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.
Use an out-of-office reply to your advan­tage! Those emails are full of use­ful infor­ma­tion, includ­ing when your sale… — 3 days ago
C. Lee Smith