How to decide if training is the answer to your problem: the Training Triage

The Medical Analogy

Let’s say I have a very painful knee. I go to my doctor and say, ‘I would like really some strong painkillers!’
The doctor says, ‘OK,’ writes a prescription for diclofenac and that’s that.
A random colleague of the doctor’s or their supervisor would say, ‘Are you out of your mind? How can you write a prescription without any kind of diagnosis?’


The Reality in Learning and Development

In the world of learning and development, it is, unfortunately, no exception for people to decide that training is the solution to a problem without diagnosing the problem first.


How It Typically Happens

How come? Here’s how this might go.
A supervisor has an epiphany and decides that something has to improve or change in her team. She feels, for example, that her employees are struggling when it comes to setting priorities. She first tries to point her employees in the right direction herself, bringing it up at work meetings and at bilateral meetings. When this does not improve the situation, she goes to her colleague from the Training department and requests training.


The Training Request

The colleague from the Training department thinks only in terms of training and instantly understands her request, ‘What kind of training do you want?’ ‘I’m thinking Time Management training, because I took that myself once and I got some useful tips out of it,’ the supervisor replies. The colleague from the Training department goes back to his desk and googles ‘time management’ or calls a reputable training firm, which entirely agrees that training is the solution to their problem. Not surprising, of course, because they are in the business of selling training courses. And so, the circle is complete. Prescription written without a diagnosis.


The supervisor does actually have a diagnosis, but because she is already sure that training is the solution, she does not share her diagnosis or only barely. Consequently, the colleague from the Training department procures the training without sharing the diagnosis with the training provider. The training provider deploys a trainer to give the training, and this trainer is not aware of the supervisor’s diagnosis either.


The Harmful Effects

Just like it can be harmful to be prescribed painkillers without a prior diagnosis, it can be harmful to give training when employees actually need something entirely different. After all, if the training does not work, managers will stop believing in training and employees will notice that training is futile and be less motivated to go next time.


The Underlying Problem: A Lack of Expertise

The big difference between the world of learning and development and the medical world is, of course, that many people realise that doctors know more about the human body than they do. Sure, we all have a body, but doctors have studied every single detail of it for the best part of eight years. With learning and development issues, many people think they know what they are talking about because they have years of experience in education, i.e. they were in school from age 4 to age 18. Undeterred by any kind of study into how learning really works, the cycle of writing prescriptions without a sound diagnosis goes on. How do we break out of this harmful cycle?

Introducing the Training Triage Model

The question is how to determine if training is the right solution to an issue or problem that a company is grappling with. I - Jeanne - have come up with a simple model to help companies answer that question: the Training Triage model.


The Inspiration Behind the Model

I got the idea to call this model Training Triage  when we were working with a group of triage nurses in the UK.

Triage nurses are responsible for ‘sorting’  patients by the urgency of their need for medical assistance before they have  been seen by a doctor. They do that based on the ABCDE list. The ABCDE method is intended to provide medical assistance based on the principle of ‘treat first what kills first.’

The A stands for ‘airway’. So, the first thing a triage nurse looks at when a new patient is brought in is whether the airway is clear. The B stands for ‘breathing’. This looks at the state of the patient’s breathing, are they getting enough oxygen? C stands for ‘circulation’, i.e. whether the blood circulation is compromised, is there any bleeding? Et cetera.

This is how triage nurses quickly assess who needs to be seen the most urgently and in what order. When you go to the A&E because you stepped on a nail and it is lodged in your foot, it may take a while before it is your turn. Triage is basically a patient sorting system where you quickly make simple choices that everyone understands, because everyone knows the system.


The Training Triage Model Explained

Training Triage offers a way to assess what the problem is and whether training or a learning activity is the solution at all. This means that even though an L&D professional or trainer has already been contracted to give training, they will always want to set a proper diagnosis first. The Training Triage model will help trainers diagnose what caused the issue that the client wants to tackle.


-       workers do not always wear their work clothes the way they should;
-       the team is not selling enough;
-       our company wants a higher net promoter score from our customers;
-       sickness absence levels are too high;
-       ...

The Training Triage model enables trainers to get to the bottom of why a problem exists and is not going away. What are people not doing or not doing enough, or perhaps doing the wrong way?
The model looks into three possible causes of why the problem has not been solved yet. It always tries to answer the question why people are, in the current situation, not yet doing what the client or supervisor wants them to do.


