27 September 2023

How to make employee training more effective

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Anthony Santa Maria* says most employees don’t find their training helpful and discusses how to turn this around.

Training and developing your existing employees is more important than ever – just look at the numbers.

Thanks to the Great Shuffle, employees are changing jobs like never before, and one of the main reasons they’re moving is to access better learning and development opportunities.

Unfortunately, however, no matter how much your employees want training, it won’t help them improve their skills or make them want to stay if it isn’t effective training.

Sadly, most training just isn’t effective enough.

In 2016, companies spent $359 billion on training… that only 25 per cent of employees actually found helpful.

That is literally a billion-dollar problem.

Which leads us to the billion-dollar question:

How to make employee training programs more effective

There’s plenty of research out there showing that employee training programs can contribute significant ROI to an organisation.

If you take a look at enough of this research, you’ll start to deduce a few key similarities in successful training examples.

See if you can find what makes these two examples similar:

  • Companies that offer comprehensive training have 218 per cent higher income per employee than those with less comprehensive training.
  • They also enjoy a 24 per cent higher profit margin than those who spend less on training and cannot offer comprehensive training.
  • Companies on the “Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For” offered 66.5 hours of training annually for salaried employees and 53 hours of training for hourly employees.
  • Close to 70 per cent of those hours were devoted to employees’ current roles, and nearly 40 per cent focused on growth and development.

Did you spot it? Great training doesn’t just focus on your employees’ roles; it focuses on their entire professional skill set.

The most successful training is as effective and engaging as it is because it focuses on what employees want to learn… not just what you want to teach them.

There’s another pattern hidden here that’s even more fundamental: companies with effective training methods found ways to measure the effects of their training.

Effective training is smart, data-driven, and responsive training.

In other words: training that doesn’t end with the classes.

Finding ways to understand the effectiveness of your efforts is just as important as the training itself.

How will you even know whether or not your training is working otherwise?

Luckily, there’s a way to both focus on holistic, skill set-based development and measure the effectiveness of your teaching at the same time.

It’s all a matter of how you make your training available.

To start putting together a smarter, skills-based and results-driven employee training program in your organisation, remember the acronym F.A.S.T.:

  1. Feedback

Feedback is critical to the acquisition of knowledge, whether in the form of real-time human interaction or a simple signal that says, “Yes, you got it!”

For example, say you’re learning to play the guitar.

You strum a chord that you believe is the G chord, according to online guitar tablature.

But you wouldn’t just assume whatever sound you made was G just like that, would you?

You’d probably want to hear what a G chord actually sounds like, then compare the sound you’re making to it.

You might even want to have a teacher look at your finger positions and tell you if you’re in the right place.

Sounds simple, right?

Unfortunately, plenty of professional training courses don’t extend this common sense to their own programs.

While incorporating a system of checks and balances to ensure your employees are absorbing your material is a little more complicated than in the example we just laid out, it’s surprisingly easy – and the results are well worth it.

Quizzes and scenario-based questions can help ensure that you have successfully absorbed the key terms and ideas before moving on to the next section of new knowledge.

They can also help you minimize cognitive overload and maximize usability (“brain power”) by breaking material up into smaller modules.

Active learners utilize feedback, which dramatically increases their retention of knowledge.

Be sure to look for feedback mechanisms in the training resources you have chosen, or construct opportunities for feedback that reflect your unique organisational needs.

  1. Application

Following closely on the heels of the importance of feedback is the actual application of knowledge.

Any learner is able to better incorporate information into their long-term memory by accessing that information frequently, in new and different ways.

Think of it like learning a new language: you’ve always heard immersion is the best way, right? Professional training is no different.

Learners need to put new information to use.

Do your training resources prompt users to test concepts and their understandings within real-world experiences?

Do they challenge learners to actually utilize the information they have learned, and then provide guidance by experts on the best solutions to prescribed problems? If not, find ways to make it happen.

Have your learners shadow the pros that regularly use the skills they’re learning.

Conduct teammate exchanges to allow your learners to gain quick, hands-on practice at their new skills.

The more you can get your learners using their training, the more effective the training will be.

  1. Structure

Your organisation spends hours setting performance goals, acquiring data, measuring against standards and constructing meticulous calculations to ensure a profitable result.

Why should anything be different for the investment you are putting into your employees?

Create a learning schedule.

Prioritise tasks.

Set measurable goals within a master plan.

Assess progress against standards along the way.

Use all the data you have at your disposal.

Do you know how many times your employees accessed their training resources, connected with their peers, or re-took their quizzes? The more they’re engaging with the content and learning supports, the more active they are as learners, and the more their performance will improve.

As an added structural component, consider establishing a cohort of learners who can engage in real-time interactions within a synchronous learning environment, making the learning more engaging and sticky than by learning in isolation.

Keep your team active in their learning process, where quick responses from team members offer both feedback and application possibilities, and minimize their chances of repeating mistakes in the future.

  1. Technology

Not all eLearning platforms are made equal.

Consider the tools that you are providing to your learners for their training experience.

Do they include interactive, visually stimulating experiences? Did subject-matter experts with a background in education and/or instructional design create them?

Are you offering a variety of tools (online training, reading materials, in-person presentations, etc.) to optimize your content and provide for continuous learning after formal training?

It’s highly advisable.

Because, as the numbers show, there are tremendous benefits to employee training, just as long as it’s done right.

Luckily, as long as you remember and incorporate F.A.S.T.

in your training moving forward, you’ll be well on your way to training with an ROI you can count on — and happier, more engaged employees to boot.

*Anthony Santa Maria is a Marketing Specialist at LinkedIn.

This article first appeared at linkedin.com.

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