Why Training Without Coaching Doesn’t Work

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Jason Forrest, founder and CEO at FPG (Forrest Performance Group), is a leading authority in culture change programs. He’s also the winner of five international Stevie Awards for his training programs. During a recent Manage Smarter podcast, I asked Jason why so many training programs don’t impact the bottom line as much as business leaders hope. Here’s what we learned.

Corporate training is big business in the U.S. Forrest tells us third-party sources like the American Training and Development Society estimate that $164 billion is spent every year on corporate training. With that kind of investment being made, you’d expect to hear about big improvements in employee and management performance. The hard-to-hear truth is that 70% of this spending does not yield a return on investment.

Definition of Training

When I asked Forrest to explain the disconnect, he answered by giving me his definition of training. Simply put, “It’s to change behavior.” In a typical organization, leaders think of training as teaching. Education is a big part of training. But effective training involves more. If you want an employee to change behavior, think about Forrest’s trademarked formula: “Performance equals knowledge minus leashes.”

Leashes are the reason that many employees don’t benefit from training. Forrest tells us a leash is the same as a belief — specifically, that an employee can’t succeed at carrying out a task they’ve been trained to do. Something is holding them back. Sometimes, a leash comes in the form of resistance.

Take the example of a manager who doesn’t like to have difficult conversations with an employee. They dread the entire encounter and put it off as long as possible. In the meantime, the employee, who might be coming in consistently late, negatively impacts everyone else in the department. To loosen the leash and implement the training they've had, the manager might set a rule that they have to deal with an issue within 72 hours.  

Why More Training Isn’t The Answer

All too often, when a sales rep or team member messes up, someone in the organization, especially in a big organization, says, “The problem must be that you need more training.” Forrest calls this response ‘free babysitting for managers.” They don’t have to worry about the employee anymore, because training will fix the problem.

Guess what? More training isn’t always effective. In fact, at some organizations motivational speaking, like TED talks, masquerades as training. It’s great to get people fired up about something like meeting a sales goal. But if you don’t give people experiential coaching, they don’t understand the mechanics of how to execute a task. The need to learn how to change their behavior.

Some industry professionals like to talk about how one day of training will translate into performance improvements of 22%. That may be true, but you can increase the chances of success by coaching your employees to apply the training they received.

Effective Coaching

For example, if you’ve got a rep who’s struggling to convert more leads to sales, start coaching them on how to accomplish this activity productively. As a manager, you don’t want your rep to focus on cutting price just to close more deals. Why? Because the rep has to sell even more to make their sales numbers. The better strategy is to coach the rep on how to do good discovery and sell the value of your solution.

Go ahead and spend money to train your reps. Just remember that managers need to close the gap between what reps have learned and what they need to know. Managers must explain “the how” to help reps accomplish their goals.

C. Lee Smith

C. Lee Smith

CEO and Founder at SalesFuel
C. Lee Smith is the President/CEO of SalesFuel — a firm he founded in 1989. He was named one of the 14 Leading Sales Consultants by Selling Power magazine in 2018. Lee is the creator of the AdMall® and SalesFuel COACH™ SaaS platforms. He is also a Gitomer Certified Advisor, expert on the Sales Experts Channel and a C‑Suite Network Advisor.
C. Lee Smith


@SalesFuel CEO C. Lee Smith. Speaker, entrepreneur, sales and employee toxicity expert, leadership and management consultant. Co-host, Manage Smarter podcast.
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C. Lee Smith