Image of the word training of a blue field of data.


If the objective of training is for people to apply learning in the workplace and make an observable difference to an organization’s results, then 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, but 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, and a dismal 3% of training reached a level where there is an impact on the organization.

According to the 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 the company’s 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 training. Traditionally, corporate training places little focus or depth to the design process. Often training is based on a mass of subject matter content, handled in a linear format, with a heavy emphasis on the charisma of the trainer. A great trainer doesn’t mean the training outcome is effective.

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 unless training is followed by post-training reinforcement, this type of training produces limited results. That’s because successfully changing behaviors is a process, not a one-time event. Behaviors can’t realistically 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 later 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 in combination results in developing the change in behavior, skills, and knowledge required. The failure of managers and supervisors to determine what needs to change and developing 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.

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, a SME is doomed to deliver less than desirable results.

Poor training is usually a result of the trainer’s lack of understanding in the critical elements of adult learning and therefore they fail to:establish Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and  Timely (SMART) objectives;

  • understand how well the training was received by their audience;
  • evaluate how trainees apply what they have learned and look for changes in behavior; and
  • analyze the outcomes the organization has determined 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. To change behavior, the training must be of an experiential type and must be supported after the training is completed by coaching and a structure of formal and informal rewards.

3. Failure of managers to reinforce new behavior

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 of the individual and support by a strong framework of 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. 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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