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Is Training Worth the Investment? 3 Lessons for Leaders

We work with many clients delivering training sessions and training programs. It is the best way to build skills for a large population of employees with the least dollar investment. The problem is that the results to the bottom line can be questionable at best. Weak results are dangerous because they may cause Leaders to question the importance and value of all development activities. So why is training sometimes not worth the investment?

The Organization Offers the Wrong Training

Many times an organization decides to go after a program that just happens to be popular or something an Executive read about on a long flight to Chicago. This ensures that the topic is most likely not linked to the Talent Strategy and the overall culture of an organization. A successful training session or training program is only beneficial when it is a match to the needs of that particular organization. All training sessions are not created equal and implementation is arguably more important than the quality of the content. Here are 2 key things to do when bringing training to a company:

  • Ask stakeholders and do your homework: get input from everyone who will be involved; this includes: 1) employees, 2) leaders, 3) HR/OD, and 4) external benchmarks. This can be as simple as asking a few questions, or a more complicated, multi-modal Needs Analysis.

  • Don’t be afraid to say no to a great training session that doesn’t meet your needs. One of the things that makes a training session great is its fit to the needs of the organization. Even if the topic and content are cool and cutting edge, if it doesn’t fit your organization it will not affect your bottom line.

You don’t Create Buy-in and Achieve Critical Mass

Buy-in is the process of getting stakeholders to take ownership of the program and have a vested interest in seeing the roll-out be successful. Some buy-in will be a byproduct of doing what is listed above; other forms focus on integrating stakeholders into both content creation and delivery. The success or failure of the program will largely depend on how much these individuals see it as their personal success or failure.

For training to really stick and get the traction necessary to improve skills, it is critical that you create energy and momentum around the program. If employees don’t understand how the training will impact them and their ability to get their work done, they won’t attend. Also, it is important that there are enough participants in the training session to create the necessary energy for an ideal learning environment. Adult Learning Theory based approaches (highly experiential) focus heavily on the participants learning from one another, at least as much as from the facilitator. It is hard to implement experiential learning opportunities when there are too few learners in the sessions. Some ideas to generate buy-in and buzz are:

  • Have key stakeholders pick partners/vendors and act as Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) on topics they have expertise in – this will ensure that the content is directly related to the needs and culture of the organization. Also, you can use Senior Leaders in promoting and rolling out training. They can kick the training off or even facilitate a portion.

  • It is critically important that upcoming training sessions are shared throughout the organization and that the key learning objectives are made clear to all possible participants. Sending out calendar invites is not enough, you need to advertise. It is helpful to use past participants to recruit for future sessions. If a co-worker or leader promotes a session, employees are more open to attending.

  • Make sure leaders attend. Speaking of importance is less important than demonstrating the value of the program by actively participating.

Not Linked Back to Work

In order for training to be effective, the skills learned during the session need to be brought back to the workplace. If there is no continuity of learning, the skills will not improve. It is very difficult for an employee to go to a training class, learn a new skill; then go back to work and try to implement it without any support or reinforcement. The best way to reinforce learnings is to integrate new standards into the performance appraisal or other metrics of success. In times when this is not possible, there are other things you might try:

  • Send the employee’s manager a succinct overview of the session and what skills were learned. Provide suggestions to the manager on what they can do to support the employee as they implement the new skills.

  • Include the creation of a Development Plan in the training curriculum. Providing employees with dedicated time to think about how they will implement the skill when it is fresh in their mind is imperative! Requiring them to write down their insights/learnings and develop a plan during the session, increases the likelihood that it will translate into work performance. It is even more powerful if they share that plan with a partner and enlist them in their success.

  • Creating bridging activities between training sessions is also an effective way to create a strong link between training and work. This gives employees a structured way to implement skills and reinforces their learning. This can involve: journal entries, accountability partners, review with managers, and projects to be presented in future sessions. It is even better if you use a variety of homework activities.


Donald Kirkpatrick had it right in 1959 when he came up with his 4 Level Training Evaluation Model. The 4 questions an organization needs to ask are: 1) Did they like the training; 2) Did they learn from it; 3) Has it improved performance; and 4) Will that performance improvement affect the bottom line? By using the suggestions listed above you increase the possibility of achieving positive results for 1-3, at least. As every Training Professional knows, creating a metric for Number 4 is very difficult and collecting valid data is ever elusive. Kind of the Holy Grail of Training Measurement!

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1 Comment

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