Why is it that month after month, year after year, despite dozens of soft-skills and computer training courses, employees don’t seem competent on the job? If this describes you or your company, you are not alone. In the 16 years I have been training, I have heard this complaint many times (usually from the students themselves!), the result being employees who are not able to handle core competencies on the job despite training investments of time and money.
While I normally like to provide statistics in my articles, truth to tell, I had trouble finding any statistics on this subject–searches turned up companies offering training, but not articles on the subject of training efficiency. It seems many are eager to provide the training, but few are willing to back up their results.
Despite this glaring deficiency, we can still glean some valuable concepts from a thoughtful look at the topic. So let’s take a look at 6 things that go wrong with training, why, and how to fix them so you can begin to obtain the results you are paying for.
1. Training Not Job-Specific
The number one reason employees are not able to translate their training into tangible business results is that the training is not job-specific. Think back to when you were a kid in school, learning math skills that you could never in a million years imagine needing. This is exactly how your employees feel in training courses that are not designed specifically for their job tasks.
While it may be pedagogically correct to teach employees all 93 ways to navigate a program, and to systematically cover each area of computer software or soft-skills competencies, they do not work well for translating training into results. Why? The simple answer is: boredom and job-skills density.
Employees do not have the attention span to wade through several hours of concepts to finally get to the 1 or 2 actually useful ideas from the training session. That is why the number one thing you can do to increase your “dollars and sense ratio” is to tailor the training courses to your employees’ job tasks.
I realize this is easier said than done. Because, for starters, it purposefully leaves large holes in the employees’ knowledge sets relating to a software application or soft-skill. But times have changed. Used to be, you could learn all there was to know about a software program in a few weeks, and even become fairly proficient at virtually everything in a few days. Now, it is simply not feasible for employees to master every aspect of a program.
Think about it. A company like Microsoft has spent millions and millions of dollars developing a program like Word. This has also taken hundreds–possibly thousands–of people, from designers to programmers to marketers, almost two decades of growing the program in every conceivable way. Should we really expect an employee to master a program like this in a day or two? Does it make any sense at all?
Think of software as a language. Each program is its own language, although thanks to common operating systems such as Mac and Windows, and shared standards, there are some common words. Because of the overwhelming complexity of a language, it makes more and more sense to learn the specifics of what you need to accomplish, rather than to learn endless trivia and details that ultimately will not matter and, worse, dilute the whole experience to the point of uselessness.
Let me put it this way.
Imagine you were in a foreign country, and you wanted to find a bathroom. You certainly wouldn’t enroll in a language course to meet this rather urgent need! Yet this is exactly what many training sessions accomplish for employees: nothing. And the urgent business needs go unmet, or worse, get “looked up in a hurry” and employees often resort to unorthodox and poorly implemented solutions to avoid a crisis.
This translates to hodge-podge solutions that often need to be fixed over and over again, and even redone from scratch the right way. Is this ringing true for you or your organization?
Therefore, always take the time and even extra expense to ensure your training sessions are customized to your employees and their job tasks. Exercises should be similar to actual job requirements, and even use actual or sample company files in the classroom.
Any training company will be willing to offer this for you, but you must ask for it, and often pay extra for such customization. But again, consider the alternative of wasting training dollars and suddenly this “luxury” becomes a necessity.
2. “Hands-OFF” Training Sessions
I have been called upon to deliver training sessions in which I simply present the software to a group as a presentation, with little to no actual student involvement. I call this a “hands-off” training session, and in my mind this is usually a waste of everyone’s time and money.
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, is quoted to have said (paraphrased), “People turn on their PCs to turn on their minds; they turn on their TVs to turn off their minds.”
When you have a trainer demonstrating the software for your employees, the employees naturally tend to turn off, like watching a movie or a TV show. It is much harder to concentrate when asked to simply sit and watch a presentation, than when you are expected to actually follow along and replicate what the instructor is doing.
Therefore, from this point on, I would suggest never holding training sessions that are simply demonstrations. Even if it costs more to rent a room and laptops for the employees, again you have to keep in mind why you are holding the training in the first place. If it is simply to placate management that all employees have been through a training session on a software program, and accountability for employees to understand and utilize the information is not necessary, then by all means, hold these types of sessions.
But if you require hard-hitting, powerful, effective training for your employees, steer clear of this type of training session. This, too, will greatly even out your dollars and sense ratio.
3. Instructors are not “Entertraining”
We all like to be entertained. When we are bored, we turn off our brains; this is a fundamental law of being human. Of course you can scare people into paying attention for a period of time, but other than that, you need to engage their minds and entertain them while you train them. I call this “Entertraining.”
Of course, I’m not suggesting you hire an actual comedian for your next training session (unless you think it’s funny), but you do want an instructor who not only knows the material well, but who can also present it in an entertaining and humorous way. The bottom line is, no one likes to listen to a monotone or a boring presentation; your instructor needs to be dynamic, interesting, engaging, and succinct, or again, your dollars and sense ratio will fall.
