conveniently provides a scapegoat for under performers or line managers that aren’t managing performance as effectively as they could.

To combat this is it time for training departments, or rather Learning Professionals, to really challenge the culture around training within their organisations and educate people on what formal training can and will achieve? It is time to shift thinking and focus in training departments themselves?

Do we need to move towards and use more effective performance support methods and focus on on-the-job experiential learning to be more meaningful to an organisation and add more value?

Does the “blame training” mentality exist because training is still seen as something that is “done to people”  and could these sorts of views and challenges represent a culture where there is a lack of ownership for personal development and learning?

Would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. The Blame Game – Learning Cafe


  1. Good topic Mike – some of those points you raised rang a bell! The three questions you pose are all valid but the issue about what training can and can’t achieve got my attention.

    I think managing expectations is a vital component of analysis through design to implementation and evaluation. But it deserves attention post-implementation as well. Too often Training and Development functions are so busy trying to justify themselves and providing “complete learning solutions” that it makes promises that can’t possibly be fulfilled. Simply put, training in a classroom (or in a structured e-learning course), without a clear strategy to ensure consolidation and application of the training on-the-job so people can perform, can’t be expected to satisify the total need.

    Extending on that, the environment that people go into after they have completed a course must be receptive and supportive to this need to enable consolidation and to help apply and contextualise the learning in real work situations. Newly trained participants have a right to expect this support but also need to be assertive with managers as well.

    Perhaps there is a general lack of “expectation guidelines” for all stakeholders – from designers through to participants and particularly managers so that everyone understands their role. Sure, learners must take responsibility for their learning, but there are accountabilites that others hold as well.

  2. Thanks for your comment Bob.

    You are right, managing expectations is key! Training in a formal setting is just one way to get the message across however in many organisations it is seen as the ONLY way to transfer knowledge, skills and change behaviours. Whilst Training Departments may have changed their name to Learning & Development, formal courses are still predominantly where budget, resource and time is spent either developing or delivering.

    More often than not it is time and resource that makes pre-learning activity so hard to complete or even prevents it from happening and the same applies for consolidation and on-the-job application post training. Organisations and Learning & Development departments that structure the majority of training and development around the formal course are always going to be a position of promising things that they just can’t deliver because training in this manner has so many limitations.

    Yes setting expectations around training is key as is understanding and being clear on responsibilities, but I think it’s time to address more fundamental issues around workplace learning in general. Whilst this isn’t just the responsibility of the learning function, we are best placed to influence, encourage and enhance learning opportunities away from the formal training course.

    If this happens then I think the words ‘blame training’ will become a catch phrase of the past!

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