Eight pitfalls of corporate training programs in Pakistan

Eight pitfalls of corporate training programs in Pakistan

By Wali Zahid

I have been associated with teaching and training for nearly a quarter century. During this time, I have been exposed to some of the finest training programs and trainers in all parts of the world. And, conversely, I have seen some serious offenders too.

Although an underperforming economy for a myriad of reasons, Pakistan now is a fast-growing economy. Currently the world’s 43rd, it is expected to become 18th largest economy by 2050, according to World Bank data.

Coincidentally, Pakistan is the only large country that borders both future world economic powers – China (No 1 in 2050) and India (No 3 in 2050). As our neighbours grow, we are likely to grow too.

This 2050 forecast requires that our workplace training providers also mend their ways and help the executives, businesses and organisations come at par with our fast-track neighbours – both in ambition/scale and skill/execution.

This post is about what we have been missing in corporate training ecosystem in Pakistan and, more importantly, what can be done about that.

In my view, there are eight pitfalls of corporate training ecosystem that have hurt Pakistani economy so far.

  1. Equating trivia with skill

Go to any training by any provider in any city on any topic and you will see the trainers – with some exceptions – doing the same trivial activities in the name of teaching you skills in teamwork, leadership, communication skills. To the extent that these activities became the folk stories of training fraternity.

And if you are a regular at going to training courses, you probably will undergo a similar activity by different trainers on different topics within the same year. The dividing line between trivia and training activity and training and entertaining is blurred.

Skill is a hard-core but mundane thing and requires endless hours of practice. When we make this skill trivial and apparently fun, it loses its core. Hence, our organisations do not produce inspiring people managers or skilled executioners who help ordinary organisations to produce world-class products like an iPhone or a Toyota Corolla.

  1. Physical activities vs cognitive learning

This is related to earlier point but needs a separate mention.

Most learning happens at cognitive/conceptual level. We need energy to learn a new skill. When that energy is drained by high-energy physical activities in training courses – which are currently the norm – all you get is blank looks at the end of training day, a hangover and a flurry of photo-sharing and tagging on Facebook. This is more acute when we organize out-bound or resort-based residential training and go to extensive lengths to create that team bonding. Bonding may occur, but not the skill or teamwork that you require every day in mundane workplace conditions.

  1. Use of emotive appeal

Another curse that we see is use of overly emotive appeal, particularly during motivational training or speaking sessions. No doubt that we respond to emotive appeal more than we respond to rational appeal. But that doesn’t mean that trainer overly uses emotive content in order to motivate you. Questionable stories, poetic verses, quotations from notable people are used to arouse people.

This is such a waste of time and money. Your employees are aroused by a trainer with a gift of gab and armed with quotes, poetry, one-liners, they come back to work the next day and it’s the same boring routine again.

You can save this money and employee time by asking people to watch 5-minute motivational clips on YouTube (they upload something new every day!) during work hours. Same effect.

  1. Lower level vs higher level at Bloom scale

Most of our training programs are lower-level, providing baseline knowledge. Let me explain through Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, which I use for module-designing part in my Train-The-Trainer workshops. Bloom has defined six levels of learning: 1 Knowledge, 2 Comprehension, 3 Application, 4 Analysis, 5 Synthesis, 6 Evaluation. (On a side note, I prefer wordings in Revised Bloom Taxonomy (RBT).)

If you analyse 100 training courses from various providers – poor to some great names – 9 out of 10 will be in Levels 1 or 2. The tenth may be Level 3 Application course.

Now, economies don’t produce value-added goods if their trainings are Level 1-3. The training programs and their learning outcomes need to be Level-3-upward. In order to create world-class products or processes you need your employees to use analysis and evaluation competences and create new breakthroughs (synthesis level).

  1. Obsolete knowledge and old models

Nothing can be worse than this. Using training models that were made in the 1980’s or 1990’s and may have been useful at that time. But does the Generation Y – 24/7 connected to smartphones and wifi with ADD – bother about those 7 things or 14 points? They won’t even remember that list a minute after they walk out of that venue gate.

Who’s stopping you from using newer effectiveness models? Every year, some bright academic or trainer comes up with a newer model which captures the same essence, more relevant to Gen Y. Why not pick that and replace your old model with a newer one?

