If the training objective is for people to apply learning in the workplace and make an observable difference to an organization’s results, almost all corporate training fails to achieve its objective. In a study released by the Association for Talent Development, 95% of training reached a level where the participants liked the training. Still, only 37% of training reached a level where participants learned the material, only 13% of training reached a level where participants applied the learning in the workplace. A dismal 3% of training reached a level where there is an impact on the organization.

According to Forbes Magazine, U.S. based companies spend approximately $70 billion a year on training. Yet, many organizations get low ROIs from their training initiatives.

What are the reasons for such poor results?


1. Poor training program development

The biggest contributing factor to low ROIs from training initiatives is the lack of a well-thought-out training program to provide structure to its training. For training to be effective, a completely different approach to design and delivery is necessary. It is the training design that guarantees the success of the training. Traditionally, corporate training places little focus or depth on the design process. Often training is based on a mass of subject matter content, handled in a linear format, emphasizing the trainer’s charisma. A great trainer doesn’t mean the training outcome is effective.

Why Leadership Training Fails


Ask any manager about their goals for training, and they will most likely say to improve performance, but training can’t directly improve performance; it can only change certain behaviors that, if consistently applied, will lead to improved performance. Research has consistently demonstrated that, unless training is followed by post-training reinforcement, this training type produces limited results. That’s because successfully changing behaviors is a process, not a one-time event. Behaviors can’t be changed in one or two days, especially because trainees routinely forget most of what they have learned within 30 days of the training event due to poor training delivery. Trainees need time to learn and apply new knowledge and skills, which need to be reinforced through coaching for sustainability.

In many companies, training is seen as a classroom exercise rather than a combination of learning practices, which develops the change in behavior, skills, and knowledge required. Managers and supervisors’ failure to determine what needs to change and develop a framework to achieve the change is common.

A well-developed training program should deliver increased employee retention, morale and reduced staff complaints; increased production, reduced waste, and higher quality ratings resulting in increased sales and customer satisfaction.

The process of actually developing a training program, supporting training materials, and its associated training plan, typically involves the five-phase ADDIE training model:

    • The Assessment Phase identifies existing knowledge and skills and clarifies instructional problems, goals, objectives, learning environment, audience type, constraints, and delivery options.
    • Design Phase identifies learning objectives, assessment instruments, exercises, content, subject matter, lesson plans, media, and approaches to preparing training materials.
    • Development Phase creates and assembles training content assets conceptualized during the design phase, such as storyboards, written content, presentations, graphics, e-learning, etc.
    • The Implementation Phase ensures stakeholders are prepared and includes facilitators’ and instructors’ training, validation of expected learning outcomes, execution of planned delivery methods, testing and continuous improvement of procedures and approaches, and utilization of available tools.
    • The Evaluation Phase provides users, instructors, and other stakeholders an opportunity to evaluate and comment on the training program, supporting artifacts, instructors, and approaches. Effective training measures are vital in determining if and how much training has supported organizational goals and is often done using a four-level evaluation model. Successive levels build on the information provided by lower levels to measure performance by analyzing:


2. No or poor trainer training

In most organizations, trainers come up through the ranks and may be a subject matter expert (SME) but have received no formal training in adult education. Without knowledge of training best practices and procedures, an SME is doomed to deliver less than desirable results. Recall the teachers or lecturers you had in the past. Have you ever had a lecturer whose fame in an area preceded him, but when you attended his class, you were utterly disappointed by his teaching? The problem wasn’t his knowledge but his teaching method. The skill to train people on a specific topic is different from being knowledgeable on that topic.

To be a successful trainer, you need to know the subject topic, but you also need to be good at training people.

To improve your training, you need to know the fundamental principles that underlie a good training course or teaching methodology. Poor training is usually a result of the trainer’s lack of understanding of the critical elements of adult learning, and therefore they fail to:

    • establish Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and  Timely (SMART) objectives;
    • understand how well their audience received the training;
    • evaluate how trainees apply what they have learned and look for changes in behavior; and
    • analyze the organization’s outcomes to be good for business, good for the employees, and good for the bottom line.

When a trainer has not been trained in adult learning, they will typically rely on lecture-style training. Lecture style methods used to change behavior are inappropriate as they are best used to transfer only knowledge.  Training must be of an experiential type to change behavior and be supported after the training is completed by coaching and a structure of formal and informal rewards.


3. Failure of managers to reinforce the new behavior

Supervisor Training Another root cause of ineffective training is failing to enable frontline managers to affect the desired change. Managers’ support of the training goals and objectives is crucial, as they are uniquely positioned to ensure new knowledge and skills are applied on the job. Behavioral change needs personal coaching and support by a strong goal setting and two-way feedback, if not 360-degree feedback. Skills development needs coaching of a different kind, one where the emphasis is on demonstration and practice. The practice needs to be in an environment where mistakes can be made and learned from them. Training in knowledge must be quickly followed by the individual being placed in an environment where it is used. Setting expectations, coaching, and monitoring performance metrics is the work of managers, and they must be trained to do this.  Providing them with the knowledge, skills, and tools to do this effectively is necessary to maximize training ROI.

In summary, effective training is the result of (1) a well-developed training program, (2) delivered by trainers trained in training best practices and procedures, and (3) supported by managers trained in coaching and mentoring.

Learn training best practices in our Train the Trainer course and coaching best practices in our Business Coaching Certification Training course.