I recently participated in a LinkedIn discussion on the topic of whether soft skills training has any lasting effect.

Other contributors made some very interesting and valuable points. Some commented that the positive influence of training does not last if people return to work environments that are unsupportive of the ideas and values promoted in the training. Others proposed that soft skills training has a tendency to be theoretical, and many trainers do not take the trouble to ensure people know how to apply the theories to their own situations. Another contributor suggested that soft skills training is often ineffective because it misses the mark of what people actually need.

The was an even more common theme running through the discussion. Contributors observed that the training often fails to ‘work’ because of the attitudes, mind sets, and belief systems of the learners. If people don’t have the right attitude towards the learning, it’s not effective long-term.

I agree with all the points brought forward. But I think there is a kernel at the centre of them all.

From 2002 till 2008 I had the privilege of delivering rehabilitative training to inmates in a maximum security prison. For most of this time I ran anger management and conflict resolution groups. This was relevant training for most of my clientele. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours modifying and improving the course over time, drawing upon the latest research on the topic.

Over the 8 year period I saw hundreds of men and saw amazing changes in some of them. But there were many more who seemed totally unaffected by my training. It was like they had an immunity to my help.

This is got me thinking about change readiness. Everyone received the same information from the same trainer, but the results were very different. I came to realise that what was making the greatest amount of difference was not what I brought, but what they brought.

Change readiness is more than just having the right attitude to learning. It involves having a critical set of psychological resources that enable people to successfully navigate difficult change.

You can train people about how they should think, what they should know, and how to act. It’s easy to sit in a training room with glasses of water and piles of mint lollies: it’s much harder to put it all into practice when you return to the real world.

Training is not a silver bullet that will of itself work wonders. When people are exposed to new ideas, new knowledge and new skills they need to take what they have learnt and change their behaviour. This is a very hard call for people who don’t handle change well.

It is not my wish or intention to denigrate training. I have been involved in the training and education sector for 40 years and I know and appreciate its value. But over the years I have seen organisations spend lots of money on training and get little benefit from it. There was nothing wrong with the training they delivered. The problem was that they never considered whether their people were capable of making the changes they were training them to make.

The bottom line is really not complicated. The people who are most likely to succeed at change are the ones who are most ready for change. If you want a well trained, adaptable and high achieving workforce, you really can’t afford to overlook change readiness.

Dr Steve Barlow