While there is no question that workplace training matters, a high percentage of training initiatives also fail. It is essential to know why workplace training often fails and more importantly, to know how to avoid the pitfalls of ineffectual training. After all, training initiatives that go awry not only come at a cost, they can have a negative impact on employee productivity and morale. This article examines the top ten reasons attributed to failed workplace training initiatives and offers strategies for ensuring your training initiatives are effective from the onset. Specific attention is given to the value of adopting a learning management system.

Top Ten Reasons Training Initiatives Fail

The training initiative was poorly structured.

Like all aspects of education, training initiatives work best when they are highly structured. This means having clearly articulated learning outcomes and stated and realizable goals and having a step-by-step plan in place outlining how these stated learning outcomes and goals can be achieved. If employees sense that there are no evident, logical or realizable learning outcomes and goals in place nor a plan to achieve them, they will disengage.

The training initiative was launched during a period of low employee morale.

Training initiatives, even highly structured initiatives with clearly stated learning outcomes, long-term goals, and sequenced steps, sometimes fail due to external factors, including low morale among employees. For example, during mergers, companies frequently attempt to scale up training, since they naturally want to ensure that any newly acquired employees are prepared to work within the organization’s existing structures. While the intent may be commendable, the result is frequently far from ideal. After all, mergers, when not handled properly, can result in a low morale as employees fear for their jobs and/or worry that their job descriptions are being changed without proper notice. Asking employees to engage in a training initiative under these circumstances is not only likely to fail but may even contribute to low morale.

The training initiative was not effectively incentivized.

Another common reason for training initiatives failing is that the organization has failed to properly incentivize the training. To be clear, however, incentivizing does not need to be monetary or even linked to promotions. Incentivizing training simply means ensuring that employees recognize that they have something to gain from completing the training whether it is a bonus, step up, or the acquisition of a new skill or knowledge base that will increase their currency both within and outside the organization as an employee.

The training initiative was too time-consuming for the employee demographic in question.

As more workplace training initiatives move onto learning management systems, training increasingly takes place outside of regular work hours. While employees, especially salaried employees, often prefer to engage in training on their own time, hourly workers may resent being asked to engage in training on their own time without additional compensation. For this reason, it is important to ensure that one’s training initiative is appropriate to the demographic in question and respects workers limits. For example, asking shift workers to complete long training sessions after work is bound to fail. Likewise, asking hourly workers in the service industry to engage in lengthy training sessions outside of work hours with little or no compensation will likely prove unsuccessful. In other words, ensure the scale of the training initiative is appropriate to the targeted population.

The reason for the training initiative was never clearly communicated.

A shockingly high number of training initiative fail because no one ever bothers to properly explain why the training initiative is being rolled out. For example, an organization that wishes to deliver sexual harassment training may run into resistance and non-compliance by failing to explain why all employees, including those more likely to experience than engage in sexual harassment, need to complete the training. Likewise, if an organization decides to deliver training on a new software program prior to informing employees that they are adopting the new program and phasing out an existing program, the training initiative is also bound to fail.

The reason for the training initiative was never clearly communicated.

The training materials were dated.

Like living organisms, organizations are always changing. New people, policies, technologies, and challenges are constantly shifting the identity and short- and long-term goals of an organization. As a result, even pillars of business, like ethics and customer service, are constantly evolving. This means that training materials also need to be constantly updated. To ensure your organization’s training materials are always as up-to-date as possible, choose a learning management system that enables you to quickly and easily create online courses.

The training initiative was offered in an uninspiring or inconvenient format.

Handing employees a tattered training manual or a training manual that has been photocopied so many times over the years that it is barely legible is nearly bound to backfire. In order to ensure that employees take a training initiative seriously, it needs to look and feel urgent, up-to-date and relevant. Increasingly, this means adopting a learning management system, since, with few exceptions, employees now expect to have their training materials on hand for quick reference and this means having online access to one’s training modules, ideally in an accessible and easily searchable format.

The training was rolled out at the wrong time of year.

As already noted, there are sometimes when training may appear necessary but be untimely (e.g., during the first few weeks or months following a merger). Likewise, training initiatives are typically best avoided during especially busy times of the year (e.g., the start of the school year when many employees are busy tending to their children’s return to school or in mid to late December when many employees are preparing for holiday parties and travel). While training may be effective in the summer months when employees often have extra time, rolling out a short training initiative when half of one’s staff are on vacation is also bound to fail. Finally, an organization’s own tempo needs to be considered (e.g., avoid rolling out new training initiatives at those times of year when business typically surges).

An outside consultant was called in but failed to recognize the unique needs and existing strengths of the organization and its employees.

While calling in an outside consultant can be effective, at times, it can also result in a failed training initiative. This is largely due to the fact that outside consultants frequently fail to recognize what employees already know and as a result deliver training initiatives that are perceived to be irrelevant and even condescending, or because they fail to recognize the unique culture and climate of the organization. It is essential to balance outside expertise with internal insight.

The training initiative was never properly evaluated.

Many (and some training experts would even say most) organizations fail to evaluate what and how their employees have learned. If they do, they frequently stop at “reaction data” (e.g., many organizations falsely assume that a positive reaction to a training initiative is proof that employees have learned but in fact, a positive reaction to a training initiative may or not be proof that employees learned anything at all). Long-term evaluation of training initiatives is the most effective way to ensure one’s training is effective. For this reason, organizations are advised to adopt a learning management system with built-in tracking, feedback and evaluation tools.

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