Why do so Many Companies Get Training Wrong?

Earlier in 2017 I was interviewed by the BBC for an article on workplace training and specifically, why companies get it wrong so often. As one of a few expert sources for the article, my entire response was not included, but I wanted to share it with you here.

WRONG: Cram all the learning in to the shortest amount of time possible

Solution: Mete it Out Over Time

One of the biggest contributors to the lack of training effectiveness is that we simply don’t allow enough time for training. First, companies have cut what used to be an 8-hour training day back to four-hours or two-hours, in many cases, and sometimes it’s been turned in to a boring PowerPoint self-study (this violates a lot of adult learning principles, but we won’t go there today).

Secondly, in combination with the shorter time allotted for training, we deliver all the content in one “sitting.” While this is a great approach for an overview or introduction to a topic, it never develops in to learning and skill.

So the first thing we must do to make workplace training better is to mete the content out, over time. Learners need an introductory period, a practice period, a period for reflection and a period for perfection. This process cannot be compressed in to four-hours. The brain doesn’t process new information that way and the body doesn’t develop the muscle memory or finesse it needs to perform a skill this way either. (Here is an interesting article on the benefits of spaced learning in training medical professionals.)

WRONG: Teaching things in “theory”

Solution: Real World Application

This best-practice has two angles. The first goes hand-in-hand with the meted content suggested above. If you are going to space the learning out over a period of time, you have the ability to assign real world activities to the learners. This allows them to put what they’ve learned in to practice and develop a better understanding of the concept as well as the muscle memory required to perform it. For example, in a sales training course, if step one is to identify prospects – the assignment should be to return to the next lesson having identified and vetted at least three prospects using the skills taught in lesson one. The assignment after lesson two should be to again start at prospecting and then add step two. This allows the leaners to learn-do-reflect-perfect.

The other angle is to have learners work with real-world concepts during the learning time itself. You could have a training class that teaches learners to read financial statements such as profit and loss, cash flow, etc. in a “vacuum,” or you could have them learn to read these same reports while looking at the annual report for their own company, or their competitor. Rather than learning things in “theory,” have your workers learn the same concepts with real-world benefits.

WRONG: Not including management in the training process

Management Involvement

Management involvement is crucial for real learning in so many ways. First, it is important that managers understand what their workers are learning so that they can reinforce it (how many of us conduct a manager’s overview or ask for their participation before their workers come to us?). Second managers can assist in the practice/perfection phase of training by allowing their workers extra time to complete their newly learned processes (in other words suspending metrics during the practice phase) and by answering questions or providing coaching. Finally, managers are the best choice for evaluating the true outcomes of training. They are the ones who see if the workers are able to truly implement what they learned on-the-job.

WRONG: Having no real plan for training: who gets trained, in what, why?

Make it a Strategy

I can’t decide if this failure is the most damning, or if the way we slice and dice content to cut it back to the most minimal amount of time it will take to transmit it is; so this is either #1 or #2 in terms of what companies do wrong when training their workers.

For years now – decades- we have trained people in silos (if you are a salesperson all of your learning will be related to sales, somehow) and we administer training on an as-needed basis. If you are good at what you do, are performing well and aren’t in-line for a promotion – you could go years with no training at all.

But in order to develop our workers, and our organizations, training needs to be a strategy. What could we teach someone that would make them that much better of a performer? Some “generic” topics that come to mind are finance, continuous improvement, and project management. There is no person in the workplace that couldn’t benefit from having these three skills; yet, if you aren’t a project manager, you’ll probably never get project management training.

Companies are short sighted and tend to compartmentalize training as a “department” rather than utilizing training as a strategy that can make their organization better. If companies developed a strategic plan for employee development – like they do for company initiatives such as product launches or facilities expansion – in no time at all they would reap the rewards of a more capable, productive workforce.

What are your thoughts? Why do so many companies get training wrong?

You can see the original BBC article here.