One of the most common mistakes in the instructional design space is to assume that lack of training is a problem. This mistake is made by instructional designers and senior stakeholders alike.
When discussing what's causing a performance problem, we don't want to jump to "lack of training" before determining whether there's a gap in skill or knowledge (since these are the problems that instructional design can help solve).
We can identify what's causing a performance problem by conducting a needs assessment.
When people aren't performing as desired, this could be due to one of the following:
We design learning experiences and job aids to help resolve a lack of skill and lack of knowledge, but we cannot solve environmental problems by pushing training at them.
A lack of motivation is often due to problems in one of the other areas. By ensuring that people know how to do their jobs, know the effects that they have in others, are confident in doing their jobs, and do not have any environmental barriers in their way (lack of proper incentives, unhealthy work environment, etc.), then we can often resolve a lack of motivation.
Designing training to solve environmental issues is where we often run into problems as instructional designers. If we can resolve the performance problem by fixing something in our audience's environment, then we will see a much better return on our investment.
Here are some common examples:
Sometimes, the tools that people have available are limiting them and holding them back from performing as desired.
For example, if cashiers are ringing up items too slowly, it may be because the scanners are out-of-date and unreliable. Training them will not help resolve the issue with the faulty technology.
Physical barriers in the environment can also lead to performance problems. For example, if customers are complaining because they cannot hear the representatives when they call in, leadership may feel tempted to train the employees on how to speak more clearly.
However, if this is a problem due to loud AC units and an echoey workspace, then the issue will persist even after training the employees.
Flawed reward systems are possibly one of the most common environmental causes for performance problems. If people get rewarded for doing the wrong thing or punished for doing the right thing, then training isn't going to change that.
For example, if leadership is frustrated because their salespeople are selling people subscriptions that they don't need (and then those people call in to complain and cancel), then the leadership may feel tempted to train the salespeople on how to better identify customer needs.
However, if salespeople are rewarded heavily for enrolling new customers in the subscription service and there are no negative ramifications for the salespeople themselves, then they will continue seeking those rewards.
If people don't have the tools that they need to get the job done, then training will not help them perform as desired. When we conduct a job-task analysis or performance context analysis, we will know exactly what our audience has available to them when performing the job.
For example, if we want flight attendants to pour champagne in champagne flutes instead of plastic cups, then we want to make sure that there are champagne flutes on the flight.
After conducting a needs assessment and determining that people aren't doing what they need to because they don't know what they need to know or they don't know how to do what they need to do, then training may help solve the problem.
You can learn more about how to make this determination by exploring action mapping.
Lack of training is never the cause for a performance problem. Lack of knowledge or skill may be the cause, and training may be the solution, but by being careful with our language, we can help maintain the integrity of our field.
It's also important to note that there's rarely a single cause for a performance problem. There's often a combination of a lack of skill, lack of knowledge, and multiple environmental issues.
By identifying these different issues up-front and determining exactly which problems you can help solve as an instructional designer, you can maximize the chances for the success of your project (and collaborate with the right people to help address the environmental issues).