When Training Fails Epically

Tonight, Greg Gianforte, the Montana candidate for the House of Representatives seat that was opened due to political appointment, allegedly body slammed a reporter for asking him tough questions. Tomorrow is the election. True or not, this can’t go well for him.

Greg Gianforte (Getty)

I’m going to skip an overall account of what is being reported (read more about the incident here.)  I want to focus on something Alicia Acuna, the Fox News reporter that is an eyewitness, said: “At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” Grabbing someone by the neck and slamming them to the ground speaks of either great fear or great rage. That’s an extreme action taken under extreme emotion.

I feel fairly confident in saying Gianforte’s advisers coached him during the campaign to avoid doing something extreme that would grab media attention. That is Politics 101. I also feel confident in assuming that Gianforte understood that coaching and worked hard throughout his campaign to properly implement it. Now, whether the allegations are proven true or not, this happens on the eve of the election. Uber.Epic.Fail.

Right about now I imagine political advisers all over the country, from both sides of the aisle, are placing themselves in Gianforte’s advisers’ shoes and thinking about what they would have done differently to prevent this. Their thoughts aren’t all that different than what trainers feel after coaching a team and then having something go badly awry.

So what is the trainer’s next step when something goes so badly wrong? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Perform a frank analysis of the training that was originally presented. It’s important to deeply understand what was attempted in the past that failed to prevent the current situation. The last thing that should be done for better results is what was tried before. That’s the definition of insanity. Look at all aspects of the original training: communication, learning environment, curriculum, evaluations, engagement levels, interruptions that occurred, discussions or lack thereof, etc. and then search for improvements.
  2. Discuss the findings of your analysis with someone impartial, if possible. Fresh eyes and minds on a problem can yield incredible results. There is wisdom in the counsel of many. Get expert opinions from others that can see things you might have missed.
  3. Formulate a plan for retraining. Unlike with politics, most situations are recoverable long-term and people will need to be retrained to prevent further disasters. The plan for this retraining needs to address repairing the initial training gaps, as well as properly training new learners.
  4. Schedule retraining as close to the incident as possible. You want to prevent further mishaps. If the incident calls for it, put the breaks on further activities that could lead to the current disaster. Be decisive in your actions at this point. For initial retraining, I strongly recommend keeping new learners separate from those that are being retrained. The conversations will be very different between the two groups. Don’t fall into the trap of adding a few new people to the group for cost savings.
  5. Discuss the incident openly and frankly in the retraining session(s), if at all possible. There may be a lot of questions, heated emotions, or maybe even hurt feelings. Be prepared and ensure those delivering the training are properly armed with answers.
  6. Follow-up with extra performance support materials after the training ends. Re-enforce the new training stronger than you would otherwise, because you need to rewire the brains of the learners to stop thinking of the original training (which has had more time to settle in) and think or act in a new direction.

While Gianforte’s political career may be over at this point, most training failures aren’t  permanent. Quick action can prevent further failures and begin to repair the damage.



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