Training Employees: Stop Wasting Your Money
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The communication skills course seemed like a good idea at the
time. You told all your employees to attend, and now some months later
your people are miscommunicating as badly as ever. What went wrong? It
may be because you hold an outdated view of how training works.
According to this oversimplified view, training works like a magic
elixir. On this simple view, the act of attending the training course
will automatically bring about the desired business benefits. If you
enroll your people in an e-learning course, then sitting them in front
of a computer will likewise result in automatic business improvement.
How training leads to good business outcomes on this view can
be shown like this:
Attendance » Business Results
The arrows indicate this idea of how an employee attending a
well-designed and executed training event causes the improved business
results. The intended business outcome may be reduced time to market,
fewer customer complaints or more repeat business, for example.
You favor this view if you see training as mostly about
"telling" employees about what to do or how to do it. Managers that act
on this view are primarily concerned about the "content" of the
program. When deciding on a program, they only focus on the information
that will be presented to the trainees.
I liken this approach to seeing trainees as automata or as
pieces of hardware. On this approach, training employees works the same
way as programming a machine: the employee is led into the programming
area, the new instructions are "programmed" into the employee and the
employee is then returned to the job.
You may think that you do not treat employees as machines,
ready to be programmed. One way to determine if you see trainees as
automata is to see how you respond when employees do not act on the
instructions given in the training. When training fails to work, do you
send the same employees back to the same training program, hoping that
the instructions will "stick" the second time around? And when the
second attempt at programming fails, do you then conclude that the
employees are not "trainable" and ignore them from that point on.
I now want to bring to your attention a much more powerful
view of how training works. Whereas the simple view is linear and
one-dimensional, this more sophisticated view of training centers
around the idea that there are a number of factors that interact with
the training event to either bring about or prevent the intended
business benefits. In a nutshell, this more sophisticated view can be
summarized like this:
Attendance » Trainee
Learning » Workplace
Behavior » Business Results
Notice that on this view, there are more steps in the path
starting from attending the training to achieving the desired business
outcomes. With more steps, there is more opportunity for the training
to fail over and above the trainee simply being "defective".
Let us look at these extra steps. The first step beyond the
trainee simply attending the training event is their actual learning of
the new knowledge and skills. For this step to occur, the training
program needs to be well designed and conducted. The business and
learning objectives need to be agreed and clearly stated. The program
needs to include plenty of opportunities for trainees to practice, get
constructive feedback, and so on. Appreciate here that the learning is
not a given. If you want results, ensure that the people designing and
delivering the program are true professionals.
Most importantly, note that in this step there are other
mediating factors that help determine the extent to which your
employees will learn. These factors include each trainee's innate
ability and their motivation level. Your role here as the employees'
manager is critical. You will need to ensure that only those with the
necessary prerequisites attend the training. Secondly, there are things
that you will need to do before and during the training to ensure that
your employees are primed for learning and stay primed.
Moving now to the next step, here the trainee applies what
they have learned to their job. The training program will fail if the
trainees do not change their behavior in some desired way back in their
workplaces. Once again, there are a number of factors that can either
inhibit or enhance this transfer of learning. In this, your role as
manager is paramount. First and foremost, you need to ensure that your
employees have ample opportunity to apply their new skills back on the
job. Where you have provided these opportunities, you will need to make
sure that they have access to a coach that will help them over their
initial difficulties and that you provide plenty of feedback on their
Other things you will need to do include setting mutually
agreed objectives, clarifying job responsibilities and rewarding
employees when they do the right thing and achieve results. None of
these important factors are a given, so work very closely with the
trainer and your employees to ensure that the right workplace
environment is set for trainees to use the new skills.
The last step involves translating the new behaviors into
positive business outcomes. You may think that because your employees
completed the training and applied it to their jobs, that this last
step is guaranteed. It isn't. There may be other forces at play that
will weaken or prevent the desired results. For example, the level of
customer complaints may not reduce after training your operators in
customer service because your product department recently released a
new product full of defects. The wider context can also be important.
The hoped for sales increase may not eventuate following the sales
techniques training because the government reduced tariffs at the same
Worst of all is when the training program was not the right
solution to begin with. You can spend a lot of money training quality
inspectors on inspection techniques, but this will only increase the
amount of rework if the defects introduced upstream are not prevented.
So, work closely with the training program designers upfront to make
sure that the training you devise will actually fix your problem.
As you can see, the more sophisticated view of training takes
into account the factors that can either block or greatly diminish the
positive business results you intended. This view focuses your eyes on
each of the key steps in moving from mere attendance at a training
program to seeing actual business results. A key learning from this
view of how training works is that, as a manager, you will need to work
in partnership with your employees and the people who design and roll
out the training if your program is to have a chance at success.
There is a lot more to be said on how fostering this
partnership can capitalize on the factors at play at each step to
create more powerful training programs. I have done my job here if you
go away with the realization that which high-level view of training you
adopt will help determine your success as a manager.
Copyright © Leslie Allan
About the Author
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of
Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing
in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations
for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager,
consultant and trainer for organizations large and small. Mr. Allan is
a prolific writer on business issues, with many journal and web
articles to his credit. He is also the author of five books on employee
capability, training and change management. His company's web site is a
rich source of information, advice and tools in a variety of business
and management areas. Visit Mr. Allan's Business Performance
web site to download trial versions of products, free
templates and introductory chapters. Authors Google+
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