2020-02-24 HR Examiner article Degrees of Separation by Doug Shaw photo img Passing Strangers by Doug Shaw 544x230px

Passing Strangers : Original art by Doug Shaw

What is the purpose of training?

I recently spent three months working with a client, helping them test a bunch of systems and processes. This project was essentially a test run for a major piece of work taking place in 2021. We were engaged to test everything in order to identify what worked, and what might prove problematic – particularly when the project scales up.

Field operations was our domain, everything from onboarding, through workforce planning, training, management, and HR. It was a really interesting, practical project. The people aspects of the work were, on the whole, really enjoyable, however my experience of the systems and processes could, and I think should have been much better. The training I went through was particularly underwhelming and I’ve decided to share aspects of that. If you are in the business of commissioning and delivering training, this might help you avoid some of the potholes which tripped us up.

Doug Shaw on HRExaminer.com

Doug Shaw, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

There was a need to complete aspects of our training before we became operationally active. As the project start date grew nearer and nearer, additional modules kept being added to the list. These new activities were all deemed ‘compulsory’ and came complete with a vaguely threatening note, warning that if the training is not completed immediately – the offer of work may be withdrawn. All this work had to be completed on our own time, and I fed back that the approach to acquiring these essential skills felt coercive rather than inclusive.

We had to undertake one of everyone’s favorite piece of mandatory coursework, manual handling. We had to sit through a training module and pass a compulsory exam. Subsequently, a large delivery of office kit is delivered to our home addresses, in boxes too big and heavy to move safely. As I ponder how to move this stuff in a compliant fashion, I ask myself, how does the world of mandatory training impact things operationally? Is the training there to assist us, or to act as a box ticking exercise for the employer when someone calls in a bad back? ‘Well, it says here you passed the training…?’


Delivering training close to the point of need feels like a good thing to plan for. We get up-skilled when it is necessary, and we have the chance to put things to the test straight away. Some of our work on this project involved using new software, software which we were trained to use without having access to anything other than an e-learning module. Several weeks later the tools with the software are in our hands, and the training is a) a distant memory and b) full of holes. We are rusty and have gaps in our knowledge. This scenario became more challenging when it transpired that we didn’t have access to the same technology our staff were using. As you might imagine, that made supporting our colleagues as they onboarded and got to work, somewhat tricky. Despite repeated requests – that access was not granted for the duration of the project.

Assessment and Evaluation

All the training we undertook required successful completion of quizzes and assessments. 100% or bust, but with unlimited retries. Rinse and repeat? Some of the questions felt like a genuine attempt to check our understanding, but far too many of them felt unnecessary. This example is one of my favorites:

2020-02-24 HR Examiner Doug Shaw article Printer Question 544x396px.jpg

If anyone can explain the point of a question like this, I’d love to hear from you.

Something else I quickly noticed about these tests, were the multiple-choice questions, many of which were structured with four choices. A, B, C, or D – all the above. I quickly spotted a pattern. In every single case – the correct answer was D, so every time a multiple-choice question came up, and there were plenty – I didn’t read the question, I just chose D, ticked the box and moved on. What am I being assessed on here – is it my ability to interpret, store, and act on information, or simply to spot patterns, and know which country I’m in?

Each training module had an evaluation – which you guessed it, was compulsory. Throughout the project – I sought to put myself in the shoes of the people who would do this work for real. I lied my way through every single assessment which related to training I had to undertake prior to starting work. I chose to do this simply because I wanted an easy life, and I didn’t fancy answering any awkward questions, or dealing with further mumblings about having the offer of work withdrawn. As soon as I’d cleared that gate, I switched to honest, and where necessary, critical feedback. In all cases, I heard nothing more.

Throughout the project – I frequently experienced a sense of distance. As the manager of the work, I felt close to my team yet removed from the flow of decision making, and the almost total lack of engagement and feedback from my reporting didn’t help to close that distance either. I appreciate the process has to start somewhere, however in this case, too often it felt like our role was to enable the organization to verify what was already in place, rather than inquire about its usability, relevance, and potential adaptability.

I want to stress that overall I enjoyed my time on this project. I learned a huge amount, and refreshed a lot of my operational skills too, but nevertheless – I departed with a sense of missed opportunity.

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