The 5 Why's Exercise: Training is Broken

You can address a problem in many ways, but until you address the cause, the problem will persist.

The true benefits of analyzing an organization before conducting training are immeasurable. Today, let’s take a look at why training is broken and what can be done to fix it.

When thinking of training it is common to uncover perceptions that it is useless, boring, ineffective and an overall waste of time. That is a problem. Before we examine how to fix it, we need to apply our innovative mindset. We need to frame the problem and figure out the cause. So Let’s ask, “Why?” One tool commonly used to conduct a root cause analysis is called the 5 Whys. The idea is that you take a problem and ask, “why?” at it until you have a clearer understanding of what is causing that issue. This exercise is often used in six-sigma situations, but is also useful when trying to innovate. While trying to frame a problem or ask thoughtful questions, “why” can be a very useful tool in itself.


The 5 Why’s

Let’s dive in and look at an example. A company notices sales numbers are down, and it seems like people aren’t talking well with each other, so they hold a sales training event. The topic of effective communication skills is hit upon heavily. After the training, sales continue to slow and tension levels on the teams continue to rise.


Let they “Why’s?” begin.


Why is training broken?

Because it is often used as a band-aid fix, a generalized solution to address everyday problems. It doesn’t address the cause, or the reason that the problem exists.

In our example, sales numbers were not hitting benchmarks so sales training was applied to try to help boost results. Further, it was assumed that if people had good communication skills, the office environment would improve.


Why doesn’t training address the problem?

Because there isn’t a clear picture of the problem or what is causing it. Typically, there are just a series of symptoms. Negative environment, complaints, arguments, and lack of engagement are just a few common symptoms but are not usually the problem in itself.

In the example the symptoms of slow sales and poor communication were identified. “Why” wasn’t even a question considered before jumping to conclusions/(solutions).


Why isn’t there a clear picture of the problem?

Because analysis hasn’t been completed or time hasn’t been put into framing the problem.

There was no attempt to frame the problem or ask questions to get a clear understanding of the cause in our example. Had questions been asked, the problem would have come into focus. It would have come to light that a recent reorganization of teams had left people confused and anxious about the status of the company and the security of their jobs.


Why hasn’t analysis been conducted?

Because analysis can be difficult. Looking deep into an organization can easily be considered unnecessary, unachievable, or too expensive. It is easy to look at the short-term bottom line, a snapshot of how things are going. It is easy to react to the symptoms of a problem. The easy answer is why the tough questions aren’t being asked.

In our example management agreed on the symptoms and decided to reuse a sales training program that had been successful in the past. They selected what presented itself as the easy solution.


Why is analysis deemed so difficult, unnecessary, unachievable, or expensive?

Because the true cost of avoiding such analysis is unknown. There are many answers to this why. and there are a lot of fears and unknown’s here that are just easier to avoid. But taking the easy way, can be very costly.

The company dealing with slow sales failed to find the root cause. Now, employees are starting to find positions elsewhere. Countless sales opportunities have been missed. The pipeline of clients has suffered greatly and so has the company’s image. An accurate valuation of this type of loss can only be estimated. This cost tremendously outweighs the cost that would have been incurred from analysis and thoughtful training.


What can be done about it?

For training to be effective it needs to be targeted, engaging, and relevant. Teams grow stronger from shared experiences. In the current virtual landscape, it’s easy to send out a presentation or use prerecorded courses. It is hard to engage with a click through program. They are rarely targeted or interactive. Innovation is the key to fixing the problems around training. Frame the symptoms or problems, ask the questions and conduct the analysis to get a clear picture of the cause(s), brainstorm, and develop training to address the causes of problems your workforce is facing. This can be a lot of work and outsourcing could be perceived expensive. If it sounds like it might be too difficult or expensive, try to consider the cost of the alternative. Third-party analysis is often quicker, easier, less biased, and more effective than in-house analysis. Do you really know the cost of third-party help?


Woodworth Enterprises works with clients to identify problems and has developed a customizable insight tool for effective and thorough analysis. We do the heavy lifting, collecting and sifting through responses, and provide a report with identified strengths, areas of opportunity, and a clear picture of the company’s culture. We provide suggested courses of action. We can even customize a class, course, experience to target identified opportunities.


Training is important, but a lot of training today misses the mark. It is broken. By applying an innovative mindset, and perhaps enlisting some outside help, it doesn’t have to be. Just remember, whatever problems you are facing, you can address them in many ways, but until you address the cause, the problem will persist.

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