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Make Training and Development Work For Your Company

Originally published as a Business Evaluation Centre mini series of articles, this piece was adapted from the article “Eleven Reasons Why Training and Development Fails.. and what you can do about it” by Jack Phillips and Patti Phillips at the ROI Institute, USA.

Each year, companies spend substantial amount of time and money to train and develop their employees. But just how successful are such training programs and what impact do they carry for the companies?

More than 400 impact studies have been conducted to some of the world’s largest organisations and repeated patterns of issues have been observed why training and development fail and what your company can do about it.

Reason #1: Lack of Business Alignment 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 improvement. So it’s vitally important that we look at the reasons for the training first and decide how training will solve a particular business need.

For example, if we send an employee on a “Communication Skills” course, what would we want the outcome to be and how would that translate into an improvement in our business?

To obtain the true value of the training in terms of its alignment with the business, an ROI Impact Study could be arranged where the business impact would be defined and courses selected to match the definition. With an impact, we can discover the true value numerically and then determine the ROI, which of course would be the highest with training that is most closely in-line with the business.

Reason #2: Failure to Recognise Non-Training Solutions

More often than not, training solutions may not necessarily be the “solve-all” solution. If the wrong solution is implemented, little or no pay-off will result. This was observed in cases where job performance issues were identified, but where, thanks to an ROI Impact Study, factors such as reward systems, job designs and motivation turned out to be the real concerns.

To overcome this problem, executives must focus on methods to analyse performance rather than conduct traditional training needs assessments. Up-front analysis should therefore be elevated from needs assessment, which is based on skills and knowledge deficiencies, to a process that begins with business needs and works through the learning needs.

In this way, training solutions will only be applied where a genuine business improvement can be pre-determined.

Reason #3: Lack of Specific Direction and Focus

Training and development should be a focused process that allows stakeholders to concentrate on desired results. Training programs should contain objectives, ideally at Business Impact level, and at Application level. When developed properly, these objectives provide important direction and focus for a variety of stakeholders at different time frames.

For designers and developers, the objectives provide needed insight to focus on application and impact, not just learning. Participants need directions to clearing see how the training program’s outcome can help the organisation. Sponsors of the program need the objectives to connect training with critical business unit measures. Evaluators need the direction if effectively collect the data to determine whether the program has been successful.

By understanding why the various stakeholders need to have a clear picture at the different stages, it thus brings out the effectiveness of the program.

Reason #4: The Solution is Too Expensive

Calculator and calculations

A training and development programme’s ROI might sometimes fail to recoup its high costs. It should be noted that a negative ROI is not always a sign of failure as there can be perceived value through intangibles and significant short-term behaviour change to overcome negative ROI.

For example, sending new consultants on a Harvard programme rather than a local one might cost a lot more and produce an initial negative ROI, but it might also generate intangibles such as improved morale, better quality consulting and marketing opportunities where staff are consultants and need strong profiles and an edge over their competitors. In cases where a positive ROI is primary however, a negative ROI would clearly be all that is required to cancel the programme.

So what costs should be included in the analysis? Actual costs are traditionally included in an ROI Impact Study, but too often there is a tendency to use only direct costs or even to minimise them to a certain extent. The good news is that many effective learning solutions can be implemented with creative, inexpensive processes and still drive business results. Formal training doesn’t have to be the only solution.

Reason #5: Regarding Training as an Event or a Series of Events

An individual participant’s behaviour change can determine a positive business impact, and such change does not happen overnight. When training is considered a single event, for example attending a two-day workshop, the odds of seeing a changing behaviour in the participant is slim. Without behaviour change, training fails to generate business results. Essentially, training which sees a series of programmes, with pre-work syllabus and follow-up reinforcement can see a positive change in behaviour, leading to desirable business results.

Reason #6: Participants Are Not Held Accountable For Results

For training programs to be successful, the individual participants must be seen to drive performance change. Training and development staffs, along with managers, trainers, developers, and senior executives are typically held responsible for the lack of results. But participants can succeed with training if they are properly motivated to do so and are held accountable for their results, even with an unsupportive manager.

A person writing in notebook data analysis results

Traditionally, the participants’ role in a training program has been limited to attendance – learning the skills and knowledge being offered. Rather than simply applying what they learnt, they should also ensure that in doing so will reflect business results.

While this creates additional expectations, it brings learning to achieving results. This shift is accomplished by developing expectations into learning solutions, such as providing hand-outs detailing specific expectations, and defining the roles of employees in various handbooks, employee manuals, and orientation sessions. Participants must understand that the program’s success rests largely with them, and disappointing results may be their responsibility.

