Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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How Some Corporate Training Departments are Organized (Part 2 of Series, “Why Is Good Service So Hard to Find?”)

Series Disclaimer: The scenario in this series is fictional.  The bank, the banker, the customer, and the card in question are all created as an example for this series.  The training department, help desks, and procedures are equally fictitious.  Any resemblance to actual people and situations is purely coincidental.

Our banker has been trying to help us with a recurring problem on our debit card.  She has been following what she thought was the correct procedure but the problem persists.  She goes back to the notes she took during training when she was newly hired by the company.  Her notes agree: she’s been doing what she was taught.  So why does the merchant keep debiting our card?  She wonders what she’s missing…


Corporate training has become an industry all its own.  A training department is usually made up of people in a variety of roles, and division of labor occurs here as well as everywhere else in the company.  Although the trainers are the only ones we see, their role is fairly minor.  They are not subject matter experts.  They follow a script.  In some companies, even the jokes are scripted.  Trainers are hired for their personality and their ability to hold their trainees’ attention for an entire work day (if necessary) while they deliver the scripted material they have been given.

To gauge the actual level of the trainer’s knowledge, all we have to do is ask probing questions.  Some of the answers will be in the script, some not.  That’s where the “parking lot” comes in.  If the trainer doesn’t know the answer, she will put the question on a sticky-note on the wall or whiteboard and email someone about it during break time.  Then she’ll get back to us with the answer, removing the sticky-note from the parking lot.  The point here is that parking lot questions are fairly frequent in corporate training, because the trainers themselves are only told what they need to know.

We might expect the scriptwriters to be subject matter experts, but that’s not true either.  The people who design the curriculum are hired for their ability to work with other departments and create training solutions.  Design specialists only know what they’ve been told in their meetings with the relevant department heads.  After a series of such meetings, decisions are made as to whether the training should be online or face-to-face, what material should taught, and so on.  The training designer then puts it all together, adding jokes and anecdotes, small group discussion questions, computer practice problems, and things like that.

What we get in a training session, then, is the result of a group effort.  We have no face time with anyone who actually knows the subject well, and the people who have put the training together have culled it from others.  We are two or three removes from the actual subject matter experts. What we get is a slick presentation designed to tell us what the people in upper management want us to know.

Who are the true subject matter experts?  In most cases, they’re the people who do the grunt work in the various operations departments—the back office areas that don’t interface with the public.  They don’t attend the planning sessions with the training design specialists.  It’s their supervisors, or more likely their supervisors’ supervisors, who tell the training design specialist what material they want covered.  Once in a while we may see a true subject matter expert lead a training session (usually in cases where specialized departmental training is needed), but they are often excessively nervous, disorganized, and unsuccessful at translating their vast knowledge into a digestible training session.  Teaching isn’t their strength.

This is how corporate training departments work, but there are also other considerations that are important here.  Sometimes managers set unrealistic goals for their employees’ training.  For example, they may allot only one day for new tellers to learn their jobs, or they may schedule a new banker’s instruction to start a few weeks after she begins working.  In either case, these employees are being thrown into their positions without adequate support.  Or the training may be more focused on admonishing employees (“Do this” or “Do that”) without giving them the tools they need in order to obey the mandate.  Most importantly, training always emphasizes what managers think is important, but may not always be what’s most needed by the employees going through the training.


There is indeed something that our banker is missing, but she was never taught it.  The powers-that-be may have known about it, because it is a significant issue, but they decided that it was an exception that wasn’t worth talking about in training.  The question now is: Where can this banker go for more information?


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