Why Training Programs Don't Always Work

by Leslie Allan

The goal of employee training programs is usually to improve your business's bottom line. But all too often, a few weeks or months after the training is over, employees have gone back to doing things the same as before. Learn where the problem lies and what you can do about it here.

The class on improving time management looked as if it would be a smart idea at first. You had every employee attend, and now months down the line schedule slippages are worse than ever. What is the problem? Could it be because your concept of how training works is outdated? According to this oversimplified view, training works like a magic potion. With this uncomplicated perspective, by attending training classes, desirable results for your company will come about automatically. Similarly, on this view, by enrolling workers in an online class and giving them access to computers for learning, it is thought that you will see gains in your workplace.

How training leads to a great business outcome on this view can be shown like this:

Trainee Attendance >> Business Results

The arrows show this idea of how an employee attending a well-designed and implemented training event creates the improved business results. Some possible outcomes for the business could be less time for a product or service to make it to market, a decrease in customer complaints, or an increase in customer loyalty, to name a few examples.

This is your preferred perspective if you view training as primarily telling workers 'what and how.' Managers that behave from this viewpoint are mainly concerned with the 'content' of the program. As they choose a program, they concentrate solely on the information that their workers will be provided.



You can compare this approach to seeing your trainees as pieces of hardware or robots. With this approach, training people works the same way as with programming a machine: an employee is led to the programming area, the brand new instructions are 'programmed' for the employee, and the employee then returns to their task at hand.

You may not even realize that you view your employees as machinery, waiting to be instructed. One method of determining whether you view trainees as robots is to observe how you react when employees don't behave according to the instructions they received in the training. If training doesn't work, do you train the same employees the same way, hoping that things will be different this time? And do you write off the employees as 'un-trainable' and ignore them when the second training session fails?

Now let me move your attention to a more influential aspect of how training works. As the basic view is linear and one-dimensional, this more advanced view of training centers around the concept that there are a lot of items that interact with the training event, that either bring about or prevent the intended company benefits.

Briefly stated, you can summarize this more sophisticated view as follows:

Trainee Attendance >> Trainee Learning >> Workplace Behavior >> Business Results

Note that with this view, there are a greater number of steps along the way, beginning with training program attendance, to attaining the desired business results. Additional steps mean there is a greater chance for training to fail even beyond the trainee's own shortcomings.

Let's consider these additional steps. After learning the material at the training event, it is even more important for the trainee to actually apply the new knowledge and skills. In order for this to happen, the training program must be well thought out and handled properly. Complete agreement as well as a clear statement must be made about the business and learning goals. The program should allow the trainees many chances to practice, gain helpful feedback, etc. Acknowledge that there is no guarantee with the learning. If results are what you desire, make sure that only professionals are involved in putting together and delivering the program.

First and foremost, you should observe that this step entails mitigating factors that go into determining how much your workers will learn. The trainee's ability and motivation are some of the factors. Playing the employees' manager part is very important. You have to be sure that only those with the proper credentials attend the training session.

Furthermore, you will need to perform a few tasks prior to and throughout the training to make certain that your employees are motivated and remain enthusiastic to be trained.

Next, the trainee is able to put into practice the knowledge they have gained. Training will fall short if attendees don't modify their behavior beneficially when they are back at work. There are several things that can lessen or increase learning. Your role as a manager is very important in this case. The highest priority for you is to make certain that back on the job, your employees have plenty of opportunities to implement their new skills. Where you've made these opportunities available, you'll need to ensure that a coach is accessible to them who will help them get past the initial difficulties they encounter and that you give ample feedback concerning their performance.

Additional tasks you will need to perform are: setting goals that are mutually agreed upon, defining job responsibilities and rewarding employees who do things correctly and accomplish results. As none of these critical elements are automatic, work diligently with the trainer as well as your employees to make certain that the trainees have the correct work environment to utilize their new skills.

The final step will include turning the new behaviors into wanted business results. You might assume that since your workers finished the training and implemented it at work, this final step is a given. This is not the case. Other things might prevent or lessen the results you want. For instance, there may not be a decrease in customer complaints following the training of customer service personnel due to the recent release of a highly defective new product by your product department. Looking at the bigger picture could be crucial too. For example, when tariffs are simultaneously lowered by the government, the desired increase in sales may not come to fruition.

The worst thing that can happen is that you find out the training program was not the right answer to start with. While it is possible to train individuals to perform quality inspection, it is far less costly and time consuming to prevent the defects than inspect to find them. So, work in close collaboration with the training program designers from the outset to ensure that the training program you come up with really will solve your problem.

The more powerful view of training, as you can discern, scrutinizes the aspects that can either bar or greatly lower the great business results you wanted. This way of looking at things serves to make you focus on each of the important steps required to achieve results in your business, rather than employees simply attending the training program. One key thing to take from adopting this view of how training works is that, as a manager, you will need to partner with your employees and the people who design and roll out the training if you want your program to have any chance at success.

There is a lot more that can be said about how the promotion of this partnership can take advantage of proper factors at each step to form more useful training programs. I have achieved my objective if you can go on from here and understand that your success as a manager depends on your choosing the right view of how training works.

© Leslie Allan. All rights reserved.

Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd, a company providing practical online information and resources in a range of business areas, including training and development. His company's guides, tools and templates assist organizations engage and develop people, manage organizational change and improve project delivery.

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