As the year winds down, let’s look at some true stories from the silly side of training and development. What, you say? There’s nothing silly about the T&D business? Au contraire…

  • Let them eat bagels. A survey at a major company found that employee morale was quite low. What was the company’s response? Training? Nah. New leadership? Nope. Each morning, every department on every floor received a beautiful box of bagels, cream cheese, and accompaniments. Perfect, gourmet, yummy stuff. Morale problem solved, right? Not even close. And several months later, when the business had a bad quarter, gone went the bagels.

  • Retreat to nowhere. Speaking of morale, another business also discovered that employees were none-too-happy at work. Their response: a one-day retreat at a local park. Nice barbecue, some games, and several team-building exercises. A quick follow-up survey indicated, surprisingly, that people felt much better about the company. Not surprising, however, was that this warm feeling lasted about three days, as employees realized they were back in the same lousy environment as before.

  • Oh, the food! A training organization was trying to decide what picture to put on the cover of its new course catalog (yes, printed course catalogs still exist). Should it be students at work in their classes? How about someone using eLearning? Maybe a picture of the company’s latest products? The decision: the training center’s chef holding out some plates of delicious food.

  • A place to think (especially during the two- or three-hour drive to get there). A major corporation had most of its employees efficiently concentrated at an office campus in one city. When they decided they needed a training center, they bought one from another company. This was a well-designed, beautiful place in the woods—a place where employees could contemplate and collaborate. Unfortunately, it was in another state, about 80 miles away from where everyone worked. They also built a helipad there, as they were sure that execs would want to chopper in for some think time and teach time. After a couple of years, can you guess what happened?

  • Edifice complex. The example above is not unique. As another company’s mammoth new residential training center rose from the ground, a chorus of “Is this really necessary?” and “Do we need so many hotel rooms in an era of eLearning?” grew louder. The CLO would have none of it; this was his crowning achievement. After just a few years and several attempts to sell the space for weddings and bar mitzvahs, the facility was mothballed. Dozens of companies have traveled this same road.

  • Big cost, no benefit. A company decided to teach every manager (thousands of them) about its new strategy. A massive instructor-led training program was designed (there was a bias against eLearning at the time) that required, among other things, significant classroom reconfigurations at six global training centers. Walls came down, new furniture was ordered, and technology was installed. A large cohort of instructors began prepping and making travel plans. A ton of participant guides were printed and shipped in advance. Six months and $1,000,000 later, with only about 15 percent of the managers having gone through the training, the business strategy changed, significantly. The original 15 percent needed refresher training and the entire program had to be redesigned. Another million dollars needed. The program was abandoned.

  • Training as vacation. Some people really do think that going to training is a vacation. But this? A corporate university wanted to increase registrations for its business curriculum, so it offered training on cruise ships or at Caribbean resorts. A beautiful color brochure was sent to selected people throughout the business. One day, it landed on the CEO’s desk. Oops! End of program.

  • Killing the learning moment. In creating a new manufacturing course, the instructional design team built a first-day simulation designed so the students would not succeed. From that singular learning moment, the rest of the course would focus on understanding why the simulation failed. This was not met with enthusiasm from the company. “We don’t believe in failure here. Redesign the simulation so that everyone succeeds.” The instructional designers tried to explain the concept of failure (in a training context) as a powerful learning opportunity, to no avail. The course died, deservingly.

  • My way or the highway. An SME created an eLearning course on highway safety for truckers. The first 15 minutes of this 60-minute course focused on the history of road safety legislation, with pictures of various government officials signing laws, giving speeches, etc. When some eLearning specialists suggested that employees might be better served if that time was devoted to a case study, some personal stories, or some questions to self-diagnose learner attitudes, it was discovered that the SME was a former government employee who was very active in drafting some of the legislation in her state. So that content was in, end of discussion.

  • You get what you legislate. A company in a government-regulated industry was required to put its entire staff through several mandated courses. Hundreds of employees took the course and “compliance” data—i.e., registrations and a puff 10-item end-of-course survey captured by the LMS—was dutifully reported every quarter. When the training department suggested that course attendance does not mean anyone actually learned anything, and that a more rigorous certification strategy might be more effective, they discovered that the law requiring the training also inexplicably forbade evaluating or reporting individual participants’ learning or performance back to local management.

  • Why bother? A company wanted to move everything to eLearning (like we haven’t heard this one before). In order to do this quickly, they converted the manuals, participant guides, and SOPs to a PDF format and put them online. When someone pointed out that it would be very difficult for learners to find the information they needed, or that there was no real “design” to the so-called courses, the response was, “that’s okay, they can just print everything out and read it.”

Again, every one of these stories is true. I just made them a little more generic to mask the culprits. If you have similar yarns, tell them, if you dare, below. I do have one more story, but it will take more space to tell. Next month.

Here’s hoping for lots of laughter in 2014, just not at the expense of good decision-making.