Kasey Hickey

Head of Content at BetterUp

Posted in: Organizational Learning

This is Why Training Programs are Failing Your Company

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This is Why Your Training Programs are Failing Your Organization

If you think that the answer to increasing your team’s output and truly achieving organizational change lies in throwing more money at training programs, grab a box of tissues because you’re about to be sorely disappointed.

A McKinsey & Co. survey revealed that just 25% of respondents believed that training improved people’s performance at work. And yet, In the United States, the market for employee training and education tops $160 billion. Companies are actually spending more money on training programs year-after-year, even though the results are hardly transformational. What gives?

The problem lies in our own expectations of these programs, and our demands of them. On their own, training programs are like diet plans: they can arm us with the facts and guidelines we need to follow, but they can’t actually make us steer clear of that donut to lose the weight (and keep it off). Without accountability, guidance, and feedback, training programs don’t lead to behavior change.

To really move the needle, organizations need to majorly overhaul learning and development programs, on the organizational and the individual level. And according to Deloitte, the issue is even more pressing: “companies that do not constantly upgrade skills and rapidly build leaders will not be able to execute their business plans.”

There’s some good news: training programs aren’t entirely awash: they can actually lead to results, but only with additional support to drive lasting behavior change.

What your training program is missing

Traditional training programs tend to focus on ‘one and done’ learnings that aren’t focused on personal development, aren’t highly engaging, scalable, self-directed, or available in real-time.

Eduardo Salas, an organizational psychology professor at the University of Central Florida told The Wall Street Journal that “by the time you go back to your job [after completing a training program], you’ve lost 90% of what you’ve learned.” That’s because training isn’t a magic bullet that can transform an unmotivated or unskilled employee into one that is. It’s typically a finite and inflexible program that assumes a one-size-fits all solution.

Dr. Salas warns companies that before they implement costly trainings for their teams, they need to be equipped to support the training that they offer. That includes: organizational support to practice new skills learned, clear identification of training program goals, ongoing assessment of training, and encouraging supervisors to model and reinforce the concepts taught.

In a survey conducted by Workplace Trends, nearly half of the companies surveyed said that leadership is the hardest skill to find in employees; 39% did offer leadership development programs, but only 15% of employees actually believed they were effective. Why?

The truth is that most conventional training programs fall short when it comes to delivering measurable results — they were never intended to develop the critical skills that today’s workforce needs or wants, or delivers them in a way that will lead to sustained behavioral change. The U.S. workforce is changing dramatically: millennials now make up ⅓ of the workforce; by 2025, they’ll make up 75% of American companies. Yet programs you’re investing in rarely touch upon invaluable leadership skills like empathy, resilience, and stress management (just to name a few) that this group desperately desires. Instead, traditional training programs tend to focus on ‘one and done’ learnings that aren’t focused on personal development, aren’t highly engaging, scalable, self-directed, or available in real-time.

These shortfalls all significantly impact the overall effectiveness of learning & development programs that many companies continue to spend billions of dollars on.

So should you scrap learning & development programs altogether? In a word, no. But you should definitely rethink how you’re approaching learning and development on a broader scale.

How coaching can reinvent your learning & development offerings

To develop great leaders, you need to align your leadership training programs with a clear development plan.

According to Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager Report, “the sought-after talent combination that characterizes great managers only exists in about one in 10 people. Another two in 10 people have some of the five talents and can become successful managers with the right coaching and development.” But training programs rarely focus on coaching and development, even though these efforts are the ones that can ultimately lead to behavioral change.

To develop great leaders, you need to align your leadership training programs with a clear development plan. By setting goals specific to the individual, identifying strengths and skill gaps tied to those goals, and ensuring that these efforts are all linked to your organization’s strategic direction and cultural values. Only then can your team see a measurable ROI on those training programs.

4 ways career coaching can augment your training programs
Increase accountability through ongoing, regular checkins
Micro-learning is integrated into day-to-day, on-the-job situations to enable sustained behavioral change
Introduce new and exciting challenges on a regular basis to maintain engagement and keep employees motivated to improve
Offer customized development plan with ongoing support to help individuals implement learnings that are relevant to their specific role within the organization

Professor of Management Practice at Dartmouth Tuck Marshall Goldsmith writes, “Most requests for coaching involve behavioral change. While this process can be very meaningful and valuable for top executives, it can be even more useful for high-potential future leaders. These are the people who have great careers in front of them. Increasing effectiveness in leading people can have an even greater impact if it is a 20-year process, instead of a one-year program.”

Executive-level coaching has largely been reserved for senior level executives because to date, it’s been cost-prohibitive for most companies to extend its benefits more broadly. But the effects of this siloed access to professional development is disastrous: companies are faced with an entire group of high potential new managers who are unprepared for the leadership roles they’re assuming.

Thankfully, technology and science have helped us make great strides in developing coaching programs that are scaleable, evidence-based, much more affordable, and accessible than before.

So while training programs can provide employees with the “what,” coaching is the “how” that can complement these learnings by giving individuals the skills they need — both psychological and social-emotional —  to put these learnings into practice in a way that will ultimately lead to day-to-day behavioral change.

Original art by Theo Payne.

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