The Keys to Improving the Effectiveness of Training

By Bill Leonard May 18, 2015
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ORLANDO, Fla.—Sometimes, the most effective training and development (T&D) professionals are the ones who say “no” to more training programs. Often, business leaders view training as the only solution to improving performance, and that can be a big mistake, according to Roy Pollock, chief learning officer for the 6Ds Company, a training and development consulting group based in Wilmington, Del.

“Most of the time, business leaders see performance as a nail and training as the hammer. But there are other reasons for poor performance that training cannot improve, no matter how hard you hammer away at it,” Pollock said at the Association for Talent Development 2015 International Conference & Exposition on May 17.

Pollock and his co-presenter for the session, Andrew Jefferson, CEO of 6Ds, provided several examples of poor performance that resulted from other factors, such as poorly designed compensation packages, inadequate work processes, and lack of proper workspace and tools.

“Training can address and fix one problem, and that is lack of skills and knowledge,” Jefferson said. “If the performance issue isn’t caused by a lack of skill, then more training isn’t the answer.”

The best training professionals, Jefferson said, are those who can recognize the problem and then offer solutions that work. Pollock and Jefferson discussed a business that suffered from failing performance. Management at the company had decided more training was needed to improve worker performance and asked the T&D group to develop a new program to address the problem.

Instead of creating a training program as requested by corporate leadership, the T&D department analyzed the situation and then offered a list of solutions that directly addressed management and work policy procedures—but not training or development. According to Pollock, many of the suggestions were implemented, and performance at the company rebounded. The company’s CEO then recognized the contribution of the T&D function and commended them on a job well done.

“The CEO wrote that it was exceptional to have a training and development group that actually analyzed the business case and came up with the right solution,” Pollock said. “So there can be a tremendous upside to saying no.”

Pollock and Jefferson asked the audience to estimate how much training within their organization was misdirected and ineffective because it didn’t address the core performance issues. Most people raised their hands when they said “30 percent” and four or five people raised their hands when they said “50 percent or higher.”

“Now think of this, many of you are saying that what you do for your organization fails a third of the time, and a few are saying it fails more than half the time,” Jefferson said. “Don’t you think there’s something wrong with this picture? And how can anyone maintain credibility within an organization with that kind of failure rate?”

Jefferson and Pollock told the audience that the four keys to improving the effectiveness of training programs are:

  • Begin with the end in mind. Effective training is training that improves performance, and improved performance helps achieve business objectives. Therefore, effective training requires knowing and understanding the business objectives.
  • Make sure training is the right solution. Performance can be determined by factors at three levels—the workplace, the work itself and the worker. Training and development is targeted only at the worker level.
  • Think process, not event. More intense competition means greater emphasis on performance. The need for better performance means more need for effective processes—including the process of converting learning into results.
  • Measure performance, not reaction. The new definition of “training effectiveness” is that effective training improves performance. Training that produces a great learning experience but has no impact on performance is a failure.

Bill Leonard is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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