How many times do IT managers or other managers feel that their staff needs training? Sometimes employees request this training and sometimes it comes from the top of an organization. Additionally, managers frequently think that when there is an operational problem, training is always the answer.

Too often training is seen as the panacea for most of the ills throughout businesses. However, lately there has been some powerful research that shows that the majority of performance problems cannot be fixed by training. Rather, performance deficiencies are systemic with the organization. That is, most performance problems are generally related to problems that are within organizational structure. Some of the typical problems that I am talking about are vague expectations, late feedback, and inadequate resources.

Actual data has shown that in the US businesses spend around $55 billion a year on training. However, only 30 percent of this actually gets applied in the workforce. Therefore, any dollars that you spend on training must do two things: first, it must solve an actual problem and, second, the training must be effective.

Best practices are that firms should spend 3 percent of payroll on training. However, there are so many other ways to fix problems rather than jumping on training first.

Alternatives to training

Understanding what the real problem is the first step in doing an assessment if training is the answer. For example, a firm's programmers were doing Web work and they were making way too many errors. These errors were very expensive to fix and disappointed the client because of the late completions.  The real problem in this case was that the programmers were using their computers for many personal reasons and lacked attention to the details. In this case, any type of training would not have fixed the problem and the fix was just to reduce the use of computers for personal use. The cost of this fix was so small as compared to taking some type of training. However, the IT management just did not realize this till they went through and identified the problem.

The second step in this process is to come up with solutions with the associated problem. Frequently, the solution may not be training. An IT department had a large issue with the morale within the department and the firm was considering training the entire staff in working together through team building. However, the problem turned out to be that the manager just did not have very good managerial skills.  It was not the staff that needed the training but the manager did need some serious coaching which was a whole lot less expensive and much more effective.

There is no question that training is useful in learning a new technology skill, but this training must be effective. Having the participants evaluate the training after they have taken the class is really not a relevant measure of effectiveness because the participants are generally going to judge the effectiveness of the presenter rather the amount of material that is both retained and utilized in the work place.

The worst type of training

The worst training is when an instructor stands up in front of a class and just spews information. Especially for technology, training must be interactive to ensure the material is mastered. I believe the best training is when participants have to apply what they have learned in some fashion such as a computer simulation or role playing. Personally, the style of training that I use, whenever I can, to teach a skill or technology, is to insure that there is time between different phases of training so that I can require homework. The homework allows me to make sure that each participant uses and masters the skills or technology that I have taught and applied them in the work place. The homework normally consists of some sort of log or test to insure mastery of the material when the participants return for second or future sessions.

There is no question in my mind that IT departments need to address customer service on top of technical training. The only effective way that customer service training can be accomplished is in a classroom situation with many role-playing activities so that each participant gets involved. When setting up this customer service training it so important that this training be not just a one time event but training that occurs on regular basis to insure the material sinks in.

As you consider training of your IT staff, make sure that problem you are trying to solve with the training is the real problem or the root cause of the problem. Second, for all training I believe that you need to look at both the material being taught as well as how the material is going to be delivered. Third, please insure that every staff member in your IT department has customer service training.

Jerry Osteryoung has been both a Professor of Finance and Entrepreneurship at Florida State University for over 35 years. While at FSU he headed up the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship where he directly assisted over 3,000 businesses.  You can read his blog at http://jerryosteryoung.blogspot.com or you can write him at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.