Why It’s Crucial to Train Your Employees

Why you should train your people

In what might seem an unusual post by a leading business analyst and venture capitalist, Ben Horowitz, of Andreesen Horowitz, writes in

“Almost everyone who builds a technology company knows that people are the most important asset. Properly run start-ups place a great deal of emphasis on recruiting and the interview process in order to build their talent base. Unfortunately, often the investment in people stops there.”

Horowitz’s own experience in training sounds all too familiar:

“When I first became a manager, I had mixed feelings about training. Logically, training for hi-tech companies made sense, but my personal experience with training programs at the companies where I had worked was underwhelming. The courses were taught by outside firms who didn’t really understand our business and were teaching things that weren’t relevant.”

A turning point in Horowitz’s perspective on training came through Andy Grove’s High Output Management, specifically the chapter titled “Why Training is the Boss’s Job.”

As Director of Product Management at Netscape, Horowitz decided to put his new found inspiration to work and produced a guide titled Good Product Manager/ Bad Product Manager in an attempt to educate his staff on how to bring value to product management.

“I was shocked by what happened next. The performance of my team instantly improved. Product managers that I previously thought were hopeless became effective. Pretty soon, I was managing the highest performing team in the company. Based on this experience, after starting Loudcloud, I heavily invested in training. I credit that investment with much of our eventual success. And the whole thing started with a simple decision to train my people and an even simpler training document.”

Horowitz sees four key benefits to well-designed well-delivered training:

  • Productivity
  • Performance Management
  • Product Quality
  • Employee Retention

On Productivity Horowitz credits Grove with doing the math for the amplification of benefits from training:

“Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manger can perform. Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let’s count on three hours preparation for each hour of course time—twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class. Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training efforts result in a 1 percent improvement in you subordinates’ performance, you company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as the result of the expenditure of your twelve hours.

On Performance Management Horowitz sees training as laying the foundation in understanding between the manager and the employees in terms of job responsibilities and expectations:

“If you don’t train your people, you establish no basis for performance management. As a result, performance management in your company will be sloppy and inconsistent.”

On Product Quality, Horowitz cites a common instance of where a push to cater to an urgent demand forces training out of the process leading only to an unnecessary and expensive reinvention of the wheel:

“As success drives the need to hire new engineers at a rapid rate, companies neglect to train the new engineers properly. As the engineers are assigned tasks, they figure out how to complete them as best they can. Often this means replicating existing facilities in the architecture, which lead to inconsistencies in the user experience, performance problems, and a general mess. And you thought training was expensive.”

Last but not least, Horowitz speaks to the issue of Employee Retention. Using his own experience at Netscape as a real-life example, Horowitz recounts an instance where he analyzed exit interviews to determine why people were leaving:

“1. They hated their manager – generally the employees were appalled by the lack of guidance, career development and feedback they were receiving.
2. They weren’t learning anything – the company wasn’t investing in the employees.”

How to Get Started
Horowitz recommends that training programs focus on the two essentials: functional skills and management. Functional training addresses knowledge and skills most relevant to the employees. Management training first addresses what is expected of managers and follows up with how managers can accomplish what is expected. Implementation is a key issue here. Horowitz warns of the temptation to put training off due to lack of time. Interestingly he returns to Grove when he reasserts that management training is fundamentally and unavoidably a role of the corporate leader:
“As Andy Grove writes, there are only two ways for a manager to improve the output of an employee: motivation and training. Therefore, training should be the most basic requirement for all managers in your organization. …Managing the company is the CEO’s job. While you won’t have time to teach all of the management courses yourself, you should teach the course on management expectations, because they are, after all, your expectations.

Pygmalion Meets the Training Manager


Measured “return on investment” and “training effectiveness” are two of the business metrics commonly used to yoke trainers and developers in business and government training centers around the globe. “Is the training effective?” and “Is it worth the cost?” are standard queries at development meetings and design reviews. Knowledgeable designers and managers invoke Bloom, Kirkpatrick and things like ADDIE to promote development of effective training, little knowing that Pygmalion might provide the help they need.

A little over 40 years ago, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson performed a simple and ingenious experiment in a California school that jolted educational psychology. Dubbed the Pygmalion Effect (after the play by George Bernard Shaw; later the musical and movie My Fair Lady) the experiment showed that the effectiveness of teaching was largely determined by the belief of the teacher in the students. That is, all things being equal, if a teacher believes the students are exceptional, they will tend to match the expectation. Surprisingly perhaps, this “effect” has been replicated many times since its inception and has garnered support from similar studies done in colleges, industry and the military. What Pygmalion describes might be taken as the equivalent of the Placebo Effect in education, but it might just as well be a re-coining of the psychotherapeutic expression “you have to believe in the Process” directed toward the classroom.

What Rosenthal and Jacobson did in their study was give teachers false information about their students based on what they said was an advanced test to determine future performance and achievement. In reality they administered a standard IQ test, randomly selected a group of students without regard to the test results, told the teachers these students were going to bloom in achievement and sat back and noted the results. At the end of the school year the students were tested and the results showed that a significant number of the “bloomers” had in fact made unexpected gains in academic performance and behavior. In fact, tests of the same students two years later showed that they carried and maintained this advantage over that time.

Interestingly, while accounts of the first study did not include details of what went on in the classroom while the study was underway, written reports by the teachers themselves indicate that no special measures, programs or materials were provided to assist the “bloomers” in learning or to enhance the classroom experience. What Rosenthal and Jacobson concluded the “bloomers” got that the control group missed were clear signs of approval, more chances to interact with the teacher and patient acceptance, all moderated unconsciously by of the beliefs of the teacher.

Over the years the Pygmalion Effect has come under scrutiny by many researchers and has been criticized for its original experimental design and the general meaning of its results. But, all in all, it remains steadfastly rooted in the literature of educational psychology and provides a lasting contribution to the field.


Rosenthal, R., and Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development’. New York: Rinehart and Winston. (Newly updated edition, 2003)

Rosenthal, R., and Jacobson, L. (1966). Teachers’ expectancies: Determinates of pupils’ IQ gains. Psychological Reports, 19, 115-118.

Rosenthal, R. (1965). Clever Hans: A case study of scientific method. Introduction to Oskar Pfungst, Clever Hans (translated by Rahn, C. L., 1911). New York: Bolt, Rinehart and Winston, pp. ix-xiii.