The change in their behaviour remains critical and we should shift the focus on participant’s role in the process.

Reason #7: Failure to Prepare the Environment for Transfer

It does not matter what participants learn from a training program. If it is not applied to the job, their performance will unlikely change, leading to the failure of training program. This training-transfer problem has been an important issue in training and development for decades, and it still exists. There are different barriers to this issue, of which little attention is given until too late.

To resolve this, barriers must be understood at the beginning of the process as part of needs assessment and analysis. By identifying early, measures can be taken to address the solution’s design, development, delivery and implementation. Efforts to minimize, if not eliminate, the barriers before the learning solution is implemented will result in a significant payoff.

Reason #8: Lack of Management Reinforcement and Support

The manager’s role is critical in the learning process. Many don’t realise their influence, which results in lack of management encouragement and support. Without the right support, participants will not be motivated to implement new skills and knowledge in the workplace.

Executive looking left out of conversation

Most studies have shown that the two most powerful opportunities for managerial input occur during the interaction with the learner prior to the training solution an after the training has been completed. The problem often exists in managers’ perceptions about reinforcement and support. Some managers feel their job is done when they created an empowered environment for employees, and there’s no need to follow through with each new learner’s application of new skills or knowledge. However, learning new skills is a different situation. A new process implemented in the workplace, particularly one involving a significant departure from pervious approaches, requires the immediate manager’s support. All it takes is just a simple inquiry about the training program’s success and how it will be implemented into the work unit.

Organizations offering support resolve this issue by developing management reinforcement modules for a particular program, defining managers’ support roles, conducting workshops to show managers their specific roles, holding managers accountable through their own job descriptions and responsibilities, and rewarding managers for doing it right.

Reason #9: Failure to Isolate the Effects of Training

More often than not, improvements are credited to the training process alone after training programs are conducted and business measures monitored. The assumption is training program improved the business. But one must note that there are neglected factors in other influences and processes, which may have influenced the business measure.

The main challenge is to isolate the improvement directly related to training. Failure to attempt to isolate may cause some training pros to be discarded as irrelevant. These training pros may have actually been the ones strengthening the bottom line. Without attempting to isolate their impact, executives and sponsors may not be able to see the actual connection to business improvement.

So how do we carry out the isolation? The classical approach is comparing a group that has received training, to a group that has not, and the difference in the two groups then represents training’s impact. But this all-too-simple setting may not apply to each and every impact studies.

The good news is, various techniques have evolved since, to estimate the connection between training and business improvement. We share with you the list below:

  • Use of control groups
  • Trend line analysis
  • Forecasting methods
  • Participant’s estimate of impact
  • Supervisor’s estimate of impact
  • Management’s estimate of impact
  • Use of experts
  • Subordinate’s report of other factors
  • Calculating/Estimating the impact of other factors
  • Customer input

At least one of these techniques can be applied in the different impact studies and the issues can be addressed.

Reason #10: Lack of Commitment and Involvement From Executives

Training and development can be made effective, with involvement and commitment from top executives.

Involvement includes the actual presence and actions of individual executives in the process. Commitment is critical, and active roles by senior managers can be accomplished in many ways – ranging from minimal participation to increased involvement in which specific days are allocated to teaching. This equates to resources being allocated to the training and development function and its specific pros.

When executives take a very visible role, others will do the same. This attitude filters throughout the organization and by no doubt, can create a big difference.

Reason #11: Failure to Provide Feedback and Use Information About Results

Executive presenting to team members

All stakeholders need feedback. Without appropriate feedback, a program may not reach expectations.

1. Employees require feedback on their progress.

2. Developers and designers need feedback on program design.

3. Facilitators need feedback to see if adjustments should be made to delivery.

4. Clients need feedback on a program’s success.

The challenge is to provide a stream of information, as data are collected, to a variety of audiences. The common target audience at the varying levels range from top executives, immediate managers to participants, etc.

Just how is the information shared? Sharing evaluation data from Kirkpatrick’s levels 1-5 can help refine the training process. Reaction data and learning data can improve learning design and facilitation. Application data should be provided to those individuals implementing the pros so that adjustments can be made. And business impact data must be shared with clients and others so that the entire group can understand the value. Most importantly, the results may be used to make adjustments in the design, development, and delivery of the program. The routine communication of data serves as a process improvement in making a successful program more successful.

Do these eleven issues sound familiar? Now is the time to address them all and let your organisation’s training live up to expectations and generate appropriate returns on investment.

With increased pressure to show the payoff of the investment in learning and education, failure cannot be tolerated. Failure can be prevented.

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