Closed-Minded: Not All Training Is Good Training

As a municipal police department Training Coordinator, my mailboxes (both physical and digital) are depositories for all sorts of training class announcements, brochures, and flyers. 

The vast majority of the flyers end up in the recycling bin after only a quick scan. Some of them end up tacked up at my desk contemplating its value. Very few of them cause me to immediately register employees to attend. 

I also receive stacks of memos and emails from employees requesting to attend specific courses, seminars, and conferences. These are people taking interest in their own personal growth - certainly deserving of special consideration.

But with limited budget and manpower, how does one determine what training is given to an organization's members? 

The easy answer is a mechanical matching of weaknesses with skills. Analyze each member for his/her weaknesses (based on current, future, or predicted) responsibilities -- and give specific training to address that weakness. 

Imagine a newly assigned police detective. It's hard to argue against sending him/her to some sort of interview & interrogation training. But which of the myriad of formal courses that satisfy this need? 

That's where mechanical matching falls short. Rote knowledge and technical skill are only one part of the equation.

Powerful questions for me are: How do each of the possible courses...
  • align with (intended) agency culture? 
  • build upon agency core values?
  • connect with previously attended training?
  • challenge or confirm status quo?
  • move the team in the direction we need?

In a fantasy world where time and money does not impact training decisions, the answer might be to send the employee to as many of the available courses as possible - in order to expose him/her to as many opposing viewpoints as possible. This practice allows the learner to decide for him/herself what will work, and choose from competing viewpoints and perspectives.

But this is the all-training-is-good fallacy. 

Not all training is good training.

Some training is built upon myth, mindless rhetoric, unexplained tradition, and junk science. Worse yet is training that relies upon anecdote - betrayed by the cringe-worthy phrase "This one time...." This is bad training. It perpetuates falsehoods, exaggerates possibilities, and twists reality. 

With the trend to turn all things towards "evidence-based" practices, this too might be a pipe dream. The body of available research and science is far from conclusive - and will remain such, as our  environments' variables are limitless, chaotic, complex, and unknowable. Regardless, we should be exploiting (or at least factoring in) statistics and probabilities in our decisions on how to best train our people, even if inconclusive.

Conversely, we cannot be enamored with Shiny Objects either. There is always some new survey or research project that tells us the old way is broken. The age of real-time data and feedback has twisted us into a knot. Few research projects can account for the long-term effects of our actions. This  dichotomy highlights the need for a balance between evidence...and a healthy skepticism of it

We should examine the pedigree of the instructional staff, their philosophies on the industry, culture, human learning, and more. The trainers themselves may not be aligned with our organizational values, concepts, and culture. Why would we subject our people to those who are in conflict at a philosophic level? Yes, that's up to us to decide. (And yes, there are flyers I toss into the garbage purely on who the messenger is because of his/her reputation, credibility, and how s/he conflicts with my organization's values.)

Look beyond the mechanical. Seek harmony. Even as subjective as that is. We as training supervisors have a duty and responsibility to form our team cultures - above and beyond the skillsets and talents of our members, both individually and collectively. Training forms a foundation for our agencies' values, beliefs, and principles. 

Resist bad training. It's out there. That's my opinion. Yours might be different. That's ok. 


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr


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