The Danish philosopher, theologian, and psychologist, Søren Kierkegaard once observed, “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t so. The other is to refuse to believe what is so.” For centuries, April 1 has been celebrated in many countries with pranks, hoaxes, and practical jokes.

Wikipedia has a fascinating collection of well-known April Fool pranks. What’s equally interesting are the examples of real news stories that happened on April 1 but were so strange they were believed to be April Fool jokes. CLICK HERE to read the full Wikipedia article.

Many managers and training professionals fool themselves into thinking they are providing effective training. One of the most popular articles on our web site is “Why Most Training Fails.” After reading it, Mark Christie sent me this LinkedIn message:

“Just read ‘Why Most Training Fails.’ I feel that I’ve written the same article myself…many times over!

The only issue I have with it is the statement that the research is ignored by many training professionals. I would submit that the true training ‘professionals’ aren’t ignoring this research at all, but the challenge is in getting the client to accept the findings. I’m fully aware of all of the pitfalls of running the ‘spray and pray’ workshops, but unfortunately that’s what clients insist on having, despite my pleas to the ineffectiveness of such practices. I’ve heard arguments from other consultants that a true professional just wouldn’t take that engagement, but when there’s 100 guys lining up behind you that will do it, the alternative is to starve…not my preferred option.

I am interested to know how you deal with clients that – despite all the evidence – simply want the ‘spray and pray?’”

At The CLEMMER Group we often deliver one-time training events or activities. There are times when that’s about the most the senior manager sponsoring the training effort is willing to invest. Other times we provide a keynote or workshop that’s part of a staff or management conference or meeting. And that’s better than no training at all.

In those situations we’ll invest time probing and understanding the larger context of the organization’s culture. We’ll try to uncover whatever strategic plans, values, core competencies, or performance management system might exist and link the training event to those.

What we avoid is participating with the senior manager who is fooling his or her self into believing it’s all about hiring someone to change and “fix” everybody else. This becomes especially apparent when we’re asked to “teach them” how to communicate, be more accountable, or increase trust. Deeper probing often shows that the senior manager is not prepared – and won’t tolerate – efforts to get at deeper processes, management systems, or leadership practices underlying and causing most of the communication, accountability, and trust problems. This is not a training issue. Training will not only fail, it will be a scab-picking exercise that causes the infection to spread.

Training is most effective when it’s part of a bigger culture change and leadership development effort. Often this will be a step by step process that begins with an event. As managers increase their learning and effectiveness, they get deeper into understanding the interconnections between management systems and leadership behaviors. You can see some of this relationship outlined at The High-Performance Balance and a few video clips on The Performance Balance.

The one short article where I’ve tried to most succinctly summarize the difference between training as an event and as a culture/leadership development process is at Bolt-on Programs or Built-In Culture Change. Training professionals may start with a bolt-on program that begins as “spray and pray.” But with the end goal of culture change, we can look for opportunities that help the senior managers we’re working with move toward a deeper and more lasting process of continuous development.