How to Improve Employee Performance: The Training Solution

In my blog ‘Improving Employee Performance: 3 Reasons Why Employees Underperform’ I outlined the importance of our employees knowing; what we want, why we want what we want and that what they are currently giving us isn’t what we want!

OK, so let’s assume we’ve followed that advice and:

• Got clear with our employees what effective performance looks like

• Explained clearly why that ‘effective performance’ is important to our business / organisation

• Given our employee performance feedback that helps them to see there’s a performance gap they need to address

Great – but what if, after all that, our employee is still underperforming?

It’s not at all uncommon for our employees to want to improve their performance but to find that they can’t. What might be the reason?

Employee Performance Gaps: Lack of Skills or Knowledge

It may simply be that our employee needs some training in order for them to close the performance gap (the gap between what we want from our employee and what we are getting). In fact when I work with managers, team leaders and business owners helping them to deal with underperformance the most common reason they give for that underperformance is ‘they need training’. And, of course, often that’s true. And often it isn’t

The Danger of the Training Course Solution

One of the dangers of assuming that our employee needs training is that sometimes it’s just the easy (but not the best) option. Your employee is missing deadlines? Then send them on a time management course (never mind that their time management is excellent and their problem is their inability to get other people to meet their part of the deadline).  Our employee is not contributing to team meetings? Then let’s send them on an assertive communication course (no matter that they are actually very assertive and the problem is they don’t understand the value of team meetings so don’t bother to contribute)

And it’s not just the managers who make these assumptions. I’ve lost count of the number of managers who have told me that their employee has asked for training in order to improve performance in an area that, in the past, they have performed in effectively. I’m sorry to state the obvious, but why would training be the answer when they’ve already demonstrated they can perform satisfactorily in that area?

So how can we be sure that training will close the employee performance gap?

Improving Employee Performance with Training

Here are some simple criteria that would be useful when deciding whether training is the right solution;

1. The employee has never performed effectively in this area

2. The employee wants to improve their performance (you’ll generally know this because they will have taken actions to try to improve)

3. The employee hasn’t already had training in this area (unless you think a ‘refresher’ will help, why use a training solution that didn’t work before?)

4. There is a training solution that clearly meets the employee’s needs

Let’s look at point 4 in a little more detail. This is all about getting crystal clear what our employee needs to improve on and then finding (or designing) a training solution to meet those needs. It’s about getting specific. For example, does our employee need training in how to delegate effectively – how to identify which tasks to delegate and how to have a delegation discussion with her employees? (More specific than ‘time management’).  As ever, it’s all about clarity

(for an example of how to use performance objectives (clarity) to design training that improves performance take a look at my blog ‘Using Performance Objectives as an Employee Training Tool’)

Improving Employee Performance – Summary

Training can be a very effective way of closing an employee performance gap but it’s not always the answer. What other ways could you use to decide if the training solution is the right solution?



management trainingJoan Henshaw is the author of the ’10 Minute Management’ series of books and videos. Read about these practical, step-by-step guides HERE and videos HERE

3 Responses to How to Improve Employee Performance: The Training Solution

  1. […] employee performance when that improvement is within the control of the employee (including when training can close the gap). I’ve also taken a look at what happens when (and if?) a lack of time is […]

  2. Susan Mazza says:

    As you point out you have to understand the real issue before you can even determine what training and even if training can help. Often a person will not confide in their boss though about the real issue because it could make them look bad (or worse!) than they already do and/or when they know they are under performing it is a very vulnerable conversation to have with someone who has power over you.

    Fundamentally I think training needs to be initiate by the person taking the training. If they don’t choose it for themselves they won’t get much value. Hold people accountable for their results, guide them where they need to go to work in terms of their performance, point them in the direction of the options you see and then leave it up to them to choose their path to improvement. And when they do take training hold them accountable for actually applying it. They will likely need support and even coaching to follow through.

  3. joanhenshaw says:

    Many thanks Susan, excellent input. I particularly like your idea of leaving it up to the employee to choose their path to improvement – once, as you say, the manager has been crystal clear on their accountability for results and offered them the guidance you suggest. I guess all I would add is to advise the manager (if needs be) to describe to the employee the possible consequences of them choosing not to improve their performance
    Best wishes

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