Training investments are up 12% in the last year as companies invest in new capabilities for a rapidly changing world and engage and retain talent. And yet, research suggests that less than 15% of people in training programs use new skills back on the job.
The problem with corporate training programs isn't a lack of investment or interest. It's that old habits die hard. Without support and reinforcement, people don't retain the skills they learn or apply them in the workplace. Learning sticks when new skills and behaviors become the "way things are done around here."
This blog looks at the top five reasons training programs fail and highlights the difference between subpar training and learning that sticks and sustains.
Why Do Training Programs Fail?
"That was interesting, but I'm not sure how to use it," is a common sign of superficial training. It's training that may introduce exciting new concepts and tools but fails to develop the skills and behaviors required to use them effectively. This type of training might render decent course satisfaction scores, but it doesn’t prioritize performance improvement.
Training that improves performance enables people to think, act and behave in new ways. It is experiential and provides a safe space for people to practice in ways that expose their biases and bad habits. The real magic happens when practice is scaffolded so that it can be applied to a real business challenge. People leave training knowing they're on a learning journey and have work to do but are excited about the impact they can have on their work because they've experienced it firsthand. This kind of learning journey is why ExperiencePoint was founded 25 years ago and continues to be the core of our company’s mission today.
"You can’t send a changed person back into an unchanged environment,” is the cry of a once keen learner, now disappointed by cultural barriers back at work. Leaders may, for example, support innovation training with messages like, "it's okay to experiment and fail," but if the culture of the organization doesn't truly operate in that way, new skills and behaviors won't emerge. What will emerge is frustration that crushes early enthusiasm.
In addition to developing new skills and behaviors, it is important to consider the learners' context so that the learning sticks and translates into improved performance. Successful training programs require leadership commitments of time and company resources — as well as systems for recognizing, rewarding, and communicating progress. They consider and act upon the organizational conditions and support that encourage new skills and behaviors.
"There's no one walking our (virtual) halls that I can turn to for help," is a strong indicator of a dependency on external trainers to build capability. In these situations, learners may emerge from training feeling energized and empowered, but without internal expertise to turn to, they're abandoned to apply the learning on their own. Given a barrage of competing priorities, it's unrealistic to expect meaningful improvements in performance.
Self-sufficiency is key to improved performance and is achieved through a community of practice, made up of internal facilitators, that builds expertise from within: It is a proven approach to scaling capability. Internal facilitators are the contextualizers. They envision possibilities, roll up their sleeves, and work within organizational constraints to coach and support learners and move the needle. At ExperiencePoint, our train-the-trainer processes and digitally-driven workshops are designed to help even novice facilitators deliver exceptional learning experiences.
Lack of Early Impact
"We've trained thousands and haven't seen results," is the boardroom bellow of an executive whose commitment is waning. Unfortunately, this sentiment produces leaders who come to regard training as a cost instead of an investment.
Determining the return on investment for innovation training is possible, but it requires a shift from the traditional focus on long-term project benefits (which may or may not yield ROI for years) and toward a focus on daily upgrades. ‘Daily upgrade’ is a term we've coined to reflect the massive cumulative benefits of bringing innovation into everyone's daily work and replacing old habits with new ones. At ExperiencePoint, we've refined protocols to capture and quantify these business outcomes and create stories that strengthen commitment among executives. One story of a learner saving $75,000 inspires commitment; ten stories inspire a movement.
"We struggled to sustain early momentum," is how many L&D and talent leaders describe false starts among their training initiatives. A fuse is lit when new training initiatives are announced, particularly those intended to span large groups of people. People get excited, but when one team trained and encouraged to adopt a new language and set of skills bumps up against others who haven't, early enthusiasm can quickly decay into cynicism, and credibility can be lost.
In our experience, it's essential to involve everyone as quickly as possible and use momentum to your advantage when rolling out a training initiative. Pace is a way to de-risk a training rollout and maximize the flywheel benefits of creating a movement. As an innovation training partner, we've designed our approach to support your momentum and preserve your credibility with a swift and effective rollout.