Is this a training problem?

Last week I was in Target in downtown Seattle and needed to take the elevator down to the parking garage. When I went to press the elevator call button, this is what I found:

Target Garbage

The call button is just above the heaping pile of trash. As I looked at this, I wondered if this was a problem that could be solved by training, or if it was something else.  What do you think?

Formal Training Solutions

Instructor-led Training (ILT):

If this was indeed a training problem, I could see this being covered during new employee orientation under a larger topic along the lines of maintaining store cleanliness. In addition to making sure products on the shelves were straight and shopping carts weren’t left abandoned in store aisles, I could see an activity in which participants would be asked to walk around an actual store, identify “cleanliness violations” and suggest ways to address them.


In order to scale and make the delivery of this message more consistent across tens of thousands of employees in hundreds of stores, elearning could be a more appropriate solution. I could see something similar to the instructor-led approach in which learners are exposed to images of a store and must identify what seems out of place (like a heaping pile of trash underneath the elevator call button for example) and make recommendations on how to address it.

Brief Video:

Short videos that are accessible through mobile devices or at computer stations in the break room and which offer continuing education could also be a solution. Demonstrations of what needs to be done and how to do it could help employees envision what they should be doing if they see something like this.

Informal Training Solutions

The issue, however, is that even if formal training had been offered, images like this may still pop up for various reasons. Perhaps more informal solutions would be more appropriate to address this problem. Following are a few examples:

Job Aid:

Perhaps there should be signage around the break room – posters or fliers – that have images of things out of place with a big caption underneath that says: “Store Cleanliness is Everyone’s Job. See Something, Do Something!”

Manager Feedback:

This could come in several forms – either 1:1 or with a group during a team meeting. Either way, if there’s an expectation that the store be kept neat and tidy, and if the store isn’t being kept neat and tidy in reality, then a supervisor should be taking note and reinforcing these expectations during meetings.

Leadership-modeled Behavior:

Leaders should never be above pitching in to fulfill common expectations. If everyone on the floor is busy, it could send a powerful message for a leader to bag up a pile of trash and take it out.

Other Solutions


As L&D professionals, sometimes we see everything through the lens of a training problem. What happens when it’s not a training problem at all? Would a larger trash can be the best solution?

Company Policies:

I looked at the trash can and felt it was kind of gross, and honestly I almost didn’t see the elevator call button because it was barely above the top of the trash pile. However, it could simply be an assumption on my part that there is a policy – formal or informal – about this sort of thing.

What do you think? Is something like this scene a training problem? Or is it something else? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section.

5 thoughts on “Is this a training problem?

  1. The first thing I think of when I see a situation like this is that, to truly understand what’s happening, we need to do some needs analysis, which would likely include some job-task analysis, direct observation, and interviews. Through this we might discover:

    This is a resource issue. There aren’t enough staff on the floor to see and/or address this.

    This is a management issue. Managers indirectly or directly discourage employees handling issues like this when they see it (e.g., stated expectations that if you’re away from your assigned area or a customer has to wait for X amount of time, you’re written up).

    This is a knowledge issue; employees who see this feel empowered and supported to do something about it but don’t actually know what to do / where to take this trash / where to get a new trash bag / how to contact janitorial.

    This is an attitude issue. There is an underlying current of “not my job” in this store; employees report they did see it and they did know what to do about it and their managers would have been ok with them handling it, but they didn’t handle it. At this point I’d look into the company’s reward systems and see if there’s a company value that needs to be better emphasized. In the end, what gets measured and rewarded gets done. If I’m rewarded for sales or credit card signups, and my rewards are not at all impacted by customer surveys of store cleanliness, then I hurt my rewards by handling this. (In this case I include salary and bonuses in rewards.)

    (Comment typed via mobile device; apologies for any typos or autocorrect issues.)

    • Thank you Sharon! Yes to everything in here. I love how you’re touching on the fact that something may at times (often) appear to be a training problem on the surface, and perhaps training is part of the issue… and there’s always a whole lot more. Rarely is training alone the answer.

      And you’ve done a superb job of outlining at least four other issues that may be (and often are) present.

  2. I wonder how this story changes if an assessment was undertaken. Over the years I see where we get excited about the middle, struggle at best with the evaluation and almost completely ignore assessing the problem. Software developers have made the middle sexy with all the wiz bang interactions and responsive designs. Maybe someone will come along and make the hard work interesting again, like assessing the problem, defining the audience, evaluating what we put people through with the shiny products we make and really see if any of it was effective. Maybe we have a lot of trash we need to remove to.

  3. Are the employees unionized? They may not be allowed to do the job of a fellow employee–and could be reprimanded if the did. It could be that the cleaning staff, who start work later, are the only ones allowed to haul trash. So this would not be a training issue (unless the cleaning associate did no know how to empty a trash can!)
    I know a highly-paid office worker who was once reprimanded for helping to clean up the dirty dishes employees left in their break room. “We pay you too much to have you cleaning dishes.” Employees were to clean up their own messes–but didn’t. And it wasn’t the job of the cleaning staff. In this case, training employees in common courtesy could be the solution.

  4. Your idea is a good one! – Job Aid: Perhaps there should be signage around the break room – posters or fliers – that have images of things out of place with a big caption underneath that says: “Store Cleanliness is Everyone’s Job. See Something, Do Something!”

    My husband and I own a business and are at this very moment having issues with people not understanding that it takes everyone to make the place run well. Our biggest example is our female employees going to the bathroom and not stocking toilet paper because “it’s not my job” or on slow night they (bartenders) just wait for the next person to show up rather than grabbing the swiffer and dusting something.

    The reason I love your idea is that it is a message coming from the top and applies to everyone.
    I think that often times owners/management doesn’t do a very good job of giving immediate feedback to people so on the occasion that feedback is given, they feel like they are in trouble. Once staff get used to ongoing, direct feedback done in a professional manner they became accustomed to it and even crave it. By feedback I am not just talking about their performance but also about what the expectations are. I have referenced McDonald’s drive thru many times because when someone is in training, there is someone right there being a guiding voice.

    Long response but timely for me. Thanks always for your great ideas that keep me thinking!

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