Common Leadership Errors: Retraining Fixes Everything

What happens in your organization when a human error occurs? By human error I mean an undesired behavior that could, or does, lead to some undesired consequences for the performer, people around them, or the organization. No doubt when these undesired behaviors occur, leaders should do something. Not doing anything would be negligent from an organizational perspective. Yet what leaders do—how they respond—matters. And this is where this common leadership error occurs.

The retraining fixes everything error is made when leaders jump to retraining as the solution for preventing some undesired behavior from occurring again. Someone makes a mistake? Retrain. Someone does something at-risk? Retrain. A group acts inappropriately? Retrain. This error assumes the performer(s) are the problem, and they need to be shown again how to do something the correct way. This is rarely the case. Using retraining as a blanket solution comes with a host of side effects:

  • It associates training with punishment. “You messed up. Go back to training.”
  • It prevents learning and improvement. “It’s a performer issue, not an organizational one.”
  • It leaves intact the real issue that encouraged the undesired behavior in the first place. This teaches employees that management does not care.

Instead of making the retraining fixes everything error, leaders should get to the root cause of the performance issue with a performance diagnostic tool. This would enable them to base their solutions on what the tool identifies as causal factors.

People behave in the context of their environment. Inside organizations, context includes the systems, processes, design of work, and leadership and peer practices. It also includes what and how things get communicated, measured, incentivized, supported, discouraged and yes, trained.

This concept is not new. Useful tools to complete such a diagnosis were developed as early as the 1970s by thought leaders such as Mager and Pipe (Analyzing Performance Problems Model), Thomas Gilbert (The Behavior Engineering Model) and Aubrey Daniels (The PIC/NIC Analysis®). These tools systematically identify underlying causal factors that are hindering optimal performance. This allows leaders to develop a customized plan to improve performance rather than relying on their gut feeling. These tools are still used today along with more recent developments such as ADI’s DE3 Diagnostic Checklist and our Safety Systems Assessment.

Providing an informed solution to performance issues is critical for continuous improvement. While it might be easier to simply retrain performers, that rarely helps in the long-term. Retrained performers put into the same environment will drift back into old habits because the environment will continue to encourage them. Developing solutions to reengineer or redesign the environment is the only way to create truly lasting change and drive company success.


Posted by Bryan Shelton

Bryan applies his knowledge and expertise in strategic planning to help organizations align employee performance with company goals. Bryan helps clients create improvement across a variety of business metrics including company growth, profitability, customer service, vision alignment, leadership development, and culture change. He also helps clients implement process improvement initiatives, improve sales results and using performance-pay systems to help drive company results. His behavior-based approaches and applications have supported clients’ improvement initiatives, leadership development, and the design and implementation of performance pay systems.