Training vs. Performance: How to Determine the Problem You Are Trying to Solve

As training professionals, we’re often asked for a specific solution from our business partners. Those new to this field may not realize that training is not always the right solution to solve a specific problem.

Training solves one problem, namely, they don’t know how to do it. As such, it is a great solution when:

  • Someone is new
  • Something is new
  • Something has changed

However, more times than not you will get request for training when none of those situations apply, but instead when the desired behavior or results are not being met. In those cases we don’t have a, they don’t know how problem, but they’re not doing it problem. The official name for that is a performance problem. Training doesn’t usually solve employee performance issues, so it is recommended to have an approach for understanding performance problems and have some non-training solutions to help address them.

Dealing with Performance Problems

In looking at employee performance issues, you should understand what behavior and results are desired and what behavior and results you are currently getting. We call what you want Optimal and what’s you’re getting Actuals. The different between them is called the Gap.

Optimal and Actuals = Gap.

The Gap is the problem we’re trying to solve.

Defining the Gap

The best way to define the Gap, is to talk to the person asking for the solution and to look at some existing performance data. Most company’s keep track of performance data ; repair rates for auto mechanics, first call resolution for call centers, to name just a couple. When talking to the person asking for the solution some good questions might be? Why do you think there is a problem? Is this problem new? Do you have any reports or stats that track this situation over time that we could review? When looking at the performance data be sure to look at several months of information to understand if the problem is getting better or worse.

Getting to the Cause

Now that you have a sense for the size and character of the performance problem, it is time to sort out why that problem is happening, so you can offer a solution that might solve it. There are several models available about performance problems such as the HPT model from ISPI, among others.

I think one of the best places to start is with the model in Analyzing Performance Problems by Robert Mager and Peter Pipe. I like this model because it was the first model I learned in grad school, but I also feel it offers a process anyone can follow to get to the root of their performance problems.

There is a flow chart in the book that outlines a process of getting to the why of a performance process. The short-story of the flow chart (inserted below) is that there are a lot of reasons you might have a performance problem, and only one of them can be solved by training. Some of the other reasons for performance problems include things such as, if an employee does what is wanted and gets punished (typically by boss or incentives), or there are things that prevent them from doing the desired behavior.

Training vs. Performance: How to Determine the Problem You Are Trying to Solve

How Do You Identify the Problem?

So how do you figure out what is really causing the problem. Typically, you’ll look at stuff and talk to people.

Look at Stuff Talk to People

  • What employees are doing in the job, via real time or recordings.

  • With the sponsor
  • People doing the job
  • Supervisors
  • Others who might have insights into the problem
Review reports of current performance Focus Groups

If Not Training, Then What?

The solutions to performance problems are customized to the root cause of the problem. A nice set of examples of possible solutions are listed in a recent article in Training industry magazine.


Clearly, training is a powerful tool but it simply can’t solve every problem. The next time someone says, “We’re having this problem you might consider saying, Let’s take a minute to figure out why.”

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