By Kate Zabriskie
Each year, organizations waste thousands of dollars on training that doesn’t deliver what the people who bought it thought it would. Consequently, many of those remorseful purchasers determine that either training has no value to their employees, the training facilitators don’t know what they’re doing, the program designers are out of touch with reality, or all three.
If only the root causes of training failures were as simple as those. Even with willing learners, great content, and strong facilitation, you can still encounter a host of problems that will keep you from realizing strong returns on your training investment. If your training isn’t delivering what you think it should, you may be suffering from one of three major problems that plague organizations big and small.
Problem One: Training isn’t part of a larger learning ecosystem.
Just because people participate in a workshop, it doesn’t mean they will change their behavior back on the job. In fact, even if while in class they demonstrate an ability and willingness to do whatever is being taught, all may be lost once participants exit the classroom.
Why does this happen? Good workshops usually fail to deliver because they are treated as a training solution instead of a component of one. In other words, a workshop isn’t the answer in itself; rather, it should be part of a larger apparatus or ecosystem.
Solution: Creating a strong learning ecosystem is an ongoing and often complex endeavor. It takes time to build a holistic structure that supports continuous development. That said, start small. For example, ask yourself:
- Prior to training, do managers explain to people why they will attend a course and how they are expected to use what’s learned after the session?
- Will someone with authority (other than the facilitator) launch the session by explaining how the workshop ties into the bigger picture?
- Are there check-in opportunities after training to ensure that participants are implementing new behaviors?
If you answer “no” to any of those basics, do what you need to do to shift those answers to “yes.”
Next, think about the incentives you can put in place to encourage behavior change and the barriers you need to remove to encourage success, and the corrective action you will take if what’s happening in the classroom isn’t replicated on the job.
Once you start thinking holistically and view courses and workshops as a component of learning versus learning in its entirety, you will have taken the first step in getting the most out of your training dollars.
Problem Two: Continuous learning isn’t part of the culture, and training isn’t treated as a priority.
You have great content, you have a skilled facilitator in place, and half the people scheduled to attend the course don’t attend because training isn’t a priority.
When training occupies a position of “nice to have” and not “need to have,” getting the most from it becomes problematic. This most often happens when people are survival mode instead of on a growth trajectory. In other words, they are scrambling to get through the work instead of thinking mindfully about the work they’re completing and how they’re completing it.
In practical terms, if people are always putting out fires and don’t regularly ask “what have we learned” and “how can we improve,” why should they care about learning new skills?
Solution: Shifting from a reactive culture to one that is deliberate about its activities takes months or even years. However, it’s not difficult to make big strides over time when you begin by asking the right questions up, down, and across an organization.
Start the improvement conversation at multiple levels and at different times. Frequently ask, “what have we learned,” “what do we need to do better next time,” “what do we wish we’d known earlier,” and other such questions after projects, meetings, presentations, and so forth. In the rare instances when something goes perfectly, remember there are still questions to ask: “How can we replicate what we just did,” “why did that work well,” “is there any reason this approach won’t work again in the future,” and so on.
When questioning becomes the norm, the solutions offered via training should have stronger importance and value. For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions: “Are we hiring the wrong people,” “are we expecting too much,” “is there something better for the same money somewhere else,” “do our managers not manage well,” “do we need to provide people with better tools,” and so on.
Then, when learning and improvement are a priority, you’ll hear such things as, “Today is a training day for me. I’ll be unavailable until 4:00. If you have an emergency, please see my supervisor Melissa. The workshop I’m attending is of top importance and part of my effort to reduce the turnover in our department.”
Who can argue with that? The logic sounds right and ties into big-picture improvement goals.
To get larger returns from training, use questioning to drive improvement. The answers will help people connect the dots and understand why training is a priority and not just something they do because Outlook tells them to show up in a classroom.
Problem Three: Few annual development plans exist.
The world doesn’t stagnate, and your employees shouldn’t either. If they’re doing their work the same way they were five years ago, and nobody is encouraging or demanding change, why should they care about training or think you care about them?
Solution: Regardless of level, every employee should have a development plan and some learning and growth goals that connect to the big picture and enhance their skills.
“I want to improve XYZ skill to drive ABC result, and 123 is how I plan to grow,” is a quick and easy format to follow when setting development goals and three to five goals is a good number for most people.
Better still, if you can tie those goals to performance reviews, you’ll be amazed at the interest people develop in improvement, training, and implementing new skills.
As with the other two solutions, start small. If your company, for example, has no development plans, choose a department and pilot them.
Whether you suffer from one, two, or all three of the problems described, take action now. When thoughtful goals and development plans are put in place throughout an organization, people are conditioned to ask the right questions and drive toward improvement, and a strong learning ecosystem supports learning, it is almost impossible not to realize a stronger return on your training dollars.
Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.