Why most training doesn’t work

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

If you read last week’s column, I told you about my good friend Tom — forever memorialized with the “chamois butter” story. I mentioned, too, that one of the many things I like about Tom is that he’s a man of few words.

This is especially appreciated when you’re cycling 75-100 miles with him and about 1,200 of your closest friends. The last thing you want is someone yacking on and on, or worse still, asking a bunch of questions when you’re trying to stop your lungs from collapsing on a steep hill climb. I like Tom a lot.

On one of our recent rides, Tom asked me what we did. I explained to him we own a staff training and development company. He asked for further clarity. I told him that we deliver seminars, keynote addresses, executive coaching and, now, due to the available technology — we deliver webinars and on-demand training programs. Tom asked about the subjects and so I explained we essentially help people better manage themselves, lead others and that we also teach business financial intelligence where we encourage employees to think and work, like owners.

Tom went quiet for a few minutes (which is not uncommon for Tom) and then he declared: “I did some training like that once, but no one knew why.” Intrigued, I asked him to tell me more.
Tom, who works for a large quasi-government organization (and has for many years), went on to explain that his boss had instructed Tom and a few of his colleagues to attend a five-day training. Tom couldn’t recall why the training was required. He couldn’t remember what the training was even about. He said that after the five-day training was completed, everyone went back to work and the training event was never discussed again.

I asked Tom if he could remember anything at all about the training program. He went quiet for a few more minutes and then said: “I remember we were each given a case with 12 audio cassettes.”
I asked Tom if he ever listened to any of the cassettes. He said he didn’t and that after a few years in the garage, he took them to Goodwill.

And, therein lies the tale of why most training doesn’t work. Humans have to understand the “why” and the “how.” Why are we doing this? How does this training tie into our organizational priorities? How is this related to the work I do every day?

At Newleaf Training and Development, our observation has been that a one-off training “event” (like an individual seminar, even a five-day event such as Tom attended) doesn’t change human behavior.

We often say, “Processes endure and events are forgotten.” For staff training and leadership development to be effective, the project sponsors need to be clear about why this investment of time and financial resource is being made. Creating a process around the training event, such as pre- and post-seminar activities (for example, a reading assignment; a work-related application or conversation with your boss about what s/he wants you to get from the training) can help tremendously.

Time is such an incredibly precious resource and sponsors of training and development activities have a vitally important role to ensure any efforts directed toward training should be clearly communicated; tied to the organizational objectives; and have a process to ensure the return on investment is significantly and sustainably achieved.

All training should have a measurable end goal — will this program increase sales; reduce costs; improve morale; increase customer satisfaction or reduce staff turnover? I’m a great believer that any training and development effort can be reasonably and rationally measured.

Fascinated by Tom’s story, I asked him: “Did you really take the cassettes to Goodwill?”

He replied, “Yes, about 15 years ago and, last time I checked, they’re still there.”

So, if you’d like to leverage the benefits from Tom’s five-day training, check out Goodwill off Lyons Avenue in Santa Clarita and ask them if they have a 12-cassette box on something vaguely to do with staff training.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaf-ca.com). The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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