Why Training Fails

Picture of Mark Fleming

Mark Fleming

President, Academy of Business Training

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, and only 13% of training reached a level where participants applied the learning in the workplace. A dismal 3% of training reached a level impacting the organization.

According to Forbes Magazine, U.S.-based companies spend approximately $70 billion annually 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

One of the biggest contributing factors to low ROIs from training initiatives is the lack of a well-thought-out training program to structure training. A completely different design and delivery approach is necessary for effective training. 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. Being 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 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 allows users, instructors, and other stakeholders 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:
      • Reactions – How participants reacted to the training program. Did they like it? Was it relevant to their job function?
      • Learning – Assess the extent students have advanced their knowledge, skills, and attitudes toward what is communicated in the training program.
      • Knowledge Transfer – Measure the change in behavior due to the training program. Are the knowledge and skills gained during the training program being used by the trainee?
      • Results – Measures the program’s success in terms management and executives can understand (increased productivity, improved quality, decreased cost, etc.).
      • Improve – Improve training programs, courses, and materials based on outputs from course evaluations.

2. No or poor trainer training

Arrogant Trainer

In most organizations, trainers come up through the ranks and may be subject matter experts (SMEs) 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 and be good at training people.

You must know the fundamental principles underlying a good training course and teaching methodology to improve your training. 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 typically rely on lecture-style training. Lecture-style methods to change behavior are inappropriate as they are best used to transfer only knowledge. Training must be experiential to change behavior and supported after the training is completed by coaching and a formal and informal rewards structure.

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, with an emphasis on demonstration and practice. The practice must be in an environment where mistakes can be made and learned. 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.

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