With all of the time, money, and energy companies put into training every year (a whopping $70.65 billion by U.S. companies in 2016 alone), very few companies make the effort to circle back and make sure their training programs are accomplishing their goals.
The Association for Talent Development reported 95 percent of training was enjoyed by participants, but only 37 percent of training resulted in participants learning the material, only 13 percent reached a level where participants applied what they learned, and a mere 3 percent of training reached a level where the organization felt an impact.
So why that drop off? If a training program’s success is gauged by behavior change and whether learners apply their knowledge, why are we satisfied when they "like the training" but aren't taking anything away? Working from the end-goal of application and retention backward, it's easy to discover common training design pitfalls we fall into.
10 Reasons Why Training Fails
1. Missing business objectives. How do you measure the success of any program, learning or not, within your company? Chances are, it’s linked to some larger, over-arching business objective. Social media activity links to conversation rates, and overhead costs are related to profitability. Now think, what business objectives are driving your training initiatives? Some training, like new-hire orientation, might be hard to tie to a business objective other than getting new employees up and running, but by and large you should be able to find connections between company goals and training initiatives.
2. Lack of direct management support. Employees aren’t likely to institute behavioral change if they think management has a laissez faire attitude about it. Managerial influence is cited by Gallup as a key factor in employee buy-in and engagement; direct supervisors are the best role models for employees. Ahead of training launch, you might consider developing training to specifically address management’s role in the initiative, or hold a more relaxed in-person meeting to have those discussions.
3. Lack of executive involvement. Executive involvement is critical for access to resources and funding, but also plays a role in employee engagement and success. Facebook’s Engage Coaching Program, for example, provides one-on-one sessions with executive coaches to give employees a sense of ownership in their career development. If your senior staff can’t realistically devote that much time, follow the lead of other companies who’ve created videos of executives describing why they value the training initiative. The fact is, employees notice active involvement and support from senior staff.
4. Misunderstanding training needs. Sending employees to training that is not immediately applicable to their job (if it’s relevant at all) is one of the top reasons training fails. Don’t skip over the ever-crucial training needs analysis.
5. Delivering the wrong training. We all have our go-to training methods. Those trusty standbys. But, they might not do the trick every time; branch out and add new types of training to your toolbox. Covering how to operate machinery from a classroom doesn’t do a learner much good if the equipment is too big to fit through the door. Crafted a blended solution with all the techniques at your disposal (eLearning, instructor-led, experiential, etc.) to get the most bang for your buck.
6. Thinking training is always the solution. Yes, delivering the wrong training can be a problem but sometimes, delivering any training is a problem. We wouldn’t keep trying to put a square peg in a round hole, so let’s acknowledge when training might not be the answer we’re looking for. The solution should fit the problem. Take a step back and determine what’s actually preventing the desired outcomes you’re hoping for and then design an appropriate solution. If the problem is lack of resources or motivation, putting employees through another training is just a waste of time and money.
7. Lack of performance support. It’s not uncommon for corporations to view training as a one-and-done event, but that’s unrealistic. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are our learners. A single learning event isn’t going to do much in the long run. The learner might come back enthused and ready to go, but old habits die hard and they’re unlikely to change their behavior from a one-off event. You don’t expect a puppy to emerge from one training session perfectly behaved, so why send employees through training and immediately expect results? Employees need a performance support system or other supplemental support to aid in retention. This can take many forms, but ultimately allows the employee to reference or refresh knowledge gained during training.
8. Improper evaluation. If an organization does look at the effectiveness of their training programs, they usually stop at the first level of evaluation: participant reaction. As mentioned earlier, L&D professionals do a fairly good job at making sure learners enjoy their programs, but that doesn’t mean they’re walking away having learned something. Instead, training needs to be evaluated for its effectiveness.
9. Rewarding the wrong behaviors. All the best training in the world means nothing if your company is counteracting your efforts by indirectly rewarding poor behavior. If employees exhibiting desirable behavior, who meet deadlines and follow established procedures, notice their efforts being looked over while attention is focused on their poor-performing colleagues, they’ll lose motivation.
10. Failure to provide and use feedback. Just as important as objectives are during the planning stages, feedback is essential for continued improvement. Performance feedback for the learner should already be part of your business model, and chances are you’re also requesting feedback on the training. But make sure that feedback is being put to good use to make adjustments as needed.
Finding a solution to your training dilemma can sometimes be a quick internet search away, but you first have to know what problem you’re trying to solve. Don’t fall into the trap of creating training with the latest eye-catching technology, that still leaves you wondering why does training fail?
Training Magazine. (2016, Nov.-Dec.) Training Industry Report.
Procter Wilson, E. (2016, March.) How Leading Tech Companies Use Learning & Development to Engage Employees. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/tradecraft-traction/how-leading-tech-companies-use-learning-development-to-engage-employees-662fe35fcb3a
Beck, R. and Harter, J. (2015, April.) Managers Account for 70% of Variance in Employee Engagement. Retrieved from: https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/182792/managers-account-variance-employee-engagement.aspx
Fleming, M. (2016, January.) Why Training Fails: Check Out The Top Reasons. Retrieved from: https://www.hr.com/en/magazines/talent_management_excellence_essentials/january_2016_talent_management/why-training-fails-check-out-the-top-reasons_ijigcgpg.html