When Training Isn’t Working

Why do so many people receive training in the ‘soft skills’ area and do nothing with it?  Why is it that the people who need training the most are usually the ones that say they need it the least?  Does any of this sound familiar?

Do you have low performers who insist they know how to sell, or provide great service and yet when you observe them, they are clearly not doing these things well?  What causes the void between what people know and what people do, and how do you close this ‘knowing-doing’ gap?  Interested in the answer?  Well read on…

While there are potentially a number of factors contributing to this all-too-common scenario, there is usually one dominant one.  That is, a lack of meaning.

As humans, we are meaning makers. We assign meaning to everything from words to events, people and places, concepts and ideas, tasks and activities and the list goes on.  The things that carry strong meanings, move us.   Often we’re prepared to make great sacrifices for the things we hold dear and value highly.  While things we assign little or no meaning to, we show indifference or don’t even notice.

The one constant here is that our behaviours are directly linked to the meanings we make.  The meanings we create in our mind are unique and individual to each of us.  Little wonder then why we can find it difficult to understand others’ behaviour  and why we judge other people as ‘motivated’ or ‘not’, based on our own meanings.  Knowing this, you can now see that everyone is ‘motivated’.  Yes, even the lowest performers are motivated, they just may not be motivated to do what you want them to!  Or they may be more motivated to stay in bed a little longer in the morning than get up and come to work on time.

The meanings we hold in our mind send signals to our neurology to respond.  This is known as ‘neuro-semantics’.  This brings about an emotion or a state.  These responses then habituate and become our behaviour in everyday life.  Where you see a strong response or emotion, including passion, determination, pride, resilience etc, you can guarantee there is strong meaning.  Where you see indifference or disregard then meaning is low.

While this may seem simplistic, it is also very profound!   Knowing this now means that trainers and managers can change behaviours by working at the level of meaning.  Instead of continuing to show, demonstrate or train people how to perform key tasks, we can increase performance by assigning new or increased meanings to tasks.  That means focus less on the HOW and more on the WHY.
Some specific skills are required to influence the meanings people assign because the mind does not work at just one level.  For example if you were to ask a person why they do or don’t do something, you will only get their conscious response.  This represents their lowest level, or frame, of meaning where as our behaviours are driven from the higher frames.  Often people are not even conscious of their higher frames until someone brings them into awareness.   The higher frames of meaning drive the lower frames and so behaviour is mostly non-conscious.  I know – scary isn’t it!

It takes practice to get to these higher frames, but the potential to make change here is significant.  Also knowing how frames of meaning are constructed and how they can be re-constructed is essential to bring about change.  For some people, just creating an awareness of their higher frames and how these influence behaviour is enough to bring about change.  Others may require a skilled coach to assign new or increased meaning to help them achieve desired outcomes.  A good coach can also change the meanings which may be restricting growth and development, such as un-resourceful meanings assigned to our own self worth, our abilities or to how others perceive us.  The possibilities are far reaching and very achievable.


To experience a taste of what I am talking about, conduct this easy exercise.  Ask an interested and willing participant if they would be happy to share some of their thoughts with you about a goal or objective they want to achieve.  An instance where they have an intention of doing something or achieving something but just aren’t getting it done would be great.  Taking a piece of paper and a pen ask them to write the answers to your questions starting from the bottom of the page and working their way up (to represent the lower and higher frames of thought).

Ask them the following.  For each answer they write, ask the next question about that answer.  This is not an exact structure so adjust as necessary remembering your intention is to tease out the higher frames of meaning.

“Write down your goal/objective on the bottom of the page.”

“Above that now write down, why is it important for you to achieve/complete this?”

“Why is that important to you?” (referring to the reason they wrote down)

“Why is that important to you?” (keep repeating the question or try some of the following)

“What’s even more important than that?” (always referring to the last reason they wrote down)

“What do you believe about the importance of that?”

“How is that important/valuable/meaningful?” (continue to vary your questions just a little)

Keep asking until they run out of things or they start repeating themselves.  If you have done this correctly you will have teased out some of their higher frames of meaning and chances are they weren’t even conscious of them until you bought them to the fore.  Give the person time to reflect on what they have written and ask them what insights they have gained from the exercise.  This process often provides the necessary data to re-ignite their desire or conversely they may finally recognise why they aren’t motivated to achieve their goal, and give it away without guilt.

This is just a fraction of what can be achieved through neuro-semantics (NS).  If you would like to know more of how NS can enhance performance in your organisation, give Amalgam a call.

Alternatively, you could ignore this and continue to do the same things you’ve done in the past in the hope that things will change in the future.  Competitive edge starts in the minds of your people and NS is the technology that can shift and shape those minds.

Written by