I believe in spending money on training employees — when it makes sense. But many of the seminars and programs I’ve seen are worthless. They don’t work because: They are often taught by professional speakers, not by experienced managers. They emphasize politically correct and currently hot ideas rather than strategies that have been proven to work. They do not provide a way to practice the good ideas that they promote.

In my opinion, a good program should do three things:

1. Teach skills that dovetail with your business’s needs.

2. Motivate and inspire as it teaches.

3. Challenge employees to put their new skills to work immediately.

There’s only one way to ensure that the training programs you pay for meet these three standards: You have to check them out for yourself or have someone you trust do so. And there’s only one way to make sure your employees put their lessons into practice: You have to create a follow-up plan that (a) requires them to submit a written report on what they’ve learned and (b) requires you to check back with them several months later to make sure the lessons are still being used.

I also believe that training isn’t right for every employee. There is a naive impulse to try to “save” a weak employee by sending him out for training — as you might send out a dirty shirt for laundering. But, guess what? The stain that bad employees bear is almost always permanent. In my experience, training programs work best with your superstars. The irony in this is that if your best employees don’t get training from you, they’ll seek it out and get it on their own — and they’ll probably pay for it too!

In other words, the most effective training you can provide will be mostly unnecessary for the people whom it will benefit the most. In a nutshell, my recommendation is to: Give all of your best people almost unlimited access to training. Deny it (however you can) to the laggards. Provide it selectively to the group in the middle. Perhaps even more important than sending some of your employees out for training is to establish an informal in-house mentoring program.

Basically, you give your employees the responsibility to pass on what they’ve learned from you to the new guys — a very efficient system Here’s how it works: Let’s say you are a marketing manager and have had to teach every one of your employees how to purchase printing, make up list grids, and use a marketing spreadsheet. Instead of continuing to go through the same routine with each new hire, you teach the next one not only the skills but also how to teach them.

By teaching the employee how to teach a skill, you force him to learn it extremely well — and you free yourself from future repetitious efforts. Teaching someone to teach takes time. It also takes some skill. You have to consider not only the tasks that are involved in the job but also the best ways of explaining them. Still, it is well worth the time and effort that you put into it.

And there are additional benefits to establishing this kind of mentoring program: You provide the next new employee with a corporate friend, someone to turn to for advice. The mentor feels responsible for the new employee’s performance — and they both learn that responsibility is best when shared. For a while at least, a separate pair of eyes will be carefully reviewing the early work of every new employee. This should result in fewer mistakes — fewer problems that will need to be fixed later.

The mentor will probably rise to a higher level of commitment and dedication to the business. He’ll take himself and his job more seriously. You don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on training — but you do have to spend some if you want to give your best employees a chance to reach their full potential. Just make sure the training focuses on practical skills that can benefit not only the right employees but also your business.