Why did the Company Hire a Training Department?

Clayton Christianssen has written two masterpieces – The Innovator’s Dilemma and the Innovator’s Solution. Christianssen gives compelling examples of how successful companies sow the seeds of their demise and how disruptive innovators topple an established Goliath. I also noticed that Christiannsen is very fond of explaining the case of a restaurant that sells Milkshakes. He has delivered several talks with the Milkshake case study as the central theme. Here is a video that will bring you up to speed.

If you are unable to view the video, here is a gist: A restaurant chain wanted to increase the sales of milkshakes and so they went about with the usual surveys and focus groups on demographics, taste, texture etc. But none of these insights helped increase sales. So they hired Chriostianseen’s team which took a completely different approach to cracking the challenge. Instead of the usual attributes, Christiannsen’s team asked themselves, “why did a customer hire a milkshake?” The new frame of reference helped the team uncovered some eye-opening facts. They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren’t yet hungry, but knew that they’d be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand.”

(According to a 2011 HBS publication) The milkshake was hired in lieu of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do with their boring commute. Understanding the job to be done, the company could then respond by creating a morning milkshake that was even thicker (to last through a long commute) and more interesting (with chunks of fruit) than its predecessor. The chain could also respond to a separate job that customers needed milkshakes to do: serve as a special treat for young children—without making the parents wait a half hour as the children tried to work the milkshake through a straw. In that case, a different, thinner milkshake was in order.

Applying the milkshake model to enterprise learning will be a great start to question everything that is happening in the name of enterprise learning. So why did the company hire the training department is a better question to ask than the traditional mindset that’s a along the lines of “how can I deliver this training program better, faster, and cheaper?”. Here are my thoughts on the objectives that currently drive enterprise learning Vs what is truly desirable.

In the recent ASTD Report on enterprise learning, the parameters measured included average L&D expenditure per employee, direct expenditure as percentage of payroll, employees per L&D staff member to name a few. While many of these benchmarks are useful for the training departments, do any of these parameters actually represent what an employee or the management team is actually looking for?

As an employee, I am motivated to avoid training (if I can get away with it) but crave for a training program if I believe its something I am interested in or will help me do my job better. Also, every individual has different training needs. So why do I sit through a training program on something I already know very well? The answer is either, “it’s a legal requirement”, or “we are aiming for 100% course completion.”There are technologies and instructional design strategies available to address such scenarios, but training departments are missing the woods for the trees and are stubbornly slow in embracing new ideas. They often cite budgetary constraints, lack of resources, and often say, “we are too busy (doing things that we are comfortable with)”.  This invariably brings back questions about budgetary cuts in the training department every time sales goes down!

Srinivas Krishnaswamy


I love to read and share thoughts on technology, enterprise learning, mobile and any thing cool that impacts enterprises.

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Posted in Training

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