Written by:

Holly Macdonald


February 24, 2015

I recently read this post about “HR Debt“, which I strongly encourage you to read.

Most startup founders are familiar with the idea of technical debt, whereby poor system design or coding builds problems over time and makes it hard to improve a piece of software. If you don’t clean up and refactor as you build, you’re left with a clunky mess that no one can (or wants to) fix.

The same thing happens if you hack your way through hiring and management.

I call this HR Debt.


Training Debt

It got me to thinking about the same notion when it comes to training. Are there situations that you are incurring training debt through poor system design? I think for many organizations there are times when that could be a yes.

1. Not offering new employee training – in a small organization, there is very little of this offered for a couple of reasons: you might be the only person that does that work and there’s no real documented processes or training to use, and there might not be anyone in charge within the organization to give that warm fuzzy orientation that larger organizations can offer.

In larger organizations there may be a nice orientation “course”, but often the connection between the vision, values, HR info that you get in an orientation and job-specific training is missing or at odds with what’s in the warm fuzzy orientation.

So you may have employees who don’t know what to do and/or you have employees who don’t know why they do it.

2. New product roll-out – launching a new product into the market without providing proper employee training could end up hurting you in the end.

3. Ignoring legislative or regulatory requirements – You might also risk an employee doing a task wrong, which could have dire circumstances for your customers, your company or even create personal liability.

4. Ignoring some employees when it comes to training – if you are focusing on groups of employees, you may be missing some people that are less obvious, but can have a big impact on the organization. For example you train employees who are customer-facing, but don’t bother training others in the organization.

5. Doing all classroom or self-paced elearning – if you don’t match the need with the method, you may end up spending more on training that isn’t really the right fit. Sometimes, connecting employees together to learn from one another is the right approach, other times it might be creating a helpful job aid.

6. Overspending on a single group, such as the executives – if your budget is limited, don’t let your ego dictate your spending choices – those leadership development programs are always expensive and may not deliver in the end.

7. Creating training and not keeping it current – this becomes not only a waste of time to provide the training, but means that the validity of the entire training solution might be called into question and not followed (can I trust that this is the right information?)

8. Treating training as a “one 0ff” – put them through a training class and then assume they are “trained”.

9. Appointing someone in your organization as the “trainer” – they may know a lot about the subject, but they may not remember what it’s like to be new, or how to sequence instruction to maximize learning. This might end up a situation where your good intentions cost you more in the end.

10. Not training customers, suppliers or others in your ecosystem about things that are critical to your business. Training is not solely for employees.

11. Waiting until a major issue, mistake or event forces you to provide training.

12. Thinking of training as a “perk” – this happens a lot when it comes to ongoing professional development – you offer a certain amount of money for ongoing learning but don’t consider how to manage this or what the implications are as you grow.

13. Tacking training on at the end of a project – this is common in systems training – training is considered when everything has already been designed (when it would have been much better to be involved during the project to understand the system and impacts on employees) or it is assumed that you will deliver this in a classroom.

Preventing Training Debt

In terms of preventing training debt – while there are times to hack together a quick and dirty training session, there are also times where that approach will come back to haunt you. Consider training as a strategic connection to your brand and your company growth. Investing is different than just spending. As you build your business plan, make sure you add in the questions: “who needs to be trained on this?” or “what training needs to be considered”. When introducing something new, don’t forget the training element. Seek out help if you need it.

What do you think? Are there areas of “training debt” that I’ve missed? What have you seen that you’d add to my list? What strategies would you offer to deal with it?