Training Axioms – Or, Swinney’s Soap Box

Quotes, Misquotes and Other Heresy – An ISPI Tradition

  • In marketing, the three most important factors are: location, location and location. In training, the three most important factors are follow-up, follow-up and follow-up.
  • Talking isn’t teaching and telling isn’t training. (Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps)
  • You can’t mandate performance.
  • Good training will not survive poor implementation.
  • Facilitator effectiveness is much less dependent on personality, energy or knowledge of content than it is on the ability to manage a process.
  • Training is a use it or lose it proposition. If not used immediately and frequently – and supported by the work/management environment, newly learned skill or knowledge will rapidly atrophy.

John Swinney

  • There are a thousand ways to do it right and a hundred thousand ways to do it wrong. Pick from the first column. (Guy W. Wallace)
  • What happens after training is usually significantly more important than what happens during training.
  • Put a good performer in a bad system, and the system will win every time. (Geary A. Rummler)
  • Star performers usually cannot tell what they do that makes them effective. You have to observe their performance to determine why they are unconsciously competent. This is time consuming and not easy to do.
  • Training does not reduce the need for effective supervision or management.
  • Clicking a box on a screen to turn an electronic page does not qualify as “interactive.”
  • Most electronically delivered “training” isn’t training.
  • Good communication is needed to support good training; however, communication alone is not training.
  • Teaching to the test is the whole purpose – unless you have a test that doesn’t represent what is important in the real world.
  • (In too many organizations) training and development is a solution in search of a problem. (Geary A. Rummler)
  • “Number of people trained” is a cost metric. “Performance improved” is a value-added metric. “Sales increased” really gets their attention.
  • Three critical variables in effective training are content (what needs to be learned), delivery (how we get it into the learner’s heads or hands) and design (how we build a replicable process that will produce predictable results). Rarely are skills required so manage these variables found in the same individual.
  • Quality of the delivery media is not directly related to quality of the training.
  • If “refresher” training is needed, it often means training wasn’t the right solution in the first place.
  • There is no such thing as a “learning styles,” in spite of the many consultants who are more than willing to certify and sell you their trademarked “process” for diagnosing and addressing them.
  • The various learning style models promoted by these consultants do not agree with each other.
  • If you believe there are truly different learning styles, what are you going to do about it? Will you design multiple different learning models and methods to meet the needs of each style? Or do you live in the real world?
  • A lot of recent research identifies what we thought were learning styles are more accurately described as learning “preferences.” The research then indicates that these preferences don’t make much difference. The quality of the instructional process is much more critical than whether or not it satisfies any individual learning preference.
  • Training is a tactical process. How training is used in an organization is a strategic process.
  • There is no direct correlation between “fun” and effective training. Having fun is not a necessary component for effective training, and can sometimes be detrimental.
  • Facilitators and developers who insist on interjecting “fun” into their training need to realize that fun is in the eyes of the beholder.

  • Training is most effective when it simulates what happens on the real job. If the real job includes “fun,” then it’s OK so simulate that as part of the training . . . otherwise you would be creating an unrealistic training scenario.
  • Some of the most effective training in the world is really not much fun. Ask a Navy Seal.
  • Despite all of the management platitudes, change, in and of itself, is not “good.” It may be good, bad or neutral, depending on the perceptions of those affected.
  • The fact that change is inevitable has no bearing on whether or not it is perceived as “good.”
  • Human reaction to change, whether it is perceived as good, bad or neutral, is generally the same. (Daryl Conner, Managing at the Speed of Change)
  • Having the proper “attitude” is not the secret for adapting to change. Communication, managing expectations and removing barriers is. (Daryl Conner)
  • Regardless of whether they perceive it as good, bad or neutral, people are more likely to resist change if they feel they have no control over the outcome. (Daryl Conner)
  • An ounce of analysis is worth a pound of objectives. (Joe A. Harless)
  • Experience is the best teacher but, unless guided, it often teaches the wrong things. This type of guidance is called “training.”
  • Training is supposed to result in predictable and replicable results. Motivational seminars do not qualify.
  • Practice it before you test it.
  • When in doubt, leave it out. (Thomas F. Gilbert, addressing the need or lack of need for content in training)
  • Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
  • Training does not solve “attitude” or “motivation” problems, unless the particular reason for the bad attitude or lack of motivation was because the performer was being held accountable for something he or she didn’t know how to do in the first place. In this case, attitude or poor motivation were symptoms, not the causes of the problem.


*** *** *** *** ***

John wrote me today and gave me permission to post this, saying:

“some of the quotes I’ve attributed to others are probably filtered by my aging brain cells, but hopefully I got the gist of what they said.”

*** *** *** *** ***

John may be praised or chastised – or both – via email at:

John M. Swinney, CPT,


John and I served on the ISPI Board when he was President-Elect (under Dale Brethower) in 1999-2000 – and when he was Prez in 2000-2001. Typically I found him being of sound mind, and typically I also found him with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
He was always sharing. Another NSPI/ISPI tradition that still lives on.

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One comment on “Training Axioms – Or, Swinney’s Soap Box

  1. Pingback: The PACT ECA – A Content Inventory Framework | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

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