Research clearly shows a link between investing in training and improved organizational performance yet research on training effectiveness shows that most training doesn’t work. That’s a strange paradox – and a problem.
It is not that trainers are not trying to do a good job – most are competent and passionate about what they do, and most managers that commission training for their teams take it pretty seriously and hope for good outcomes. But there is a dynamic that needs to be recognized that can make a difference to outcomes.
Dynamics of behaviour
Training is about behaviour change – not just education. Self-awareness, insight and motivation are important but there’s more to it. To be effective you need to look at the dynamics of changing behaviour in people:
- You can’t change other people – only they can change themselves. The key is to give them a reason. Motivation of participants is often assumed by both management and trainers however it is critical. Sometimes motivation is there (which is in part the reason for the training) and sometimes we hope that the program itself will be motivational (and sometimes it is) but the key is that somehow you have to get participants to own it. Which reminds me of the joke about how many psychologists it takes to change a lightbulb – only one, but the lightbulb has got to want to be changed. The benefit of going through the “acute pain” of changing a behaviour must be perceived to be greater than the disadvantages inherent in living with the “chronic pain” of not changing that behaviour.
- It takes time to shift long-held behaviours. Breakthroughs are possible – especially where impact is measureable (such as sales) but generally changing behaviour is a process. The principle of delayed gratification (a maturity issue) is at play here so the benefit of training doesn’t necessarily line up with the effort – or investment.
- Support is critical – individuals respond to training in different ways so you can’t treat everyone the same. Support in the form of access to training materials or coaching should be designed as part of the program. This needs to be from some source external to the individual as people rarely can coach themselves.
- Perceived value can inspire willingness to try new things and confidence can be learned when conditions are right. At the end of the day people don’t go through training much less apply it because someone else demands or asks it of them – people tend to act in their own self-interest. In fact training that is perceived as being forced on a team will often create a negative framework that makes success much more difficult.
6 Steps to a Successful Program – How to make it work
In my experience teaching professional selling, marketing, negotiation skills, and presentation skills there are some common elements that work:
- Design the program – identify goals (outcomes) and set expectations – do this by working where possible from clearly defined roles and job descriptions that specify the three elements of performance – Knowledge, skills, and aptitudes. Interview participants ahead of time to get their input – collaboration starts here. People support what they help create.
- Develop the program based on clearly articulated and understood goals, needs, and operational constraints.
- Deliver to maximize engagement – use different tools and provide support over time. Leverage the support of early adopters and champions to build confidence in others.
- Support adoption (enablement) of change – make sure success stories are communicated.
- Ensure senior leadership is visibly and tangibly supporting the training initiative, ideally being present in the delivery and monitoring process.
- Measure results against initial goals – did you move the bar?
Instructor effectiveness varies and it has a lot to do with the focus of the instructor. Is he/she concerned with good delivery or making a difference in long term performance? Instructors tend to be motivated by gratification (what a great seminar!) or making a difference (we used your strategies and our results are up!).
The role of Instructor or facilitator is import but it is not the only player. Everyone who touches the program needs to own it. Collaboration is the key to a good outcome.