Friday, 7 November 2008

Why Training Isn't Working

A survey this week from the World of Learning that was covered by the British Institute of Learning and Development has identified 7 key reasons why learning retention is not being maximised by organisations:

1. Lack of learner buy-in
2. Lack of line management buy-in
3. Lack of clearly defined objectives
4. Lack of preparation
5. Lack of follow-up exercises
6. Lack of coaching/ mentoring
7. Lack of measurement

Organisations need to maximise the return on their training spend, more so in hard economic times than at any other. If learning is not being properly transferred back to the workplace, companies will not see sufficient value in their spend and budgets will be slashed. The World of Learning and the BILD are trying to address this issue at their conference on 19/20 November.

But let me be blunt. There is only a limited amount the L&D industry can do about this. The real issue is that many managers and leaders simply don't understand how to maximise their investment in training and development and the answer lies in those seven key issues.

Lack of Learner Buy-In
The person attending a training or learning event must absolutely understand why they are attending and accept this as a personal development area. It is the leader's responsibility to gain this buy-in by having an intelligent conversation with the staff member.

Lack of Line Management Buy-In
How many managers truly believe in the value of training? I still encounter way too many managers who simply don't get it. They only pursue any staff training because it is part of the performance and development review process and they address development needs by selecting training courses from a menu (with or without discussion with the staff member). Let's be clear, this is not developing staff, it is merely sending staff on a training course to tick a box that enables them to claim they are developing their staff.

Lack of Clearly Defined Objectives
This is part of the buy-in process. Once staff have agreed that they have a development need and that a training course forms part of the solution (along with about a dozen other possible solutions!), the manager should ensure that they are focused on clear outcomes that are targeted from attending the training course. This encourages them to take ownership of their own learning.

Lack of Preparation
I don't necessarily buy this one. There is sometimes value to be had from pre-course work (if it is done). Personally though I'm not a huge fan of pre-course work as long as the delegates are turning up with a clear focus. A professional trainer/facilitator can impart knowledge much more effectively than pre-course work - although I also understand that the current trend towards blended learning can improve efficiency and also engage the learner in advance.

Lack of Follow-Up Exercises
I don't totally buy this one either. The main thing people should take away from a training course is an action plan - what are they going to do differently as a result of attending the programme? This said, there is often some value in having a follow-on session with the trainer a few months after the event.

Lack of Coaching/Mentoring
Assuming that the person has attended the right course and assuming that the course was well delivered, the lack of coaching and mentoring is by far and away the biggest reason why training courses will lack impact. Virtually without exception, the manager should have a discussion with the staff member upon their return to work to discuss what they have learned and to explore their action plan. Opportunities for implementing their action plan should be established and support should be provided, as appropriate. While the staff member is implementing their action plan, the manager should be provide regular coaching interventions - what are they doing well and why, what could be improved and how.

You see, as a professional and experienced facilitator I can cope with a lack of buy-in, a lack of objectives and a lack of preparation because I will back myself to inspire delegates and communicate effectively with them. But what I can't do (unless invited to do so) is support them upon their return to work. The manager needs to do this. The lack of this coaching support was the main reason why I built a dedicated support mechanism into our Brilliant Leadership workshops but this is pretty unique in the L&D market place.

Lack of Measurement
This goes hand-in-hand with a lack of coaching support and the lack of a leader embracing the learning process. Training should not be measured by happy sheets at the end of a workshop. Training should be measured against the learning that has taken place. What were the learning objectives? Did the action plan meet or exceed the learning objectives? Was the action plan implemented successfully? Has their capability improved? If so, the development objectives have been achieved. As a result, performance expectations and delivery should be higher going forward.

Some L&D succeeds in spite of the manager rather than because of them. Some L&D succeeds because some managers really engage in the process and help to make it a success. But frankly, not enough. I didn't need this survey to tell me that many organisations were not getting maximum return for their investment in training - I have score upon score of anecdotal evidence already.

Right now, when the economic climate is at its most challenging, managers and leaders in the UK and around the world really need to engage wholeheartedly and skillfully in the learning and development of their staff. It is one of the best ways to get improved results in the short, mid and longer term.

Simon Cooper is chief executive of the Experiential Learning Centre, author of the exciting new book, Brilliant Leadership and architect of the Brilliant Leadership workshops.

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