Why training is mostly a waste of money

You will learn all this new stuff or else……..

Let me start by illustrating the two occasions when training is not a waste of money; that is, you don’t just learn some new things but you actually change as a result.

When you have no choice.

In the 80’s I was a programmer working at a large UK council. I was trained in a database language called IMS (I know you don’t really care but I’m a stickler for factual accuracy) when they decided that the project I was working on would use a different language instead called DB2 (there I go again).

We were all given new development plans and sent on a training course to learn the new language and when we came back were expected to be able to write programs using DB2. I have to tell this was a great incentive to learn and sure enough I came back from the course and began to use my new skills immediately. The training had worked!

So what can we learn from this?

  • Change happens when the new skills you are learning become an integral part of your working life and you cannot function without them.

When you REALLY want to change

I had somebody attend one of my 1-day personal effectiveness and efficiency courses a few years back who had paid to come on it themselves. He worked for a medium-sized property company and had reached the stage where he was “going to have a nervous breakdown” if he didn’t do something about the hours he worked and the stress he was under.

This was most unusual because everybody I had seen before had been sent, and paid for, by their employer presumably because they felt they needed to improve. He had chosen to come because he really wanted to change his circumstances. I have to say that he was by far and away the most motivated and involved participant on that day; perhaps ever and he was determined to get every ounce of value from it.

This story has a very nice ending in that he wrote me an email only very recently to say that he had transformed his life after the day by saying “no” more often, delegating properly and only doing the things that really mattered (pretty much the course in a nutshell there folks saving you the expense of having to attend – I’m just a giver I guess).

In truth it wasn’t me who changed his life; he did it himself by his determination to improve his circumstances.

Another lesson then.

  • Change is much more likely if somebody passionately wants to move on.

So why is this important?

Well industry spends billions of pounds on training every year and according to a study run by Xerox only 10% of it actually results in a change in the workplace. Even if you doubt the figures think about the last course you went on and now be honest and say how much of what you learned is actually part of your everyday lives today.

So if you want to make your training budget have more effect you should make sure that you either create an environment where people cannot function without using what they have learned (what we do in Flair) or only select people who are desperate to change. Preferably both!

I am a big fan of personal development but I cannot stand waste; if you’re with me why not review your training strategy along these lines and see where it takes you?


Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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Posted in Behavioural Change, Personal development
3 comments on “Why training is mostly a waste of money
  1. Barry Hoffman says:

    Good Blog Michael.
    Be the change you want to see, said Ghandi.
    Easy for him to say, and so hard for the rest of us to do – pressure to perform, pressure to answer every email, respond to every demand, answer every phone call, read every tweet, blog and poke is pressure that we create in our own minds. There is lots written about this – but most of all I like a recent blog I read about a guy who returning from holiday managed to clear a week’s worth of email (over 1000) in a couple of hours – He’s now trained himself to treat every day as a holiday and clears email at a set time. And guess what ? – no one notices the difference from his stressed out pre-holiday self. He now does not spend all day waiting and responding and getting stressed about the ping of the email. So I can only endorse the Flair-meister Ames and recall what a very wise colleague once said to me – “you don’t do business by living in your inbox”.

    Educate your senders and recipients – train them in the art of business. Business is not email.

    Currently my inbox stands at 4 emails – my team know that I won’t respond to email that is political posturing, whining, junk, trivia or requests to make their decisions for them. I support and guide – tasks I consider to be my job and as a result, I feel I have space to be productive, I’m supported by my team because they are properly empowered, I feel useful and appropriate and best of all we get results by playing our team roles. My team have learned this over time and do a fantastic job focussing on their real job by applying this learning. And of course they want to change – they all aspire to be me (*irony*).

    Which all leads to a flairy-tale ending: Of happy staff who love their jobs because they *do* the jobs they love. We’ve all trained one another, we’ve all learned and we all love it.

  2. Martyna says:


    You said:”Change happens when the new skills you are learning become an integral part of your working life and you cannot function without them.” this is so damn true.

    And it also explains why it is imperative to become a visionary, or simple someone who can ignite passion in his or her customers. Help people see that their dreams can become reality, and this way you will help them awaken the desire to learn new skills, fast

    “Change is much more likely if somebody passionately wants to move on.”
    how would you persuade people that going forward brings fantastic results?

    thanks, all the best

    • Mike Ames says:

      I couldn’t agree more with your points around being a visionary Martyna. The bigger the dream the bigger the chance of getting people motivated to achieve it. As for persuading people to move forward it is very difficult but the best way I have found is to show how the new world affects them personally by either meking their lives easier or more lucrative.

      When it comes down to it people will not change unless a) they want to or b) they have to.

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Mike Ames

Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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