Another related negligence is using obsolete data. For example, using stats which may have been valid in 2008 (pre-smartphone era) but may not be valid any more in 2016 (24/7-connectivity).

It’s not just data, even simple tips such as presentation skills. TED changed everything. So, if you are still using a model speaker with jacket and tie who with a straight chest-out posture and using an animated 6×6 PowerPoint dazzles zombie audience, you are living in 1990s. Similarly, the email of 1990s, 2000s and 2016 are altogether different in their style and tone and wording.

In the Google era, all it needs is a click of a mouse or touch of a button before your next course and you precisely know where data has changed and what needs to be amended.

  1. Still, content-based and trainer-led

In spite of fashionable, jazzy trainers all around, training programs are still content-based as opposed to process-based learning experiences. Also, they are trainer-led as opposed to learner-centred.

Acquisition of new knowledge through training programs may have been a worthy, honourable goal in pre-Google era, say until mid-2000s when only trainers had access to the leading edge knowledge and best practice. Not any more.

In the Google era, knowledge is cheap and fast. With a touch of a button, you can get a precise action list or dataset that can help you in your job. Other than employee time, no cost involved.

On the contrary, training is a very expensive activity – trainer fee, venue expenses, meals learner time, learner absence, learner travel & accommodation. So, if you get the same information from a training course, in any cost-benefit analysis training programs won’t stand the ground.

So, what the training programs can do what a Google search can’t? The active learning process. The process of arriving at context-specific solutions by the learners themselves where trainer role is merely of a facilitator, like an engineer on call. If this process is collaborative and facilitated well, peer learning happens and lasting peer relationships are formed.

  1. Lack of contextual goals

I have seen very little evidence that trainers either know where Pakistan economy is heading or communicate that to their trainees. Interview any one. I mean any one.

In the absence of contextual landscape, how an employee can be motivated to perform at optimal level. Why would they get a kick? Not just country economy, do you bring industry or market context into your training? Do you tell them what they are doing in Indonesia (No 9 economy in 2050) or in India in similar geographic and workforce conditions? Or within the country market, why one pharma MNC is having 50% growth while everyone else is just having a single-digit growth?

Context would also filter out some of the often-used models like SMART goal setting method, because that’s for the innocent. Companies in a growing economy like Pakistan might need to follow Jim Collins’ BHAG method or Nike’s ‘Crush Addidas’ mantra.

  1. The uneducated client

Many of the things I said above make trainers or training providers look bad. But the training client is not absolved of their sins in this equation.

The client in Pakistan is simply not an educated consumer or a demanding customer.

Even when they say they are quality-conscious and very demanding, they are not. It’s just a social conversation.

I don’t know what happens at the learning needs analysis (LNA) stage, but when I receive a client call, it’s usually a course title that they want me to deliver. Which means it’s the same leadership course which I can deliver to a hyper-growth FMCG MNC and a struggling local enterprise or a decayed public-sector organization.

In order NOT to do that, I need to dig information about their specific leadership challenges. Even when I dig, I do not receive high-value information, it’s usually a yes-no, one-word responses. Most would make it easy for them saying that I deliver our standard leadership module. Sad.

Another thing that borders criminal negligence is the client’s finding comfort in feel-good positive workshop evaluations over serious learning during training. Both may not the same. In fact, training is an anxiety-inducing activity.

Real learning means people becoming uncomfortable with status quo, with themselves, their current practices. Sometimes that may mean temporary loss of self-confidence. Much of HR would consider this as a failure of training as opposed to people jumping up and down and calling the training a wow experience.

Check out also:

Mystic Trainer: Wali’s interview with Manager Today

The 2050 world through Wali’s eyes: Urdu Digest interview

Women make better leaders: Wali Zahid

Wali’s Will-Skill Matrix

Wali gifts MassComm books collection to LCWU

What to do?

Reverse the eight pitfalls. Easy, isn’t it?

  • Develop skill-specific training activities

For example, building teams will have different activities than those for managing teams and different for leading teams. Just because it has team in it, all workshop activities don’t have to be the same. So, every time, people come to your different courses, they see fresh content and fresh experience. It’s not usual suspects. And it’s not activity for the sake of activity.

