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11 Reasons Why Staff Training Fails

Source: Article first published by the British Chamber of Commerce, Singapore.

For more than a decade, Dr. Jack and Dr. Patricia Phillips of the ROI Institute in the United States conducted more than 400 impact studies to some of the world’s largest organisations and observed repeated patterns of issues showing why training and development fails.

Here are the eleven key reasons they found:

1. Lack of Alignment with Business Needs

A training program’s payoff comes from the business measures that drive it. If there is no connection between the training program and the business measure, there will simply be no subsequent improvement in performance.

2. Failure to Recognise Non-Training Solutions

Training is not necessarily the best solution to performance issues, or it may form just part of a collection of solutions. Factors such as reward systems, job designs and employee motivation may be contributory factors that may render training alone to be ineffective.

3. Lack of Specific Direction and Focus

Training and development should be a focused process that allows stakeholders to concentrate on desired results, and a good training programme will have objectives at multiple levels. For example, as well as course attendees achieving a test score of greater than 75% we might also want them to then initiate at least three cost-reduction projects leading to a cost saving of more than a million dollars annually. When developed properly, these objectives provide important direction and focus for a variety of stakeholders at different time frames. For course designers and developers, the objectives provide needed insight to focus on application and impact, not just learning. In one study, a vice president of corporate training and development at a major package delivery company posed an important question to the organisation: “How can we expect our management team to support a program when we cannot define the behaviour expected from participants and the subsequent business impact driven by the program?”

4. The Solution is Too Expensive

Sometimes a training and development programme Return On Investment (ROI) might ultimately fail to recoup its high costs, and this may not be immediately clear if only direct training costs are considered, such as the course fee, rather than fully-loaded costs including loss of production time for attendees. However, a low, or even a negative ROI is not always a sign of failure, as there may be perceived value through intangibles and significant short-term behaviour changes.

5. Regarding Training as an Event or a Series of Events

An individual participant’s behaviour change can determine a positive business impact, however, such change does not come easily. When training is considered a single event, for example attending a two-day workshop, the odds of changing long-term behaviour is slim and this fails to generate lasting business results. A series of programs, with pre-work syllabus and follow-up reinforcement, can see a positive change.

6. Participants are Not Held Accountable for Results

For training programs to be successful, participants must individually drive performance change. The change in behaviour is their main responsibility and those typically held responsible for the results – including managers, trainers, developers, and senior executives – may not be the real issues. Participants must understand that the programme’s success rests largely with them.

7. Failure to Prepare the Environment for Transfer

Studies show that between 60 to 90 percent of what is learned isn’t applied on the job. There may be barriers to skills transfer to which too little attention is given until the ultimate results turn out to be less than expected. Barriers to transferring skills should be identified early in the solution’s design, development, delivery and implementation.

8. Lack of Management Reinforcement and Support

Notwithstanding Point 6, above, without management encouragement and support participants will rarely fully implement new skills and knowledge in the workplace. The manager’s role, therefore, is critical in the learning process with interaction before and immediately after the training solution being the two most powerful opportunities for managerial input. Often, a simple inquiry about the training program’s success and how it will be implemented into the work unit is sufficient.

9. Failure to Isolate the Effects of Training

Too often, training programs are conducted, business measures are monitored, and improvements are credited to the training solution alone with the assumption that the training programme improved the business. But there may be other factors which may have influenced the business measure. For example, if bank staff are trained in mortgage sales and the interest rate goes down, to what extent can the increase in mortgage sales be attributed to the training programme? There are multiple methods which may be used to isolate the impact to the cause, the most common being to compare the results of participants against a non-trained group. Often though this is impractical, so other methods must be used. Failure to effectively isolate training’s contribution to an outcome might cause some training benefits to be discarded as irrelevant and if there is no attempt to isolate their impact, executives and sponsors will not see the actual connection to business improvement.

10. Lack of Commitment and Involvement From Executives

Without executive commitment and involvement from the top of the company, training and development is likely to be much less effective with the results falling short of expectations. When senior executives take a very visible role, others will do the same, and this attitude filters throughout the organisation to make a big difference.

11. Failure to Provide Feedback and Use Information About Results

All stakeholders need feedback. Employees require feedback on their progress, developers and designers need feedback on program design, facilitators need feedback to see if adjustments should be made to delivery, and clients need feedback on a programme’s overall success particularly in terms of business impact and ROI. Without such feedback, a program may not reach expectations and may not enjoy future support even when results are effective or promising.

The chances are that many or all of these eleven issues sound familiar. Organizations must address them if training programmes are to meet stakeholder expectations and to generate effective levels of business impact and, ultimately, Return on Investment.

Effective training solutions must be analysed and planned from the start, with comprehensive involvement and commitment from people at multiple levels in the company and with measurements put in place to capture and analyse data at several levels to ensure that the potential of training programmes are being fully reached.


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