I was recently invited to be a guest on a podcast concerning training techniques. That got me reflecting on decades of my journey in this field.

Waayyy back in the early days of my career, I was a young door-to-door sales rep and then sales manager with Culligan Water Conditioning. I took Dale Carnegie sales, public speaking, and management training courses and got turned on to personal and leadership development. I studied and started using coaching and development approaches with my direct reports and later as a sales trainer.

Given the powerful results I experienced from these approaches I moved into the industry through co-founding The Achieve Group in the early eighties. Partnering with California based, Zenger Miller, we grew to become Canada’s largest training company by the early nineties.

All of my books provide frameworks, pitfalls and traps, tips and techniques, best practices research, and examples focused on personal, team, and organization training and development. The Training and Development section of our website has over 100 blogs, articles, and book excerpts on this topic that’s been at the center of my career.

1.  Most Training Programs Are Useless

Decades of studies have shown that a vast majority of training programs have little to no lasting effect. For example, Why Leadership Development is Failing and How to Fix It, cites a McKinsey & Company study that the training industry “estimated to be more than $50 billion are delivering disappointing results. According to a recent Fortune survey, only 7 percent of CEOs believe their companies are building effective global leaders, and just 10 percent said their leadership development initiatives have a clear business impact. Our latest research has a similar message: only 11 percent of more than 500 executives we polled around the globe strongly agreed with the statement that their leadership development interventions achieve and sustain the desired results.”

2.  Make People Stronger for Organizations and Organizations Stronger for People

We’ve found this simple formula is key to lasting and effective leadership and organization development: B = P x C. That is, Behavior is a factor of Personal development multiplied by the organization’s Culture.

Anchored around 3 or 4 core values, behaviors must be clearly defined and described. These are usually driven throughout the entire organization in a series of hands-on exercises with middle and senior leaders actively involved. Everyone is given extensive skill development. The most effective approaches are built around leadership competencies and strengths-based feedback assessments supported by strong coaching.

3.  Training and Culture Development Are Intertwined

The timeless quest for shortcuts, “secrets,” or faster routes to growth and development is behind fad surfing in the C suite. Many leaders and development professionals search for new technologies and quick and easy approaches to personal, team, and organization development. These partial and piecemeal approaches waste scarce resources and raises “the snicker factor.” People quickly learn to mouth the latest buzzwords, popular books, or trendy approaches — and then get back to their real work.

4.  Cascade Training and Development from the Top

A department, division, or organization’s culture ripples out from its leadership team. A team that wants to change “them” needs to start with a deep look in the mirror to change “us.” Organizational behavior reflects leadership team behavior. This is like an old parenting adage, “children are natural mimics; they act like their parents despite attempts to teach them good manners.”

5.  Leverage Strengths Rather Than Fix Weaknesses

In a chapter entitled “Making Strength Productive” in his classic book The Effective Executive, the “father of modern management,” Peter Drucker writes, “You cannot build performance on weaknesses. You can build only on strengths. To focus on weakness is not only foolish; it is irresponsible. It is a misuse of a human resource as what a person cannot do is a limitation and nothing else.”

It has taken decades for leadership development to catch up to Drucker’s leading-edge thinking. Strength building organizations like Zenger Folkman now have a research body of assessments showing strengths-based approaches are 2 – 3 times more effective than our traditional focus on weaknesses.

6.  360 Feedback Can Be Leadership and Life-Changing

Less effective leaders often have deadly blind spots that cause them to become sincere hypocrites. They mindlessly become “that boss.” 360 assessments are a powerful feedback tool to prevent leaders from being me-deep in fooling themselves.

However, 360s can also destroy self-esteem, decrease motivation for leadership development, and erect defensive barriers. How to Avoid Spinning into the 360 Degree Feedback Death Spiral outlines how to use make this process successful.

7.  Dunking Trainees in the Training Tank Often Makes Things Worse

Decades of research show that many training programs have little impact on creating lasting behavior change. “Spray and pray” or “sheep dipping” provide one-off learning or development events in the hope that something will stick. This contributes to “the great training robbery.”

With weak follow-through, a culture contrary to what’s taught, poor or no coaching, and inconsistent modelling from leaders, it’s a waste of time and money. Even worse, the training often increases dissatisfaction and disengagement by highlighting the big gap between what’s taught and what really happens on the job.

8.  Replace Those Hated Performance Appraisals with Skillful Coaching

Not only are they ineffective, but they can also be destructive. Research by Marie-Hélène Budworth, assistant professor of Human Resource Management at York University, shows that managers giving feedback to staff changed their performance 1/3 of the time, had no effect another 1/3 of the time, and reduced performance 1/3 of the time.

Performance management research shows most approaches are broken. What’s the point? Is it to hold people accountable or coach them to higher effectiveness?

9.  Human Resource Professionals Maximize or Minimize Development Efforts

The most effective HR leaders are valued strategic advisors and key leaders highly respected by the executive team. Less effective HR leaders are tactical administrators enforcing policies and procedures while managing systems like payroll or recruiting. They’re tolerated rather than treasured by the organization’s leaders.

A few years ago, an issue of Harvard Business Review featured a bomb with a burning fuse on its cover and the bold proclamation; “It’s Time to Blow Up HR and Build Something New.” In one article, “Why We Love to Hate HR…and What HR Can Do About It,” Wharton School professor, Peter Cappelli, provides five “basic steps HR leaders can take.” I rewrote his steps with a few key questions in Ten Critical Questions to Assess HR’s Effectiveness.

10.  Personality Models Are Fun but Deliver Very Little Development

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the world’s most popular and widely used personality tool. It leads a horde of four-quadrant personality models with a wide variety of colors and descriptions. Classifying personality types seems to be a deep part of human nature. Nearly 2,500 years ago, “the father of medicine,” the Greek physician, Hippocrates, sorted personalities into four types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.

My very first training tool certification was on one of the pioneering personality type models called Social Styles. Facilitating the discovery of four personality types (Driving, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytical) for self and others was fun and sometimes insightful for participants. While entertaining (and highly rated on the end-of-workshop “happy sheets”) very little lasting behavior change or practical applications came from these sessions.

Al-Shawaf, a researcher and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado, writes, “As any psychologist worth their salt will tell you, it’s bullshit.” He provides eight reasons.


Reviewing my training and development experience field puts me in danger of being the old curmudgeon on the porch yelling at kids to get off my lawn. I do have a bit to say about the topic after more than 40 years in the T & D field, watching trends come and go and noting what approaches work and the many that are a big waste of time.