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5 Ways to Accelerate Your High-Performance Culture With Training

December 15, 2020 Andrew Freedman

Training to accelerate performance

Do you view your company’s training department as an overhead cost center or a revenue-yielding, indispensable unit? 

If you are like most leaders, unfortunately, you fall in the former category. In fact, when the folks at McKinsey surveyed over 860 leaders, only 33% of those respondents said that their learning programs always or often achieve business impact. No wonder leaders struggle to build high-performance cultures. 

While there are plenty of reasons why training simply doesn't deliver improved performance, here are 5 things you can do to actually make your training department a unit that accelerates business results and impact.

1. More effectively define role excellence
Achieving higher levels of performance starts with having clear definitions of success. Far too many roles have descriptions that are composed of tasks or competencies only—but not all tasks create value for your customer. In addition, an individual may have a competency, but not be able to apply that competency in a way that produces value for the customer or your company. 

Without effectively linking a person’s behaviors to outcomes produced that yield business value, leaders use hope as a strategy that individuals will perform at high levels. As a result, training efforts miss the mark in providing tangible value, since more often than not, that training content also isn’t linked to the outcomes and value a person needs to produce in her role.

What you can do: Take a new approach to defining excellence in your most critical roles, starting first with the outcomes and value the roles need to produce.

2. Make training part of a comprehensive approach to creating a high-performance culture
Too often, leaders deploy training in reaction to an acute need—the company is not hitting a key performance metric or individuals are deficient in producing a result that a leader wants to see more of—as opposed to a measured, strategic fashion. 

This often looks like sending a person or cohort of people to a class (in-person or online) to learn new things that will allow them to do some things differently or better. The challenge with this approach is multifold:

a. Individuals are generally learning to perform a task (make better phone calls, overcome objections, use a new technology, learn product specifications) without a focus on those tasks yielding value-creating outcomes. This wastes time and money and largely sets the wrong expectations for what is truly valuable and meaningful.

b. Because there is no tangible performance improvement, leaders see diminished value in training and development efforts.

c. Inconsistent and ineffective approaches to development almost guarantee that the majority of a role population will struggle to excel and produce exceptional value to clients or the company. In turn, it may even diminish their self-perception in terms of progress and success.

What you can do: Ensure that training, learning, and development have a strategic seat at the table and that your learning leader is totally aligned to the performance metrics that matter most to the business. This will provide the needed insight to ensure that training content is context sensitive and aligns to the company’s critical metrics of success.

3. Track performance metrics before and after training interventions
Put simply, leaders don’t have a great handle on how their people are performing (see point number 1), and how training advances performance (see point number 2). As a result, there is no clear way to measure progress or impact of training efforts.

What you can do: Ensure that performance reviews and individual development plans have specific and measurable targets. Enroll individuals or have them enroll themselves in training interventions that align directly to the performance targets. Document what was learned in the training and how those learnings will be applied. Track and measure progress against those commitments and the role-specific performance targets.

4. Align training with compensation, rewards, and/or recognition efforts
Few things decelerate performance more than giving employees mixed messages in what is most important. 

With respect to training, we often see leaders send their people to training and then reward and recognize things that are in conflict with what people learn. For example, sales people often learn about the importance of taking a client-centric approach to sales and service, but then are measured, rewarded, and/or reprimanded for selling or not selling specific company products or services without regard for whether those offerings meet client needs.

What you can do: Align company initiatives, products, and services with what is taught, trained, and held as best practices.

5. Know when training is (or is not) the solution for the observed performance issues
When studying individual, team, and organizational performance, we often see barriers that prevent higher levels of achievement. These barriers are not intentionally put in place by leaders, but they do exist and impede performance. 

For example, workflow and business processes that are unnecessarily cumbersome or aren’t aligned with customer needs waste time, money, and opportunity. Instead of understanding this, leaders believe that their people “just need more training.” The impacts of this approach include low morale, a feeling among employees that leaders don’t understand their work, and/or that leaders don’t care. It should be no surprise that with this approach, training doesn’t positively impact business results or individual performance.

What you can do about it: Take time to analyze how your best “performers” do their work. Understand the barriers they see and how they work around the barriers. You’ll likely uncover amazing process improvement, customer service, business development, and innovation ideas.

For more on how to ensure your training efforts accelerate business performance, watch this video from one of SHIFT’s Managing Directors, Jeff Lesher, on how to ensure training isn’t a drain on your organization.


The debut book by SHIFT’s Andrew Freedman will help you drive higher levels of performance and replicate it at scale. Drawing on 60 years of combined experience in change management, organizational development, and performance consulting, Andrew Freedman and Paul Elliott share their systematic approach, known as the Exemplary Performance System (EPS) which enables leaders to take immediate action to shift workforce engagement and performance.

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TOPICS: High Performance, Leaderhip, Employee Engagement