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What To Do When Successful Training Fails

Why Successful Training Failed

Elizabeth M., Human Resources Director for a mid-sized furniture manufacturer, earnestly shared with me her hopes for developing a skilled cadre of supervisory personnel who would effectively lead their work groups by positive example and, thereby, maximize the contributions to company profitability. She wanted the front-line Supervisors to be able, through training, to develop, motivate, and inspire their subordinates to be more effective and productive contributors to Company growth and profitability.

She explained that her front-line leadership needed to learn basic leadership skills, and wanted training to address these. I asked her what had been the companys prior experiences with formal training, and she explained that, in 2000, she had contracted a trainer to deliver a series of supervisory development workshops, and that these were successful; that is, they were highly evaluated by workshop participants, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed them. Training was considered a success!

I inquired, 'If these workshops were successful, why was she interested in contracting for more of the same training?' Elena replied that, because the company failed to reinforce training, and that follow-up training was needed to reinforce the 2000 training intervention.

On Day 1 of class, I asked participants to briefly review and summarize what they had learned from this prior training, and of those skills learned, which were they using, on-the-job, As an aid to developing participant responses, I briefly summarized the content of previous training, together with an abbreviated review of the skill points covered in all the previous lessons. I then verbally polled their responses. Typical answers were, 'I learned a lot of useful things;' 'I learned how to treat people better;' 'Training helped me understand how to get along with others better,' etc. Not one of the twenty-one people present could name one skill learned much less presently used as a result of training.

This is an example of training dollars that were apparently poorly spent; after all, if you cannot point to specific performance improvements as a result of training, why bother doing it at all? In this case, at least, it wasnt enough that people thoroughly enjoyed themselves and that training was entertaining and upbeat.

What to Do?

1. It is axiomatic that successful training must be tied to expectations for specific improvements in group or individual behaviors: competent training can demonstrate measurable results.
2. Specific improvements must be tied to identified needs; therefore, do a needs assessment before you even entering the classroom. If the company doesnt want to invest the time and money in an assessment effort, walk away. Needs assessment is critical to any classroom training effort.
3. The needs assessment process should identify the specific improvements that are needed improvements that are measurable and specific. This may seem an elementary point, but it is often missed, or undervalued.
4. Educate the internal person who is 'driving' the training effort as to why needs assessments are necessary, what can be expected from them, how they can inform and guide a successful training effort, why performance criteria are necessary, etc. Get the internal person and other key stakeholders in the organization 'involved and committed to the entire training process.
5. Hold trainees accountable for learning. This can be done in a number of ways, including pre-and post testing of training content, simple verbal quizzes during class, using a paper-and-pencil evaluation exercise as part of class, etc. Some resources for evaluation activities include: Games Teams Play (McGraw-Hill), More Team Games for Trainers (McGraw-Hill), '101 Ways to Make Training Active '(Jossey-Bass), and '101 Good Ideas: How to Improve Just About Any Process (ASQ Quality Press).
6. Develop mechanisms, with trainees that they can use to continually evaluate their own learning and application of newly-acquired skills.

About the Author
Anthony Griffin is owner of Teamworks, a bilingual/bicultural performance improvement and human resource development practice reaching out to Hispanic workers.

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