I think that we would all agree that training – like exercise – is a good thing. Unfortunately, just knowing that training is a good thing doesn’t guarantee that we will do it well or even that we will do it at all.

Whether you are a CEO, CFO, an HR practitioner, a middle manager or a member of line staff, you have a vested interest in the timely and satisfactory resolution of what’s wrong with training. Whether you are consuming training or producing it, in all likelihood you are leaving value on the table. This article will identify five factors that tend to compromise the effectiveness of training. It will also outline concrete steps that can be taken to rectify the problem.

Mistake #1: Supply vs Demand

In far too many organisations, training is supply-driven rather than demand-driven. By this I mean that the training agenda is largely determined by what service providers have on offer and not by what the organisation actually needs to fulfill its mandate and achieve its goals and objectives.

To be optimally effective, the creation of a training agenda should begin by analyzing what knowledge, skills and abilities are required to successfully execute the organisational strategy. Once that determination has been made, the organisation should then proceed to identify what – if any – gaps exist. This is typically accomplished through a needs assessment.  If the organisation has a robust performance management system, that can serve as an additional diagnostic tool.

The results of such needs assessments constitute the organisation’s demand for training. As a strategic business partner, HR should then collaborate with the various business units to procure and/or create fit for purpose training programmes.

Mistake #2: Lack of Enabling Environment

The LinkedIn 2020 Workplace Learning Report revealed that the biggest challenge to employee training is making managers prioritize employee learning and training not just in the U.S. and North America but the rest of the world.

49% of talent developers agree that getting managers to prioritize learning is their number one challenge in 2020.[1]

Even when we get past the hurdle of getting managers to allocate time for their direct reports to participate in training activities, the battle is far from being over. After all, the goal is not merely to attend training, but rather to have employees apply the lessons learnt on the job and, in doing so, to improve performance.

Research indicates that only about 10-20% of training is transferred into the workplace.  When training does not transfer it is likely that trainees and supervisors will question the benefit of their investment in the training.  In other words, time and money are both wasted.[2] 

There are multiple factors that contribute to the lack of transfer of learning. Sustained behaviour change requires a supportive organisational culture, aligned policies and procedures, and positive reinforcement. To create such an enabling environment, both HR and the respective business units need to be very intentional. This includes proactively designing a follow-up plan to get staff to utilize the newly acquired knowledge, skills and abilities. Failure to do so will result in the activation of the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve.

Mistake #3: Unclear Training Objectives

Failing to clearly articulate objectives can doom any training programme to failure. It is essential that you begin with the end in mind. In this context, there should be both learning objectives and outcome objectives.

Learning objectives generally describe what the trainer or programme facilitator aims to do. Learning outcomes, on the other hand, describe in observable and measurable terms what participants are able to do as a result of completing a learning experience.

Both types of objectives should be clearly communicated to all parties – i.e., the trainer/service provider, training participants and managers. Failure to do so can lead to poor design and a lack of accountability, which represent the two remaining mistakes.

Mistake #4: Poor Training Design

Effective instructional design begins with a sound understanding of the principles of adult learning. Those principles can be summarized as follows:

  • Self-concept. Adult learners have a self-concept. This means that they are autonomous, independent, and self-directed. 
  • Learning from Experience. Experience as a rich resource of learning. Adults learn from their previous experiences. Thus, it is a good repository for learning. 
  • Readiness to Learn. Adults tend to gravitate towards learning matters that matter to them. Their readiness to learn things is highly correlated with their relative uses. 
  • Immediate Applications. The orientation of adult learning is for immediate applications rather than future uses. The learning orientation of adults tends to slant towards being task-oriented, life-focused, and problem-centric. 
  • Internally Motivated. Adults are more motivated by internal personal factors rather than external coaxes and pressures. 
  • Need to Know. Adult learners have the need to know the value of what they are learning and know the why’s behind the need to learn them. 

One of the biggest pitfalls is a perceived lack of relevance. If participants have a preconceived notion that the training can’t be put into action or doesn’t matter, they won’t engage. Since they don’t engage, the lessons aren’t put into practice. And thus proceeds a vicious cycle…

In addition to being relevant, the design must be interesting and engaging. Therefore, designers need to know and understand their target audience and design with their needs, learning styles and interests in mind.

Mistake #5: Lack of Accountability

One way for organisations to secure the best bang for buck with their training dollars is to hold all involved parties accountable. This includes line managers, HR and the employees themselves. This can be accomplished through a comprehensive evaluation plan.

Not all training evaluation is created equally. The Kirkpatrick Model is globally recognized and adopted. It consists of four levels – i.e., reaction, learning, behaviour and results – as displayed in the accompanying diagramme.

Unfortunately, far too often, organisations settle for the reaction level of evaluation – relying exclusively on smiley faces to determine whether the training initiative was “good”. What is actually required is to link the evaluation to the programme’s learning (i.e., Level 2) and outcome (i.e., Levels 3 and 4) objectives and to monitor and assess them over time.

Final Word

When a training agenda is informed by diligent needs analysis and the design is fit for purpose and reinforced by an enabling environment, the outcome is a learning organisation where all parties are committed to continuous growth and improvement. While it’s not quite the holy grail, it also isn’t something that comes about through happenstance. Therefore, it behooves us to intentionally and diligently apply the solutions outlined above. 

Prior Proper Planning and Preparation Prevent Poor Performance.

[1] https://research.com/careers/training-industry-statistics#challenge

[2] https://www.opm.gov/wiki/training/Training-Transfer/Print.aspx#:~:text=Research%20indicates%20that%20only%20about,and%20money%20are%20both%20wasted.

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