The Enemy to Recruiting, Training, and Retaining That’s Hiding in Plain Sight

If you want a training system that ensures longevity and you want to hire and retain the best talent, take the subjectivity out of your recruiting, training, and talent development systems in the workplace.

Subjectivity—something open to interpretation. If you want a training system that ensures longevity and you want to hire and retain the best talent, take the subjectivity out of your recruiting, training, and talent development systems in the workplace. Subjectivity is more of an obstacle to human performance in the workplace than any other factor.

Such bold statements require examples. While reading this real-life example, make it your own (I'm sure you have had, or know of, a similar example):

New Career Counselor (NCC): It sounds like I am being trained as a telemarketer.

New Boss (NB): Call it whatever you want, but your job is to get these students to one class, so they can receive their grant check and we can get paid.

NCC: As a Career Counselor, shouldn’t I be concerned with what class it is or what their goals are?

NB: You don’t have time to deal with that level of detail because once they attend their first class, you will have others to call to get them to their first class.

NCC: That’s just telemarketing.

NB: Maybe, but “Career Counselor” sounds better on a resume.

NCC: So am I just evaluated on how many people get to their first class?

NB: That’s part of it.

NCC: What else will I be evaluated on?

NB: How much of a team player I think you are.

NCC: So, let me get this straight. I was hired as a Career Counselor, I’m being trained as a telemarketer, and I’m evaluated on my ability to suck up to my boss?

NB: We’re not going to get along, are we?

The source of this conflict is the subjectivity in the recruiting, training, and retaining systems. W. Edwards Deming, the acknowledged Father of the Quality Evolution, is quoted as saying, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” Subjectivity runs rampant in the systems of nearly every workplace, causing misunderstanding, frustration, and countless conflicts.

Take any job description and see what is left after you delete all phrases and descriptions that are subjective. Consider the subjectivity in conversations that take place in most job interviews. And why on Earth would there be surprises in a job performance evaluation, or when a pay raise or promotion is decided? All of those situations are examples of subjectivity gone bad in work processes and are the source of countless conflicts and endless misery!

Extend this subjectivity concept to the training environment. Why is there a learning curve after training when someone is new on the job? We just accept that there will be a learning curve. That’s just the way it has always been.

If you remove the subjectivity from training, you remove the learning curve!

Another bold statement. Yet, this has been proven over and over for the last 40 years. In the world of performance-based training, Dr. Robert Mager and other pioneers in the field brought science to corporate training in the 1970s and 1980s. The impact was as spectacular then as it is today when the foundational learning principles are followed.

Dr. Mager developed an entire methodology to follow, but here is one high-impact part of that process as an example. When determining the content needed to teach a task, do not ask, “What does a trainee need to know?” The answer to that question is too broad, too subjective, and leads you to include far more content in the training than is needed.

The question to ask at that point is, “Why can’t the trainee start practicing the task now?” The answer to that question results in identifying ONLY the information, processes, and cautions the trainee doesn’t already possess. The idea is to have training with the minimum required content and maximum practice with feedback. It focuses only on the objective practice that must take place.

When training is developed using Dr. Mager’s entire methodology, called Criterion-Reference Instruction (CRI), trainees have the skills to perform on day one of the job when given the chance. There is no learning curve that follows. Why is this methodology not practiced in every training environment? That is another discussion. The point here is that an objective training system results in people contributing more, sooner. Those people are more likely to stay with that company and continue contributing.

The first two places to counter-attack subjectivity in the workplace are:

  • Communicating about performance: Replace all subjective, fuzzy language (team player, take initiative, be a good communicator) with observable performances (speak and write in complete sentences, use capital letters to begin sentences, spell out phrases).
  • Work processes: Map out each step of a work process, identifying gaps and subjective language, repairing as you go.

Beware! When you start to search for this enemy called subjectivity, you will find it everywhere in workplace systems. It’s a formidable foe, but clear communication and objective work processes will easily defeat it.

Rex Conner is the author of “What if Common Sense Was Common Practice in Business? The lead partner and owner of Mager Consortium, he applies the effective processes of Dr. Robert Mager to the entire spectrum of human performance in the workplace. Conner has witnessed the common violations of common sense while working as a trusted partner inside of more than 50 companies in dozens of industries over the last three decades. For more information, visit:, and connect with Conner on LinkedIn.

Training Top 125

Applying for the Training Top 125 can showcase your training effectiveness and help L&D earn a seat at the executive decision-making table. Learn more...

Digital Issue

Click above for Training Magazine's
current digital issue

Training Live + Online Certificate Programs

Now You Can Have Live Online Access to Training magazine's Most Popular Certificate Programs! Click here for more information.

Emerging Training Leaders

Company Assets

People are an organization’s most valuable asset,” the saying goes.

Rising Stars

The 2016 Emerging Training Leaders are leading lights at their organizations, shining examples of how strategic-minded, results focused, and people-oriented Learning and Development (L&D) profe

ISA Directory