As a leader or training professional, do you feel like you’re chasing your tail when it comes to getting your team members to learn and use new skills? Does it seem like employees learn more often from mistakes, losses, quality problems, and mix-ups than through training? If so, you are not alone. In spite of the millions spent on workforce training,1 researchers are hard pressed to define what has changed as a result. We know that huge amounts of training dollars—estimates range from 60 to 90 percent—are wasted.2 That’s not to mention the ongoing frustration for leaders and training staff who get sluggish results, unmet timelines, and low-level skills and performance. Meanwhile, technology, business methods, and competition add urgent pressure for businesses to keep up. Chances are, the reason for failure was that one or more of the critical steps in the training process was missing.
Experts agree that training retention is notoriously dismal in much of organizational training, and that, for the typical adult, recalling more than 10%-20% of the content within a few weeks of the training is all that can be expected.2 Certainly the ability to apply the learning is a tremendous factor in the potential success of a training program.
This table shows the percentage of expected or typical training results, which, according to research, 3 can be expected from an audience of 100 who attend a typical soft skills workshop:
|Learner Outcome||Percentage of learners who used none of the learned concepts at all||Percentage of learners who tried some new skills but gave up before they became a habit||Percentage of learners who used new skills and had a result that helped the business|
This table shows the typical reasons for failure. Notice the high percentages of failure at the needs analysis and application stages.
|Failure Reason:||People who did not need the training attended (wrong level, not part of their job, etc.)||The learning session was poor (bad training design, facilitator did a poor job, etc.)||Application environment (no management support, no incentive to use it, no opportunity to try new skills)|
Organizational leaders need to help their workforces continuously improve their skills, keep up with the introduction of new technology, and adopt new ways of working. Yet often there is confusion about how to change behavior through learning, whether for a single employee, a team, or the entire workforce.
When training fails, it is hard to know what went wrong and how to prevent the problem the next time. Leaders often look for a silver bullet to fix people’s learning problems. While silver bullets are rare there is a clear and simple path to providing training that improves the workforce, makes the organization more competitive, and keeps industry strong. A bonus for supervisors is that when they are successful in developing people, they look like superstars.
Here is an image I have used for years to describe how to succeed in workforce development:
The essence is that succeeding with training begins with an accurate diagnosis of what the organization and students need in order to meet business goals. Many students are sent to classes that are a waste of time for them. Next, the training session is designed to develop new the skills/behavior in learners that would meet that need (a hint, dry, boring slide presentations don’t do this). Then, learners go back to the job, where their direct leaders assign them to use new skills and behavior, and lend them support when they encounter obstacles. Lastly, an evaluation must happen. Did students actually succeed with the new skills? This is the time to reward students with well-earned recognition, preferably at Performance Management evaluation time. Also, it is time to report that change for the business you were looking for in the first place. Were dollars saved? Rejects prevented? Are development plans resulting in internal promotions? Make sure your management knows you are succeeding in changing the business for the better with training!
Learn more at www.BuildingGiants.com. Based in part on the book Building Giants, A Proven System to Transform Your Workforce Through Effective Training (coming January, 2016).
- ATD’s State-of-the-Industry-Report (2013, Dec.) $164.2 Billion spent on training and development by US companies. https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/ATD-Blog/2013/12/ASTD-Releases-2013
- Brinkerhoff, R.O., (2006) Telling training’s story, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.
- See http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/trainsta.html#transfer for more information and clarity on Training Transfer for a taste of the conflicting stories of how well training really impacts the bottom line.