Talent to burn? Why staff training is good for your ego, but bad for your wallet


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The learning and development industry would have you believe investing in staff training is the perfect antidote to talent shortages and AI uneasiness. However, business leaders are about to learn a painful – and costly – lesson.

Pity the human brain. It’s suffered more than a few headaches recently.

First there was the lockdown lobotomy. Then it was given marching orders to drain across the ditch. Now, it’s under threat from Chat GPT, Google Bard, and their artificially intelligent digital nomads.

Thankfully, a new saviour is on the horizon: A senior executive with an axe to grind and a staff training budget to spend. “Use it or lose it”, they like to say. But are they talking about the budget … or the workforce?

Burning a hole in your pocket

On the surface, everything looks fine: Businesses want to enhance their workforce capabilities, so they look to spend a bit of money on a skills upgrade. Good news, especially if you happen to run a training company.

But the truth is more sinister: Something akin to a monkey pulling a fish out of a river and saying, “Here, let me put you up in this tree before you drown”.

Although businesses have the best of intentions when it comes to employee training, all they’re really creating is an expensive exercise in suffocating their talent.

Swimming against the tide

Don’t believe me? When was the last time you TRULY learned something new in a training session at work.

We all remember the flipcharts, the post-its, the awkward icebreaker exercises and coffee that tastes like Rangataua Bay after a downpour.

But did you actually take anything away from the training … except a crushing anxiety that you had a days-worth of emails to catch up on?

Sure, it might have been mildly useful. But you were unlikely to be standing on your chair, hugging your colleagues and giving it the full ‘Tony Robbins meets Jon Bon Jovi concert’, were you?

Yet time and time again, we return to the training room, like walking back into a relationship we swore we’d left for good.

A lose-lose deal

Employee training is painful. It’s like going to the gym, but without the sunny upside of kidding yourself you might look good naked, if you go through enough torture.

Business leaders don’t want to pay for it (not enough budget). Employees don’t want to do it (not enough time). Trainers don’t want to deliver it (not enough passion).

Yet according to the New Zealand Productivity Commission, between $1.3 billion-$2 billion is spent by Kiwi businesses every year on staff learning and development.

That’s a lot of money to throw at something that generally produces an eye-rolling reaction akin to telling a child they’re on their way to the dentist.

Employers won’t hear of it, however. Because they’re too busy telling the world how much they ‘value their people’.

Learning a harsh lesson

Time to face facts: your DISC profile was shoved in the drawer. Your Myers Briggs report (ENTP, in case you’re wondering) fell apart after being used as an emergency coffee cup coaster.

But the world is changing fast. Employees need to develop new skills to help win at work and keep the Kiwi workforce competitive in the global economy.

Training, however, is not the answer. 30 years ago, perhaps. But in 2023, the last thing people need is more knowledge. Your teams have all the knowledge they could ever desire at their fingertips, for free. Why pay for it?

Knowledge is a waste of time and money without two things: Mindset and Habits.

If your people are lacking the right mindset, they won’t have the confidence and courage to think differently.

If they don’t back-up their learning with the right habits, they will never apply the knowledge they obtain.

It’s like you’re sending your workforce to a lecture about press-ups, and expecting them to get stronger. But they only develop true strength if they have the mindset to practice, and the habits to keep doing it.

Taking the leap

Training companies can pull out all the stats, psychometrics, and ‘tailored learning programmes’ they like, but they can’t hide the facts.

Traditional training is terrifyingly ineffective. We learn through challenges, puzzles, trial and error, experimentation and (whisper it) failure.

Which lesson do you remember from your childhood: The 100 times your mother told you not to touch the hot stove? Or the time you touched the hot stove?

If you really want to develop a workforce that’s fit for the future, focus on their mindset and their habits. Let them get real. Allow them to screw up, laugh about it, and then screw up again.

This is how we learn.

But, as a leader, will you be brave enough to allow it to happen?

Perhaps there’s a training course that might help …

Related: Do quitters never win, and winners never quit?

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Freddie Bennett
Freddie Bennett
Guinness World Record Holder, podcast host and bestselling author, Freddie is known as ‘The Profit Hunter’. He helps business owners enjoy more time, money and freedom by discovering and extracting hidden profits in their companies. Freddie@conqueryourmedia.com

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