Why Employee Training Fails (And What HR Can Do About It)

Employee training, when done effectively, can be perceived as an attractive fringe benefit of working at your organization. By offering staff personal development plans and clear-cut career paths, employees feel valued and supported. With sufficient planning, implementation, and follow up, training programs can dramatically improve interpersonal communication skills, help staff reach career goals faster, and create a psychologically safe workplace. Unfortunately, many training initiatives fall short of expectations and frequently fail to produce long-term improvements in skills, management ability, or compliance. 

Employee training can fail for a variety of reasons, but most causes of failure are both predictable and avoidable. Whether you’re talking about onboarding, leadership training, or sales training, some of the key causes of disappointing results include ineffective teaching methods, training sessions that do not engage participants, and a failure of leadership to be positive role models. Getting to the root of why employee training fails involves a look at four key areas: strategic planning, employee engagement, relevance of training topics, and follow-up. A fifth area might be the extent to which organization leaders model company values, policies, and desired conduct.

Why Training Fails

Five Reasons Why Employee Training Fails

Lack of engagement: There are a lot of ways to lose the attention of a training audience, and once that happens, it is hard to win them back. The most engaging presenters are often subject matter experts who are not only enthusiastic and knowledgeable but also know something about learning patterns and teaching techniques. Learning can be fun, interesting, and engaging, but it can also be de-motivating and disengaging! The key lies in choosing presenters who know their stuff, exude passion about their subject matter, and have the ability to deliver information in a way that’s memorable. 

If you’re planning on using in-house presenters, it may be necessary to “train the trainers” before the sessions take place. Things to avoid in staff training classes include “information overload,” lectures that bypass audience participation, and the absence of multimedia visual aids with well-designed graphics. Presenters need to remember that even though they might be able to recite the material in their sleep, the audience may be hearing it for the first time–so pacing, reinforcement, and clarity should be incorporated into all presentations. Other tactics that help boost engagement include role playing, games, interactive exercises, and the use of instructional videos.

Irrelevant Content: One of the fastest ways to lose the interest of employees in a training session is to clutter it with filler material and content that doesn’t apply to their industry and company culture. Since holding your audience’s attention is a top priority in training sessions, it is imperative to avoid turnoffs like using vague generalities, stating the painfully obvious, or using examples that apply to other fields, time periods, or demographics. 

Inadequate Planning: Boilerplate approaches to employee training are destined to fail because they lack customization, freshness, and–in some cases–up to date information. Planning is the antidote. Every detail of an employee training program should be included in a strategic plan, and that plan should be regularly reviewed. Information gathering is another vital element to planning. Since feedback provides valuable ideas about content and learning methods, periodic surveys of staff and management can help in the design and planning of successful training events.

Failure to get feedback: Most training events and seminars ask participants to fill out an evaluation form to gauge relevance, presentation quality, and audience interest. To get the most benefit from feedback, at least five minutes should be allotted at the end of training sessions to provide enough time. While you don’t want the evaluations to be too time-consuming or taxing, it is essential to find out what participants liked and disliked about the presentation. By focusing on continuous improvement and audience feedback, high standards can be maintained in current and future training events.

Preliminary input: Suggestions from company managers and staff in the early planning stages can provide valuable insights into employee skills sets and know-how that may be lacking. Conducting a companywide needs assessment can identify gaps in job skills that can be addressed through training. 

Skipping the post-event analysis: In addition to surveying participants and checking in with managers about changes in staff attitudes and improved skills, feedback can be gathered through informal conversations, emails, and focus groups. A “SWOT analysis” can also be done to examine strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for improvement, and threats (potential stumbling blocks or challenges).

Why Leadership Training Fails

Leadership training involves a lot of moving parts–all of which are important. Since leaders need to know how to delegate, set goals, and inspire cooperation, training for managers and executives needs to cover a lot of territory. 

Trainers and HR departments are increasingly recognizing the value of teaching leaders the essentials of emotional intelligence. Depending on the individual, training leaders how to use active listening techniques, establish rapport with staff, and cultivate an empathetic managerial style produces a range of results. For that reason, it is necessary to interact with leadership trainees as much as possible and reinforce key themes. The use of video tutorials, role playing, and inviting friendly debate are a few strategies for accomplishing this.

Unrealistic expectations: Reading a training manual or taking a management course is not going to change behavior or job skills overnight. Without a level of commitment to learn and apply new leadership principles, change will take place sporadically, if at all. There are a lot of variables affecting the success of leadership training, but personal commitment is the catalyst that has the most impact. 

Communication breakdown: The communication process can be fraught with many pitfalls, but meticulous planning and high standards can ensure that training is effective. For example, a subject matter expert may know their material impeccably, but could still 

be ineffective in passing that information along to others. If they speak too fast or fail to enunciate, trainees may not absorb and learn key points of the presentation. 

A different kind of communication problem happens when company executives send mixed messages to employees about goals, policies, and organizational values. Dysfunctional communication between departments is another issue that can undermine collaboration, problem solving ability, and skills learned in training.

