American companies spend billions on employee training and development each year and most of it is wasted. The hoped for changes just don’t materialize. Why? Here are eight reasons:
1. Training isn’t what employees need.
Training develops skills. At the end of a training course, employees should be able to do something they couldn’t do or couldn’t do well before the class. If you don’t know what skill your employees need that they don’t have, you are wasting your money.
2. You are training the wrong people.
Too often one employee screws up and the solution is to train everyone rather than deal with the miscreant. If-he-needs-it, they-probably-all-need-it thinking leads to training lots of employees who already know what to do and have been performing acceptably.
3. They gotta wanna.
I’m very skilled at a number of activities I hate. How often do you suppose I find time for those activities? There are other skills I should learn. But I don’t want to. So I don’t. Am I unusual? No. Training is all waste if you have employees in jobs they basically don’t like.
4. Employees don’t know why or what to do differently.
Training may provide employees with a new skill, but if they don’t know how, when, or why to use that skill, they won’t. Too often training omits the why. “Oh, you mean that other group needs me to do this differently? That’s news to me!” Employees need the right knowledge, skills, and attitude, in that order, to succeed. You need to be sure they have clear expectations about what they are supposed to do and why.
5. Employee inboxes and to-do lists are overflowing.
Business-as-usual always wins. Employees frequently leave a workshop with new insights and great enthusiasm. Then they return to their desk where email messages multiply faster than rabbits and To Do lists only grow, despite the immutable limit of 24 hours per day. Forget new ideas and techniques. The treadmill is already spinning. The training is quickly forgotten.
6. You are rewarding the wrong behaviors.
Skills are irrelevant if you are encouraging the wrong behaviors! Suppose you want new and improved quality inspections to prevent defects from shipping. So you train everyone on the new process. But then do you get mad when a shipment is delayed because someone is doing that inspection? Do you praise the white knight in shining armor who heroically ships on time after skipping the new inspection? Do you even notice the quiet guy calm doing everything right, including following the new process?
7. Mastering new skills takes time, patience, and support.
Most employees are caught in the daily grind. If they barely feel they have the time to take a walk at lunch, they certainly aren’t going to feel they can put their work on hold long enough to review what they learned and experiment with applying those new skills. They may also need external support. Things like feedback as they learn, structure while they practice a new approach, and encouragement when they suffer setbacks.
8. You are training to satisfy a regulation.
Like the previous example, this leads to training people who already have the needed skills. Or worse, training to make them aware, not capable, just aware. Awareness can not be measured. It is invisible. New skills may require new awareness, but you can’t tell if you’ve succeeded unless that awareness manifests itself as a demonstrable capability. Take diversity training as an example. Most companies provide it so they can check off a box somewhere. But can their trained employees demonstrate the ability to recognize offensive behavior and intervene successfully?
Before you assume training will improve performance:
1. Clearly determine what skills you want to see in action and what constitutes desirable behavior.
2. Make it clear that you expect that behavior and why it matters.
3. Ensure there is a good and energizing match between the employee and the demands of the job so that the employee is willing and able to learn and change behaviors. (see Are You In The Right Job? Hiring The Right People?)
4. Determine whether the employee is capable of demonstrating the needed skill.
If #4 fails, teach the desired behavior and/or accompanying skill. But then, in all cases, be sure to encourage the desired behaviors!
- Work with employees to understand the pressures, both positive and negative, that discourage desirable behaviors.
- Create time and space for practicing new behaviors.
- Identify and establish appropriate support mechanisms until desired behaviors become the norm.
- Don’t punish people who are trying to learn and improve.
Clarity about what you want to see happening and the obstacles preventing it will occasionally reveal a need for training, but never for training alone. This approach will not only you save money and time on training, but it will also leave your employees better informed, better suited to their jobs, and more able to succeed, with or without training.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on January 10th, 2017.