Can we use training to motivate?

Is low motivation a problem on its own, or is it caused by something else? Can training help, or is it a waste of time? Here are some ideas to consider. Read more.

Can we use training to motivate?

By Cathy Moore

In my previous post, I showed a flowchart that could help you find the best solution to a performance problem. Thanks to your comments and questions, I’ve improved the chart to make clear two of my opinions:

  • Training is rarely the solution for low motivation
  • When training could help, it’s best to let learners become motivated through experience (decision-making scenarios) rather than preaching at them (presentations)

First, you might want to download the revamped flowchart. Here’s how the motivation bit looks now:

Motivation section of the action mapping flowchart

I’ve added a new loop that sends you back to the main analysis node because low motivation is usually a side effect, not a core problem. It’s often caused by one of the other three problems in the chart.

    • Environment: High pressure, a poorly managed organizational change, user-hostile software, heavy-handed management … these can all lead to low motivation. Training is unlikely to help, unless you can train away the environmental problem, such as by improving managers’ skills.


    • Knowledge: If the employees who do the data-entry drudgery for the TPS reports don’t know the painful results of their screwups, they’ll be less motivated to avoid errors. For example, we could show them that a rejected TPS record can mean that a client doesn’t get the check she needs to buy medication. If this is included in the results of a branching scenario that we’re also using to practice entering TPS records, then I’d be willing to call it training. However, if it’s just a finger-wagging exhortation divorced from any application, it’s not training in my book.


  • Skills: If I don’t have the skill to quickly and painlessly parametize widgets, I will dislike having to parametize widgets. Give me training!

When low motivation can’t be blamed on anything else

I’ve heard several reports of “lazy” workers. “They just don’t want to do it,” the client says. “They don’t care.”

I’d still be tempted to look for external causes of their “laziness.” If we really can’t find a good reason, then managers or HR might need to step in.

If all of the above are impossible for some reason, then we could make an attempt like the one described under “knowledge” above: Create realistic scenarios that have them practice the skills that they’re doing half-heartedly and have the results show the effects of skipping steps or making errors. This can be tricky to do, since in a training situation the slackers are going to be on better behavior.

The traditional “training” solution to low motivation is to sit “learners” down in front of a presentation that tells them why they need to get on the ball, or to show them a video of a leader pontificating about how important it all is. This isn’t “training” in my increasingly persnickety definition — it’s a one-way presentation that involves zero application. It’s not an “activity” in the sense that I’m using in the flowchart.

Why do I limit motivating activities to “realistic simulations?”

now-youre-motivatedWhy not a multiple-choice fact check about the number of people who go without medication as a result of TPS errors? How about a drag-and-drop that ranks the importance of well-parametized widgets compared to other types of widgets?

I suggest avoiding these activities because they’re really just checks of short-term memory: “Can you remember the number 67 from the previous screen?”

What’s more important is whether learners can make the appropriate decisions in realistic situations. And what’s most memorable is when we make the same decision we usually make in real life but this time we see the consequences that are usually out of sight.

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