Training Triage – the model

The basic question is this: why are people  not showing the required behaviour at this point?

The Training Triage triangle has 3 aspects: skill  set, mindset, and structure.

Skill set

How come they are unable to do it, do not have  enough knowledge for it, or are not capable of it?

Is it because they do not want to, do not see the purpose, or find it a ridiculous idea?

Is it because the organisation is standing in their way? What is it that makes it hard for them to show the required behaviour?

If the answer to the skill set and the mindset questions is NO, there is no point in proceeding with the training. That is when you have to do something about the organisation. Mindset and skill set are fairly trainable, but when there is an issue because of something in the organisation, training is pointless.


Real-life examples

Case Study 1: Safety Helmets in a Factory
A client with a large factory called us one day to enquire about safety training for his people. In our preliminary talks with him, it turned out that the factory workers often failed to wear their safety helmets. That was the problem the client wanted to solve, because a survey had shown that helmets were worn for only 64% of the time.

We went through the Training Triage questions:

Skill set:
Are the workers physically capable of putting on a helmet?  
Do the workersknow how to wear a helmet?

Do workers consider it important to wear a helmet?
‘Yes. There had been an accident that would not have been as severe if the worker had worn his helmet.’
Do supervisors always wear a helmet on the factory floor?

Are there (enough) helmets? Do the helmets fit? Are there enough helmetsfor everyone? Are they comfortable?
Are the helmetsalways easily accessible to the workers?
‘No, they have to walk the long way roundbecause the helmets are kept somewhere that is not on their walking route.’

Our solution:
hang the helmets somewhere that workers pass anyway.Helmet use shot up to 98%.
It would have beenstupid to give safety training.

CaseStudy 2: Telecommunications Industry and Cross-Selling

A rather more complex example involves a client of ours in the telecommunications industry. This company’s employees turned out not to do a lot of cross-selling. They sold lots of mobiles, mobile plans, and cases. When we asked them, they turned out to actually be quite good at cross-selling as such, but their home broadband sales were lagging behind.

We went through the Training Triage questions:

Are the employees capable of linking one product to another?
‘Yes, they are.But not yet for home broadband.’
Are they fully up to date on the prices of the various home broadband packages?
‘Yes, they are.’

Do the employees consider it important to sell home broadband?
‘They say they do, but they’re not doing it. (That’s a NO.)’

Does their POS system work properly for home broadband sales?
‘Yes, exactly the same as with mobile phones.’
On what products do they get a bonus?
‘All sales, except home broadband sales.’

Our solution:
We gave a 2.5-hour mindset training session to get them eager to start actively offering home broadband deals to customers AND the telecommunications company put the highest bonus on home broadband sales. Without the bonus, the training would have been a lot less successful, because the in-store team would still prioritise sales that earn them a bigger bonus. The bonus alone, without the training, would probably have led to the team pushing the product without a clear tactic, because they would not have had the right techniques to present home broadband to potential buyers in an attractive way.


The Ultimate Goal of Training Triage

Making Informed Decisions
The Training Triage model is a quick way to identify where training is needed or to conclude that training is not needed at all. It does that through an analysis of the reasons why employees are not doing something or not doing it right.

Some trainers will instantly say YES to a training request, even if the issue at hand is caused by the company’s organisation. They do that either because they are not familiar with the Training Triage model or because they have hit hard times financially and are looking out for their own best interest first. This, in turn, inadvertently perpetuates the idea that many supervisors have that training is expensive because it has so little effect.


The Call to Action for Trainers and Supervisors
If all trainers and educational experts were to thoroughly assess the issue at hand first, using the Training Triage model, before assuming training is the right answer, that would put a very different complexion on the concept of training. First take a step back when someone comes to you with a training request, because then the best choice will emerge for yourself and for the client.

Training Triage will help you quickly assess what would be the best course of action to take in response to a client’s issue.

And in cases where training is indeed the best course of action, it is key to make sure training participants retain what they learnt and trained. After all, if participants retain nothing, there will be no changes.



Parts of this text are from my book: No More Boring Learning. Get it here.




How to decide if training is the answer to your problem: the Training Triage

27 min