Corporate training is a huge industry in this country, and in many ways corporations are embracing employee development like never before. According to the most recent numbers from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), American companies spent over $150 billion on training in 2011 alone. With a national workforce that hovers somewhere around 150 million people, that means American companies are shelling out more than $1000 to provide developmental training for every employee – and they do it year after year.
To put it frankly, that’s an immense amount of money to spend on training. It also seems like a safe bet that if companies are spending so much money on professional development, they must be getting pretty good returns. But the sad truth is much of that money is squandered due to failure to engender a corporate culture that supports and encourages learning every day of the year.
What’s at the root of this problem? To put it simply, a misguided, simplistic, and outdated understanding of how training should be handled. These training plans tend to put too much emphasis on the actual training act – whether it be a four-hour classroom session, or a series of webinars, or even a highly dynamic eLearning module – and not enough emphasis on preparation, follow-up, and reinforcement. An excellent training experience in isolation from these key factors is unlikely to have nearly the impact that corporations might expect.
What can be done to alleviate this problem? First and foremost, companies need to recognize that to foster learning and – more importantly – to ensure that that learning is actually put into practice in a way that is beneficial to the productivity and ingenuity of the employee, they need to actually believe that learning is important. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many companies give very little thought to the before and after of a training intervention. A vendor is often brought in to implement a training program – as “off-the-shelf” as possible – with the assumption that by simply running employees through it, productivity will improve. The reality, however, is that as soon as the employee gets back to his desk, the message is lost because it is not supplemented or reinforced.
To be truly successful, therefore, training needs to be seen as just one part of a continuing learning and development process. A successful training program needs to start with a clearly identified idea of what the needs of the organization are, and what success looks like. These factors must be integral to the design of the training itself. Getting this far, however, is at most 20% of the way to a great program. The really important part comes in the follow-up.
Studies have shown that up to 90% of what an employee learns in a training session is forgotten by the time that employee gets around to actually using those skills. Taken in monetary terms, that means $900 out of the $1000 spent on each employee in the country is essentially wasted money.
This is why it is absolutely essential to do three things:
- Impress upon the employee that using these new skills are to his or her benefit.
- Consistently assess employee performance year-round.
- Offer ample opportunities for refresher training, or at-the-point-of-need job aids.
The problem is that the vast majority of companies do not do these things, or at most they do a half-hearted job. Each is key. If an employee feels that training is merely an exercise with no benefit, he will ignore it; accordingly managers at all levels must enforce the message at all times. Training given without follow-up assessment is little more than blind training – there is no understanding of whether it was successful, or more importantly, was even providing training that aligned with the company’s goals in the first place. Furthermore, successful training may be negated in the long term if skills are allowed to decay – frequent assessment can detect such backsliding and provide for corrective training.
Ultimately, training can only be valuable to a company that sees it as a priority. For those companies that do, the results can be monumental, and provide a great return: increased profitability, an engaged, innovative, and retainable workforce, and significantly less wastage – of money, effort, and time.