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The good news for training professionals is that more and more companies are seeing the value of investing in training. According to a 2015 Deloitte University study of over 3,000 business leaders globally, 85% felt that “learning” is “important” or “very important” to their business’ success.

The bad news is that those who are responsible for implementing a training program at their organization often make similar planning mistakes that can have costly consequences. While this may be true for companies that either send their employees to generic training courses or bring in trainers to teach a pre-fab course, it is even truer for custom-built training programs.

Here are the five most common mistakes we have noticed from our 20 years’ experience consulting to organizations around the globe on training matters:

  1. Failure to define success: Before you pay a dime to develop a custom training solution, you should be able to answer these two questions: “How will you know if this training program is successful?” “What will success look like?”Usually when we ask clients these questions, we receive answers like “Our people will understand our new system” or “They’ll use the system properly.” True, but how do you measure that? Will you, or more importantly, your boss, consider the program a success only if 100% of the people use the system 100% accurately? Is that realistic? What if there’s a 10% error rate? Is that successful enough? Until you know where your target is, it’s hard to hit a bullseye.
  2. Delaying planning for evaluation: Related to the first problem, some companies have such a hard time defining success that they request permission to come back to it later. If they actually do come back to it, they often pick criteria that are now hard to achieve.Choosing the metrics at the beginning makes it easier to design a program that meets those goals. For instance, if you develop customer service training without specific goals, you might create activities that focus on providing high quality care and not stopping until the customer feels the problem is resolved. If management decides later that the measurement for success is how many service calls are answered in a given day, then the program might not seem successful because the focus was on quality, not speed. Had you known at the beginning that speed was the goal, you could have designed activities to teach how to respond to inquiries helpfully and expediently.
  3. Failing to consider the target audience’s needs: External training professionals have a general sense of the target audience’s needs, but nothing replaces the judgment of someone with a long corporate history. Often, subject matter experts and other reviewers look at the accuracy of the content or the wording, but fail to consider how their employees are likely to react to an activity or to the level of difficulty. A good review should address the appropriateness for the corporate culture, too.
  1. Failure to test the training in front of a sample audience: When a training need arises, usually it should have been fixed yesterday. In the rush to get something out, organizations often skip testing the course in front of a limited sample. “We just need something” becomes the mantra. Unfortunately, this approach usually backfires because “any old thing” does not meet the audience’s needs enough and creates a bad impression of the training within the organization. Taking the time to pilot the program to a small sample audience, get feedback, and adjust the materials before offering it to a wide audience provides an opportunity to fix issues and avoids creating a negative impression that is hard to reverse later.
  1. Failure to consider post-training plans: Classroom learning is only the beginning of the process. For training to stick, it needs to be enforced on a regular basis back at the job. A good custom training program plans for how to reinforce and coach the participants after class. Classes teach the skills, but enforced practice builds the skills and the habits.

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