The Five Biggest Training Mistakes

The training and development of your company can be one of the best experiences originators and others participate in or it can end up being nothing more than a waste of time.  In this article, I will discuss the five most common errors that cause a training program to be an “event,” not a “process.”

Management is not committed to manage the training after the course. The area of biggest concern and failure is in the commitment senior staff has to follow-up and reinforce the training program.  Without this focus, the sales force or operations staff will know they just have to bide time before they can go back to old habits or methods without management scrutiny.  This is a very big issue in our current market conditions due to the constant pressure to get work through your system and out the door.  The necessary follow-up may easily slip to the wayside, which will cause your training program to have little to no measurable results.

A quality training program will attempt to modify the behavior or system currently being used by the participant and this modification will require time to have an impact on their productivity.  The key time frame for this to have a chance for success is the initial 60 days after the course. After that, the skills taught and reinforced tend to become learned behavior and the process will have long-term benefits.  Without this attention, the results will definitely suffer.

Choosing the wrong participants.  An area of primary concern is just who should attend the program.  I have seen many training courses not have the impact on production or operations they should have had due to the selection and mixture of the participants in the class.  It is the responsibility of management to carefully choose the group that will go through the various training courses.  Part of the criteria is the long-term employment chances for someone you are investing in.  However, this can be a “double-edged sword.”  One side argues that you shouldn’t invest in someone unless you know you are going to keep them and they have a chance to make it.  The other side asks, “How can this person make it without some behavior modification or skill enhancement?”  A wise person once said, “Don’t worry if you train them and they leave; be worried if you don’t train them and they stay.”

Picking a poor learning environment.  If you have the initial two elements in place, you now need to make sure the environment for the program is conducive to learning the material delivered.  This can be taken for granted and often overlooked but is equally important in terms of the outcome of the program.  For sales training, we recommend taking the group off-site, as participants tend to be less distracted and can be more focused on the message.  For example, they won’t be concerned with checking with an internal staff member at the breaks. Secondly, if the program is more than one day, it gives them a chance (if they are staying at a hotel), to work on the evening assignment in groups and benefit from being with fellow employees with common and/or different issues.  For operations training, we suggest you do it in shifts so as not to disrupt your customers too much with the staff being away from their job for two full days.  Have one group go through a morning session on both days and the other an afternoon session.  The other way is to conduct a weekend program, which can be negatively perceived and more costly.  Finally, pick a room that is comfortable to be in and not cramped so the student can take notes without constantly bumping into their classmate.  Nothing can sour the experience of learning so fast as being in the wrong environment.

Failure to test the learning retention.  Training is a process that requires testing for student retention at different stages of the program.  The first test should occur on the second day of the course with some form of role-plays between the instructor and the student to evaluate the grasp of the process that was delivered on the first day.  Whether it is in videotape format, audio tape, or just class observation with feedback, some methodology of validating the student’s retention of the material is what makes a program have results.  Without some form of testing, the student can say they got the content but may be just patronizing the trainer; as they aren’t put through a situation with their peers that require their new  skills to be implemented.  More than anything else, this is where training fails and doesn’t provide the results management desires.

Making the implementation of the training a task versus a reward. Finally, once you have overcome all the other pitfalls to a successful training course, don’t forget to make the process rewarding once participants return to their job.  The mentality of demanding the training be used and/or monitoring the student after the class with tight inspection of every detail will create a backlash and a hostile environment.  Conversely, hoping they will use the training and just verbally asking, “How is it going?” is equally ineffective, as it shows no effort to reinforce the process they went through.

One idea to make the rollout of the training program fun, versus a burden, is by having a short-term contest. Pay particular attention to the first 60 days after the training for an effective contest to bear fruit.  Have it focus on a particular component of the training, which currently is your company’s biggest need for improvement. Offer a reward that is not costly but still worth pursuing. A weekend at a local bed and breakfast may only cost $300, but is enough to get people enthusiastic about winning.  Your goal is an increase in activity from your sales force, or better customer handling skills by your operations staff.  Thus, the contest is a minor cost to make it fun and drive home the results.

By addressing these five areas, your odds of having a productive training session are greatly enhanced. Then it is up to you to deliver a quality message.

by Dennis Black