Why training fails

If the objective of training is for people to apply that learning in the workplace and make an observable difference to an organisation’s results, then almost all corporate training fails to achieve its objective.

In a 2000 study, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) reported that only 3% of training reached Kirkpatrick’s level 4 of training evaluation results, where there is an impact on the organisation. In contrast, 95% of training reached level 1, where the participants liked the training.

A further breakdown of the study revealed that 37% of training reached level 2, where participants learnt the material and only 13% of training reached level 3, where participants applied the learning in the workplace.

There are several failures which lead to this significant waste of training dollars.

When training is not related to the organisation’s objectives, strategies and management’s day to day behaviour, training is ineffective in delivering the desired results. Generic off the shelf training which has not been designed for a specific purpose with people from a known organisation in mind may increase an individual’s knowledge, but it does not increase their ability to apply the knowledge. Even if training is devised specifically for an organisation, it will still be ineffective when the training does not relate to the day to day life at the coal face of managers, supervisors and shop floor personnel.

Understanding the coal face before commencing training is the most important preparation a trainer can do. An organisation spending considerable money on training should insist on the trainer having that understanding. The first utterance by the trainer which results in a response from their audience, “that does not happen here” is the moment that the trainer begins to lose the trust of the audience. When trust is lost, so is value and significant parts of the audience stop listening and participating.

The worst part of it is that, most times, the response is silence and the trainer may well continue on unawares.

A further cause of wasted training dollars is the use of methods which are not designed to achieve the change in behaviour, skills or knowledge that is desired. For example, lecture style methods used to change behaviour are inappropriate as they are best used to transfer only knowledge. To change behaviour, the training is best to be of an experiential type and must be supported after the training is completed by coaching and a structure of formal and informal rewards.

If the method used to train is useful for achieving the required change theoretically, it is still at times inappropriate for the audience. For example, role plays are effective for improving skills as they allow participants to practise what they have learnt. However, if the participants are unlikely to be comfortable with role plays, then the method is still unlikely to be effective.

The most significant waste of training dollars however, rests with the lack of thought in determining what training is needed. Training is seen as a classroom exercise rather than a combination of learning interventions, which in combination results in developing the change in behaviour, skills and knowledge required. The failure of managers and supervisors to determine what needs to change and developing an intervention framework to achieve the change is common.

The failure of trainers to insist on finding out before completing their instructional design is more common.

Behavioural 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 practise. The practise needs to be in an environment where mistakes can be made and learnt from. Knowledge can be learnt from books, lectures and interactive CDs to name a few. But knowledge needs to be used in context to breed confidence. So training in knowledge must be quickly followed by the individual being placed in an environment where it is used.

The fact that training fails so often because of a lack of clearly understanding the changes we want to develop and developing a broader training intervention beyond the classroom is bad. Combine it with the habit of many individuals to treat training as a CV builder, absorbing little but the most basic understanding of what was being taught and a recipe for systemic low productivity is created as the blind lead the blind.

Trained individuals using the most basic of understanding learnt in a classroom to make decisions, implement projects and manage their people have a false sense of competence which impacts far beyond the class room.

It is the responsibility of managers, supervisors and most importantly, the trainers, to make sure that training does not fail. Failure costs too much.

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