4. Lack of Lab Time During Training Sessions
The very word “lab,” when discussed in conjunction with computer training, sounds so flabby, boring, and unproductive. It’s hard to imagine a more boring scenario: a bunch of people quietly muddling through an exercise or two while the instructor just “lounges.” What a waste of training dollars and time! Right?
It is not possible for an instructor to actually teach a student anything. The best the instructor can do is present the material as clearly, and engagingly, as possible, and the student must assimilate the information and teach themselves.
What? Don’t believe me? When was the last time you successfully taught a stone to operate a computer? I guarantee you, no matter how dynamic, interesting, factual, concise, and efficient an instructor you find, you will not be able to teach a stone to do anything (well, other than fall, which they already do exceedingly well!).
Point is, no matter how good the presentation, the employees have to process the data, understand it, and make it theirs, and the only time this really begins to occur is while they are trying to use the program without help.
Think of a lab like training wheels on a bicycle. It’s a whole lot easier to learn to ride a bike when you try it out on your own, with a little help from the training wheels when you need it, than starting right in on trying to ride a two-wheeler all alone!
Yet this is exactly what many training sessions are like, and why they are not effective. Imagine simply telling a child, “start pedaling, keep the handlebars pointed straight ahead, and pull this lever to stop.” That’s the upshot of so many training sessions. This is why labs are extremely important to the overall success of a training session.
Now, let me be clear.
I am not suggesting that the whole class suddenly grind to a halt in the middle of a training session, and take 30-45 minutes to do a lab on a single concept. Labs can be smoothly, subtly, integrated into a training session, as easily as offering 4-5 minutes here and there for students to try out a concept on their own, take notes, or replicate a previous exercise.
For your next training session, insist on labs throughout, to reinforce and solidify key concepts.
6. Overly-Long Training Sessions
Everyone wants to get the most bang for the buck, so scheduling the longest possible training sessions for the money seems to make the most sense. The longer students are in the classroom, the more they’ll learn, right? Well, yes–to a point.
Think back to the last super long movie you watched. Think, “The Green Mile” or even “Gone with the Wind.” These are seminal, classic works, and anyone watching them wants to be there, right? Yet how many of you have rented a long movie and broken it up over at least a couple of nights? (Come on now, be honest!)
If you’re like most people, even with material you actively are enjoying, there is a limit to how much you want and are able to absorb at once, and this is especially true in your corporate training sessions. Having taught many a course that lasted 7-8 hours, I can tell you that students turn off after about 5 hours. Oh, they’ll sit there politely while the instructor barrels ahead, but the glassy-eyes and slow moments indicate their lack of involvement (and I’m a dynamic teacher!).
My conclusion is that training sessions are better kept to shorter lengths overall, such as a maximum of 5-6 hours. Better still, allow at least 1-2 breaks in the morning and afternoon, or schedule training as half-day sessions over several days. Nothing beats a fresh student, a fresh teacher, and plenty of time–spread out over time–for a successful training result.
6. Lack of Follow-Up and Follow-Through
Any successful learning involves feedback: knowing if you are on the right track, and if not, taking action to get back on track. Yet this key aspect of feedback, which I am calling follow-up and follow-through, is rarely if ever implemented.
In all of the 16 years I have been training, not once have I been called back for a follow-up session to reinforce concepts, offer lab time, or simply entertain questions students may have. Yet without follow-up and follow-through, your training sessions will be hit and miss at best.
What I am saying is, you need to communicate with your employees and colleagues about recent training, discover if their needs have been met, and if not, find a way to meet their needs. Maybe it’s just a matter of purchasing a reference book, or having the trainer back for general questions, or to consult on a particular job-related issue.
An easy way to accomplish this is to use surveys for your training sessions. One client I know uses a company called SurveyMonkey to accomplish this; it makes it easy to create and send out surveys electronically. You can also use paper surveys that you design, but if you have a lot of training, the tabulating of the data can be quite work-intensive.
However you choose to do it, take the time to survey students following the course to discover if they got what they needed from the session, how well they felt the instructor met their needs, and what could be done to improve a future session.
Even better than just a survey following the class is a survey preceding the course, called a pre-survey. You can use pre/post surveys to really zero in on the effectiveness of your training efforts, and ultimately improve your dollars to sense ratio dramatically.
In this article we have touched on some of the key elements you need to consider when trying to translate your training efforts into real-world results. We discussed the power of :
- Customized training
- Hands-on training
- Instructor “entertrainment”
- Labs during sessions
- Shorter training sessions, and
- The importance of follow-up and follow-through with pre- and post-course surveys
I hope you use the techniques to make your next training session much more powerful than the last, and have your employees raving about the quality and effectiveness of your training sessions. Until next time, we’ll solve our problems Bit by Bit!