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Improving the Effectiveness of Training

“If we’re spending all this money on training, why aren’t we seeing better results?”

Organizations spend a huge amount of time and money on training and development, yet many do not manage it as a business unit to be assessed, analyzed and improved.  As with every department, the goal in training should be ROI, and there are proven strategies, tactics and metrics to be employed to ensure that the training programs have long-term impact on behavior and yield positive results. 
Some executives too often look at training as just one more task to complete (“Let’s put them through training”), and then expect performance to be better afterwards—as if an employee can learn a new skill or behavior by being quickly “fixed.” The company may be filled with equipment that can be made to perform better with a repair or an adjustment, and the effectiveness afterwards will be improved–guaranteed. But, unfortunately, this is where the similarity between the improvement of a machine and that of the employee ends.  People learn over time and with proven methods; companies ignoring both points are likely to have a poor return on the money allocated to training and development.
If training isn’t yielding the desired results, then the problem is probably with one of two things. It’s either about the “How” of it, or the “Who.” The most common mistake, the “how,” confuses training—what the company does—with learning– what the employee needs to do. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: If the student didn’t learn, then the teacher didn’t teach.

Did you learn more in high school chemistry from the lecture…or from the lab?

A four-hour seminar on motivation? Handing out a manual on how to execute a performance review? Watching a video on selling? Just as hardly anyone ever learned how to play piano without a piano and a teacher nearby, these are typical examples of corporate training in which employees will not learn new behaviors or skills.  People learn by understanding the process, by watching how it’s done and then by trying it on their own. The new behavior or skill has to be practiced in a workshop-like environment in which the teacher or mentor immediately reviews the progress and gives feedback. Employees learn by doing, by making mistakes, and by doing it again. In a lecture, information can be disseminated; it is doubtful, however, that real learning can take place.

Do we train only the “usual suspects,” or others who could also quickly impact the bottom line?

Another way that companies are missing an opportunity to improve return on investment in training is regarding the people chosen to be trained. Usually chosen are the most visible positions, such as sales and customer service–but it’s a huge mistake to ignore others.  “Front Line” Managers are, by definition, the closest to the product, to the process and to the customer.  Many with those titles, however, have not been educated in the most basics of business—managing people and understanding profit and loss–yet they make critical decisions regarding those issues daily. The factory supervisor, who has never been trained in motivation, can make a huge difference in worker productivity if he learns empathy and body language. The accounts receivables manager, who has never learned to communicate well, can improve efficiency if she begins to follow up on her instructions. The engineer’s comprehension of the P&L will help him prepare—and stick to—a budget, and to finally understand his costs’ impact on company growth. These three managers, for example, can become more productive almost immediately, with great effect on satisfaction, retention, efficiency and profitability.
Employees are valuable assets who require and deserve measurable development, and each one can be made to be more productive and efficient. Executives have to remember how adults truly learn, and that all employees’ performances can be improved.  When these two factors are considered, better productivity and higher profitability training can yield the desired results and an excellent return on investment.