Don't send your employees to training programmes

8 Sep 2016


Coming from a trainer and a coach who has delivered training programmes for the last 17 years, this headline is a strange statement. You could even say it lacks credibility as my colleagues and I have been and plan to continue delivering training programmes as part of our development solutions.


So what am I talking about? Based on Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels of training evaluation you can send 20 employees to a standard soft skills training on something like conflict management, negotiation skills, communication techniques etc., but on average only about 3-4 of them make sustainable training related changes that benefit the business. The other 16-17 make smaller changes that are unlikely to last, changes that do not impact the business in any way or no changes at all.


This means that on average only about 15%-20% of your employees are ready and willing to take on new learning and apply it diligently. Is that a good enough return on your investment? After all, you probably sent them to a development programme during work hours where they are being paid for learning, so that the company could benefit. Wouldn't you expect a bit more?


The reality is that most training programmes, although well intentioned and mostly quite relevant to the participant’s world, are not “wired” enough into their environment to stand any chance of achieving sustainable change. Participants are simply “sent to do training” with the expectation that they come back different and better in some way.




The solution  

So how does one “wire” a training programme to actually work in a way that positively impacts the business? The answer is simple, but not necessarily easy.


Step 1

Work out the impact this training programme needs to have on the business to be justifiable. Ideally it is a business impact that also is relevant to the execution of your company’s business strategy; so don’t be afraid of looking at your organizations highest goal in this context (market leadership, innovation leadership, profit maximization etc.). 


Step 2

Figure out the new “key-behaviors” that need to be observable with the target group in question as well as the quality (skill) of those behaviors, so that they will lead to a positive business impact.


Step 3

Discuss with all relevant stakeholders how the key-behaviors mentioned above could potentially start to impact business performance and ideally (if designed right) start a chain movement of what we call leading business indicators.


Step 4

Now design relevant content and learning objectives, as well as training methods fitting the target group to be trained. Remind yourself that these should lead to certain key behaviors. Do this in close cooperation with all key stakeholders such as the target group that is to attend the training as well as their managers.


Step 5

Design a “driver package” that supports the learning and drives the key-behaviors mentioned in step 2. These are activities, systems and tools that aid the implementation of those behaviors, outside the classroom. To explain further, the drivers can take the form of encouragement, support and accountability.



The magic ingredient

After taking Steps 1 to 5 into consideration there is a certain magic ingredient needed to make training programmes successful and it has been re-confirmed over and over again.


I am talking about management involvement that is needed to encourage, support and hold people accountable to the key behaviors. Why else would the company invest in the training in the first place? When managers show interest in the training programmes their people attend, show recognition for their achievements and are focused on making practical use of their learning, people start to apply themselves more in the learning process. When the same manager uses active encouragement, provides support, shows recognition and that they’re serious abut the whole initiative by holding people accountable, the numbers start to improve rapidly.



The key lesson learned

The main lesson we should be taking away here is that of course training can work really well, but only when supported by the right mechanisms. When learning objectives and key behaviors have been well defined and supported by a driver package – and when those behaviors start to positively impact a chain of leading business indicators in a way that ultimately has a favorable impact on the execution of business strategy, we can not only claim but prove that training works.



The final word

Never accept that your company spends money on a training programme that has not been “wired” to be successful in terms of supporting your business goals and strategy. Always demand to understand the mechanism that secures that the outcome of the training will be a set of key behaviors that correctly impact the business. 


Take a look at our case study on training effectiveness to gain insights on how trainings can be “wired” to business strategy. 



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