By Ann Glumac

When I was a teenager, “one size fits all” pantyhose were marketed with the promise that they would fit— perfectly—all shapes and sizes of women. My cousin was 5’2″ and curvy; I was 5’9″ and … not. “One size fits all” fit neither of us.

“One size fits all” pantyhose was a myth—and, I would argue, one size fits all training is also a fairy tale. Employee development training that is not built on the specific training outcomes desired by the organization, the unique culture in which employees work and the individual learning styles of participants—in other words, “one size fits all” training—will fit exactly no one.

Client-Centered Training

To maximize the investment of time and resources, training content must be built from the ground up to achieve outcomes specified by the client organization. Leadership, for example, encompasses a broad array of competencies. Rather than delivering generic “leadership training,” as a trainer committed to delivering value for the organization and participants, I want to know what specific leadership skills the client wants emphasized. Effective decision-making? Conflict management? Team-building? Interpersonal communication? All of the above?

Learning about the organization’s training goals and participants’ backgrounds also helps me design and deliver training that helps the individuals succeed in their context, leading to improved performance for the organization.

Culture Matters

Just as my cousin and I had different body types, each organization has its own culture; the best and most effective training is tailored to fit that culture. A fast-paced, relatively flat organization that encourages outside-the-box thinking and individual ownership of decisions has a very different culture and expectations than a more institutionalized, hierarchical business that has thrived, in part, due to its reliance on tradition. Training must reflect those cultural differences or the content will ring false to participants, and the investment will not yield the returns it could.

In-depth conversations about culture—what it’s like to work in the organization, what is revered, what is scorned, what are the organizational values—inform the development of content that is relevant and useful immediately because it speaks to the participants’ reality.

Learners Come in All Types

Individuals learn in…well…individual ways. Some participants love to take notes during lectures; others need physical involvement in an activity to cement a key point. Yet others find that small group discussion helps them develop nuance and perspective far more than listening to a trainer drone on and on.

The best training relies on a mix of methods (with a large dash of fun) to energize participants and engage them in learning. Lecture, small group discussions, exercises, individual reflection and role-playing all have a place in effective training, and tailoring the mix to the desired outcomes, organizational culture and participants’ learning styles leads to the greatest learning.

Your organization is unique, as are your employees. The time and resources invested in training should reflect that uniqueness and not drop to the lowest common denominator of “one size fits all.”

What other training myths have you experienced?