effective trainingAs 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, 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. That’s not to mention the ongoing frustration for leaders and human resources 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. Certainly, the ability to apply new skills 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,  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
Researched Percentage ~15% ~70%



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, the facilitator did a poor job, etc.) Application environment (no management support, no incentive to use it, no opportunity to try new skills)
Researched Percentage ~40% ~20%


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 that describes how to succeed in workforce development:

Workforce Training

  • It starts 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.  Since 40% of losses happen right at the beginning, it pays to use a structured process to determine the true cause of the problem.
  • Then the training session itself develops the new 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 evaluation time.

Now for the fun part, 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! Write a report and share, share, share the good news about changes after training. This is what adds momentum to a learning culture and zooms credibility for Human Resources and Learning and Development professionals, helping to recession-proof their jobs.

See how and learn more with a free webinar to guide you in making training effective! Based in part on the book Building Giants, A Proven System to Transform Your Workforce Through Effective Training.

“This class made me think about training in an entirely different way!  Thank you!”  Marta Lynch-Sonova Group

building giants, corporate training, organizational psychologist


  1. 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
  2. Brinkerhoff, R.O., (2006) Telling training’s story, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.
  3. 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.