Is training punishment for your people?

Last summer, I read an article that stuck in my memory. It was about US Airways pilots who, because of the increase in fuel prices, were forced to take fuel-management courses if they ordered an extra few minutes of fuel for their flights.

One former Continental pilot Bruce Meyer, said he had to hide that
he was putting a safety cushion of fuel on board.

Then US Airways pilots took out an ad that said the airline “embarked on a program of jailintimidation to pressure your captain to reduce fuel loads.” Senior pilots — those who are well aware of the vagaries of flights — were targeted for (gasp!) fuel conservation training.

Their punishment was training!

Part of this is the humiliation they felt at being senior pilots and being relegated to re-training as if they were rookies or didn’t know what they were doing.

One pilot said he felt the airline was “selecting a few and hoping to intimidate the remainder of our pilot group to not add fuel when they feel they might need a little fuel. So hoping if they punish a few, the rest of the pilot group will get in line.”

Again, punishment is related to training.

Do your people see training as punishment? Even if you think of it as sharpening their ax, refining their skills, reinforcing previous trainings, if they feel it’s punishment it will not only be a waste of everyone’s time, but will have a negative impact, not the positive one you were hoping for.

I’ve encountered this way too many times in my nearly 30 years in the training and development profession. Groups enter the classroom telling me they don’t want to be there, it’s a waste of time, they have more important things to do, their boss sent them. They start the day disengaged — arms crossed, texting on their phones, answering emails on their laptops, even reading. There is very little even a great instructor can do to turn around a group who believes they are being punished by attending forced training.

Much more successful is making training a reward for high potentials, as a chance to enhance their skills and make them more promotable. But very few managers know how to do this properly. I help my clients position training in a way that gets the maximum ROI. How they frame it to their people is important.

If you’d like to discuss how to do this with your team, just give me a call.

Of course, the airlines in the above examples, insisted that the re-training was not for disciplinary reasons. Try explaining that to the pilots with a straight face.

2 thoughts on “Is training punishment for your people?”

  1. Hi Rebecca, great post, and you’re spot on when you suggest that training should be positioned in a positive light, not as punishment. Now more than ever, an effort to develop your staff demonstrates a commitment to high performance. Some of the top talent management practices covered in recent research focus on training best practices: creating consistent development plans across the organization; the same competencies used in performance management for assessment should be used for learning and development plans; and that training should be tied to developmental goals of individuals and those of the organization. A research note on the subject that we collaborated on with Bersin & Associates includes more background as well.

  2. Hi Rebecca. I could understand if the airline was monitoring fuel usage for operational efficiency as opposed to taking on fuel for safety purposes. They used to have ‘fuel bonuses’ for pilots who kept usage below a certain point.

    I had a similar issue with some company vehicles and their tyres – I was re-trained for insisting on changing them when worn, not 40,000 km as stated by manufacturer.

    However, I do think it comes down to whether you are a ‘glass is half empty sort of person’. Re-training is training. Training is opportunity to develop, regardless of the reason.

    In a previous job I managed a team of 12 trainers, the bottom third saw additional training as CV/Resume content, the top third saw it as enhanced opportunity for promotion / more responsibility etc, whilst the middle group saw it as just ‘more damn training’.

    Of course promoting training for it’s true benefit is in the best interests of a manager.

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