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The Importance of the Right Learning Climate in Corporate Training

Posted on February 8, 2013 at 02:34 AM

Corporate training is a huge industry in this country, and corporations are embracing employee development like never before. According to 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 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, or a learning climate that supports and encourages learning every day of the year.

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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To put it simply, a misguided, simplistic, and outdated understanding of how training should be handled.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 programs tend to put too much emphasis on the actual training event– 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 the impact that corporations might expect.

What can be done to alleviate this problem?

First and foremost, companies need to recognize that to foster the right learning climate and – more importantly – to ensure that that learning is actually put into practice, they need to have the proper support tools in place.

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 the program, productivity will improve. The reality, however, is that as soon as employees get back to their desks, the message is lost because it is not supplemented or reinforced.

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Building The Right Learning Climate

To be truly successful, therefore, corporate training needs to be seen as just one piece of a continuing learning and development process. A successful training program needs to start by clearly identifying what the needs of the organization are, and what success looks like. These factors must be integral to the training design itself, and be tracked along the way. 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.

The Three Essentials

  1. Employee Buy-in: Impress upon the employee that using these new skills are to his or her benefit.  If heart is not engaged, the head will not learn the material and the hands will not change their behavior.
  2. Evaluation: Consistently assess employee performance year-round.
  3. Performance Support: Offer ample opportunities for refresher training, or at-the-point-of-need job aids.

Each is key.

If an employee feels that training is merely an exercise with no benefit, he will ignore it; managers at all levels must enforce the message at all times. Training given without follow-up assessment is little more than blind training with no measurement for success. 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.  Performance support materials - job aids, quick reference guides, and other materials stored in a repository - allow employees to quickly find answers when needed.

For those companies that foster the right learning climate for corporate training, 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.

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