  • Don’t drain their energies that no room left for cognitive learning

If you want to use physical energisers, please do, but in moderation. Tilt the balance to cognitive, rather than physical.

  • Use a mix of rational and emotive appeals

More emphasis on rational. Emotive appeal acts fast but may evaporate faster. Rational appeal, particularly in modifying employee behaviours, may have a lasting staying power.

  • Ask your training provider to deliver Bloom-Level 3-upwards learning outcomes

 Push. Insist. So your employees are not just passive receivers of information or knowledge which they can access without being in classroom, but instead are owners are learning process and use higher-level competences. If they wear those Bloom 4-6 shoes once, they will never be the same people again.

  • Update your training models and training content

There’s no excuse in Google-era in not to get real-time updating or revision of your training materials. Scrap your old materials you used 20 years ago, 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, unless they are still relevant.

On a side note, there’s no point in printing and handing out that bulky ring binder to workshop participants which no one is going to ever look at after that day. Pakistan is a poor country in terms of foreign reserves. Save paper and save trees and save foreign exchange. Make your training courses paperless. We did that in 2011.

  • Make it learner-centred and an active learning process

Rather than telling them, ask them. Ask them in small groups. Let them ask higher-order-thinking (HOT) questions. Lead them without being seen leading.

  • Provide contextual landscape

Tell them they are a critical part of a growing, fast-developing Pakistan, which needs to develop and sell its own world-class products like iPhones and Corollas. What stops us from making those? We are no less brainy than those in Silicon Valley or in Japan. It’s the process in which great products evolve.

Not just country context, use market, industry, competition intelligence. Make them competitive so they embrace stretch goals.

  • Become an educated and demanding training consumer

Finally, the training consumer – the client – needs to ensure that they get value for money. By value, I don’t mean ROI of training (ROTI). Which is another crap and time-waster. By value, I mean are you hiring a trainer to cover for your failing: engaging/motivating your employees? Engagement is a culture issue and not a training issue.

Or, are you inviting a trainer to do your away-day/ staff picnic? You are better-off with any staff member with crowd-management skill. Or, are you inviting a trainer in place of a standup comedian? Or, are you inviting a trainer because there’s a budget underspend or you haven’t had a training program for some time?

I am sure none of the above four scenarios apply to you, my dear client.

Be as specific and demanding as you can be. Precisely know if you want team building, team managing, team leading, teamwork, or leadership. Because these are not synonym. These are five different courses with different learning outcomes. And each of these five courses could have 10 different dimensions each specific to a client at a particular time.

This requires building capacity of your L&D managers, ensuring that they are accessing high-quality updated content related to learning and talent development strategy and learner-centred courses and what is changing over the years. Or, perhaps getting them outside mentors or coaches and paying for them.

Once you are able to articulate your learning needs to this level of depth, then do the due diligence and look for a training provider that can meet your needs and demands. You can pay them well. After all, saving a trainer fee is no fun when your 20 mangers are off from work and go back to workplace the next day without learning anything and only a Facebook memory.

Wali is author of iBook, Great Training in 10 Steps. Free to download. You will need a US/UK App Store account.

Wali runs the world’s first paperless Train the Trainer workshop, now in 16th year, at 16+ Asian locations, with over 1,000 trainers trained so far.

He’s CEO of Skill City. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Do not miss our Understanding Pakistan Series

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Pakistan’s two value crimes no one talks about

How we messed up Pakistan: A series by Wali

Messed-up Pakistan Series – No 1 crime: Claims

Messed-up Pakistan Series – Curse 2: Sultan Rahi

Messed-up Pakistan Series – Curse 3: monopoly

Messed-up Pakistan Series – Question 4: The Ummah Card


  1. An article based on genuine observations and experiences!
    It is really what I have been observed and experienced in my professional life.During 36 years of teaching and training I have observed that most of the teacher trainers in our country are just repeating the same practice and using the same techniques over and over again.I have been to almost all the teacher training institutes from Islamabad to Karachi and have observed that our teacher trainers have to work hard to add new and goal oriented strategies to satisfy the teacher learners.

  2. Well the main reason behind the mentioned pitfalls is more or less everyone consider themselves as a trainer without genuinely even knowing what it is all about.