Proven teaching methods are ignored: Even the most compelling speaker is not going to be an effective trainer if they fail to reinforce key information and involve their audience in the discussion. As Benjamin Franklin noted centuries ago: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” The elements of personal involvement, reinforcement, and repetition are necessary ingredients in teaching leadership principles and producing changes in management styles.

Psychological safety is absent: One major impediment to effective training programs is a lack of “psychological safety.” If employees don’t feel like they can freely ask questions without fear of being criticized or judged, then their capacity for learning will be diminished. Instructors, trainers, and coaches need to impart the message that “There is no such thing as a stupid question!” Depending on the company culture, employees may also be hesitant to bring problems to the attention of upper management. When that barrier exists, managers may have difficulty implementing strategies learned in company training sessions.

Lack of HR support: Leadership training is an essential rung on the ladder of organizational progress, but employees often need post-training support, in the form of coaching, consultation, and follow-up from HR.

Why Sales Trainings Fail

Effective sales training seminars focus on a combination of areas, including product knowledge, sales strategies, and motivation. Since sales reps and account executives need to possess superior communication skills, sales training must cover everything from establishing rapport to using active listening skills. Elements of a well-planned sales training program would include participatory exercises, such as role playing, doing mock sales presentations, and getting practice responding to customer objections.

Everyone comes out of a sales training seminar with different impressions and learned strategies, but when a sales training event fails, the reasons are often the same.

  • Failure to engage: If the instructor is lackluster and the training material consists of unoriginal content, then participants are not going to learn new skills or useful sales tactics.
  • Failure to reinforce: Regardless of how worthwhile a sales training event can be, many participants will only retain and use a small percentage of the course content. That can be remedied, however, by providing supplementary material, such as recordings they can listen to in their car, video tutorials that they can view in their free time, and flash cards or printouts. To be effective, training and reinforcement needs to take place on a regular basis. Methods of following up with trainees could include periodic coaching–either in-person or through video conferencing, email reminders or customized newsletters, and short refresher courses.
  • Failure to measure needs and progress: Customized training and coaching is often a necessary component of a sales training program. By determining a salesperson’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement, a strategy can be put into place to set them up for success. In addition to creating a continuous improvement track for individual employees, sales training programs should be continually refined and updated to provide the best possible tools and strategies for succeeding in sales.
  • Failure to teach sales methodology: When it comes to sales techniques, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. A lot depends on the product or service, the personality of the individual salesperson, and the marketing policies of the company. However, it is essential that most account executives know and use standard marketing concepts, such as cross-selling, upselling, qualifying prospects, negotiating, and closing sales. Knowing how to convincingly respond to objections and questions would also be a fundamental aspect of a thorough sales training program. Other key topics for sales training could include relationship building, preparing winning sales presentations, cultivating sales skills, and becoming an expert in your product or service industry.

Steps to Producing Superior Training Results

There is a lot at stake when it comes to implementing training programs that produce results. Whether a company spends hundreds or thousands of dollars per employee on training initiatives, expectations are high for a return on that investment. 

In addition to developing a detailed organizational training strategy, there are several steps HR can take to ensure a successful outcome.

  • Develop a realistic training budget that provides employees with a career path and an incentive to stay with the company.
  • Create a detailed, long-term training program based on company goals and various departmental needs.
  • Make sure all critical topic areas are addressed in training, including compliance, diversity, safety, technical skills, customer service, and communication skills.
  • Survey managers and key employees to determine training needs and skill gaps.
  • Choose course facilitators who are both subject matter experts and engaging speakers. The ideal instructor would have a strong grasp of teaching techniques, staff learning preferences, and effective presentation skills.
  • Align course selection and training strategy with organizational goals and company culture.
  • Create a system for gathering feedback from employees and managers to make sure training keeps pace with emerging skill requirements and technology.
  • Follow up with employees who have undergone training to provide them with coaching, training reinforcement, and additional support.

How KnowledgeCity Can Help

Whether you are planning an in-house training program or opting for an online training strategy, KnowledgeCity can help. With more than 15 years of experience in the eLearning industry, we offer employee training tools that can help you improve everything from productivity and customer service to legal compliance and company culture.

Our courses are written by college professors and industry experts, assuring accuracy, relevancy, and a learner-friendly format. In addition to the 20,000 video tutorials we now have in our learning library, we are actively expanding our selection every month, with new courses on business skills, computer software, compliance, safety, finance, and more. 

Our robust eLearning platform provides administrative tools for creating custom content, managing users, and tracking their progress. Peruse our wide selection of in-demand training courses and request a free demo to get a first-hand look at our online video courses.

Free Whitepaper Offers Training Strategies

Effectively connecting with employees in a training program takes finesse, careful planning, and a vision of desired results. The following whitepaper we’ve created focuses on identifying and avoiding common pitfalls of employee training. It also outlines three crucial steps for implementing a successful employee training program. Get the full strategy by downloading your free copy today.

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