Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why Training Fails

Depending with whom you talk, training (other than on-the-job) is either useless or necessary to develop your organization for the opportunities ahead. Unfortunately, the experience of most trends toward the useless. Very little of training is used or effective.

Here's a few reasons why from the perspective of the student, and you've probably experienced quite a number of them.

  • Lack of passion: The participant didn't want to be there but her manager told her she needed to be.
  • Distraction: Too busy thinking about the big project on the person's desk or the water heater leak at home, he is only listening half the time.
  • Confusion: She has no need for most of this information now. There was one topic out of the day-long workshop that had appeal. With regard to the rest, she's not sure when she'll use this information.
  • Firing on all cylinders: The presenter laid out the information in an orderly fashion but he found connections with all kinds of other topics and started figuring out how to apply this new knowledge in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, competence in the topic is lacking because he was figuring out non-linear relationships.
  • Disconnect: She was turned off by the presenter's style or language or mannerisms or lack of credibility and very little of the information became relevant or important.
  • Boredom: The publicity of the seminar promised deep delving into the subject but provided only superficial coverage of the topic. He knew all of this already.
  • Insecurity: Either because of unfamiliarity with the topic or lack of feeling competent with it, she decided not to use it.
  • Risky: Not sure if the technique will really work, and not wanting to risk it and cause a "disaster", he opts not to try it "back at the ranch" for fear of getting kicked in the head by the horse. He's comfortable with what he's doing now.
  • Questioning: She had more questions for which there was no time nor opportunity to ask. She would have preferred a one-on-one training session.
  • No reference materials: He likes researching and discovering on his own. The materials weren't thorough nor sufficient for study afterwards.
  • Free day: She knew her boss didn't care if she used this information or not. It was a day-away from work, almost as good as a vacation day. There was no report nor expectations to apply the knowledge when she returned.
  • Sole benefit: He can see how the information will benefit him, but not his department. This is either important for him and he'll not share the information accordingly. Or it's a waste because the time won't bring his team up to a higher level.

There are more reasons for failure that might deal with learning styles and expectations (i.e. accountability and purpose). There are some dealing with communication failures in that the message sent is not the message received. That happens either because of the presenter's failure or the receiver's failure. Different personalities, behavior styles and motivations are difficult to satisfy with one presentation of the material. Different venues, activities and messages are often needed to fulfill the needs of lots of people. The chances that that one seminar is going to hit the mark for you is nearly zero.

Like the miracle of birth and the odds of successful conception and delivery of a healthy child, training has low probability of success. If you walk away with a few items that you have applied at work, you're in the minority.

I did follow-up with participants in a non-profit governance workshop. We successfully created the right environment and tickled the right palates with the menu of topics. However, 6 months later, we still had only 48% of the participants try to apply one of the suggested best practices for board management. And that was considered a phenomenally high number. That means 52% had tried none of the best practices and 48% tried one, with a much, much smaller percentage trying to alter their board's practices with a few changes.

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