    Precisely routine content is just bcz of reason that they do not consider it as changing moments for other rather they consider it a chit chat session.

    Nonetheless I am not hopeless; eventually things will be better Inshaa Allah.

  3. Wali Bhai! Aap ne tu Gullu Butt Se Zyada Phenti Laga di hai Trainers ki!

    Your observations are spot on and in line with our discussions. However considering our discussions you still have not been as harsh as you could have. I still remember our first meeting in which I asked you something similar.

  4. Timing and the content of your 8 training pitfalls post was really helpful for me. It brings me ease that a guru like you has straightly jotted down what was exactly missing in training sector – especially on compliance and “accredited” training side.

  5. Being a corporate trainer myself, I can attest that you have painted the real training scenario in Pakistan…a bold article that will hopefully have a great impact on making our training programs trully fruitful and worth the time n money involved. I particularly appreciate your reference to the bloomberg taxonomy and the part clients play in keeping training standards down. This article should be the first one to represent the much needed introspection by all parties in the corporate training field, providers as well as customers.

  6. I like your article and endorse the concept. I believe there ought to be a society of certified trainers which ensures and let the trainers follow the international standards, be it Bloom Taxonomy, Kolb Experiential Learning, Accelerated Learning, VAK or DGS model.

  7. “Tilt more to the cognitive side, and less to the physical”, is where the article implies/assumes 2 things about ‘Physical activities’ (I would rather say that is a funny name, because it equates experiential simulations to stretching and running): 1. They hamper a participants’ ability to think and receive information 2.They do not have significant learning value. I think this is exactly where the concept of Outdoor/experiential learning deserves to be better understood, especially in corporate context; And because it is not well understood, amateur training providers prey on managers’ ignorance of this concept to provide ‘outdbound trainings’ that are not really outbound trainings. At the core of this misunderstanding in Pakistan is the assumption that “physical activities are mutually exclusive to cognitive learning” and this article (among many good things), sadly provides a proof of the same.

    Alot of other issues mentioned are very relevant, especially the issue of recycling old models. But often trainers use new words and flow diagrams to re-present same old information, making those models more of personal branding tools than training aids, much less than contributing fresh insight. Could that be another pitfall?

    Thanks for sharing an interesting article, hope my thoughts can aid the positive discourse on this page.

  8. Sir excellent article that highlights eight key areas of improvement.This is the sad reality of training’s in Pakistan.

  9. This is why Wali sb is named a “Disruptor”, ” thousand said, “apples are falling, but the Newton was only one to say, WHY?” We appease with what is happening generally, but the world is constantly in evolution because of the souls who question the taboos and routines!

  10. Dear sir. What a great operation. I realized that this issue is from both side. Sometimes it feels that client really don’t need any training but they ask for.
    Trainers are also need to be upgraded and well equipped.
    Great article thanks for collecting all pitfalls in one place

    1. Another thing is that we at times are obsessed with getting good feedback by the participants of the workshop. Unfortunately what is the easiest way to get good feedback? ENTERTAIN them! Be funny! Share jokes, silly videos… the more they laugh the better feedback u get which obviously leads to getting more business too!

  11. Excellent piece Wali Sahab! There are some points that you mentioned actually made me feel that I practice them too in my sessions without even realizing that they are not to be practiced! Plz let me know as to when you are going to offer TTT in Lahore as I feel I need to learn A LOT more.

  12. When someone travels from one city to another, he / she is entitled for TA/DA as per employer policy. A minimum of 3-Star Hotel accommodation (better hotel for high-graders), buffet breakfast & dinner, luxury rooms, pick & drop in Honda car, etc. also provided. Training programs are therefore a source of extra income and usually considered as paid vacations. At-least in baking sector I can confidently confirm this practice. Hotel Room with 40″ LED is even fantasy for some of our participants coming from under privileged districts. International Training Programs are used as reward for kitchen cabinet members. My last employer was a large bank and used to pay USD 300 per day as D/A to those sponsored for any international training. So the executives keep on flattering higher management to get nominated for overseas training.
    Do you think that an in-house trainer, who is an employee like participants, can dare to challenge this status quo? A YouTube based training and even e-learning software would kill this source of extra income and luxury vacations. And sadly, if someone attempts to bring this change would take his job on stake.

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