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How to make your staff training count

Despite good intentions, much employee development activity doesn’t always deliver improved performance. However, there are steps you can take to ensure training is not doomed to failure

Lecture theatre

A good employee development programme will have a positive impact on the success of an organisation. Good staff development can give people the skills and confidence to do their job well, innovate within their roles and do things differently and better.

Despite this potential, much staff development activity is ineffective. Many of us will have spent wasted days on training courses that have no impact on how we perform at work.

Intentions may be good, the need for training justified, and the training well designed and delivered, but this positive start doesn’t always transfer into improved performance.

For well-designed training to be effective, four things must also happen.

1. Objectives must support company strategy

Smart organisations create a training strategy that complements the organisation’s goals, which will only be achieved if individual employees play their part.

Training can be a key tool in helping employees bridge the gap between what they currently do and what they should be doing to help an organisation evolve and meet higher-level objectives.

2. The impact of training should be measured

Key performance indicators (KPIs) should always be identified and set based on the above strategy, and should also be measurable.

The list of what can be measured is endless and will vary from organisation to organisation. Some examples are profit margin, number of sales, customer feedback statistics and reduction of time on processes.

Measurement is key. If training doesn’t impact on an organisation’s success then it’s time and money wasted, so objectives should be set at both an organisational level and for individual job roles.

3. Training should build skills and knowledge, so employees can perform better

A lot of training is doomed to failure as people are sent to develop skills they don’t need in their everyday job. It may appear on the surface that offering such programmes is a positive. But if that training comes at the expense of performance, then it’s a negative.

Organisations often don’t carry out a good Training Needs Analysis on individual job roles and the individuals within them. No time is spent analysing what skills people really need to do their job better.

The result is that individuals are sent on courses that appear relevant, but are actually a waste of time. An example is advanced Word or Excel training for people who only ever use them at a basic level.

Many people will claim to have found training useful in the feedback sheets – but it won’t make a jot of difference on how they perform in their job. There can be different reasons for this, but lack of relevance is key; if people don’t get a chance to actively apply learning, it will be quickly forgotten.

4. Employee behaviour must change as a result

People must do something differently as a result of training, or else what is the point? Training is only one step in behavioural change. Even a relevant and well-delivered course won’t have an impact unless the organisation actively supports it.

There must be active management support at all levels to ensure the outcomes are implemented. A good example is training a manager with team performance issues to handle difficult conversations. For the manager to implement this in practice and deal successfully with the issues, they’ll also need to work with internal policies and within a culture that allows them to deal effectively with poor performance. There will need to be support and guidance from senior management and HR throughout.

If a person is left without a proper support network, or is working in a culture that does not actively and properly deal with poor performance, then nothing will change and the training is pointless.

This principle applies equally, regardless of the training topic. The culture must support people as they implement change and line managers must support and challenge people to do things differently and apply what they have learned. This is an active step and not simply a question for an appraisal.

Discussions on what can be done differently must be held in the days immediately following the training – and then actions from line managers must support these outcomes. If active steps are not taken, then the immediate priorities of the day job will get in the way, and most people will carry on as before, with the training quickly forgotten.

In conclusion, supporting people and giving them the skills to do a great job is essential and will make an impact on an organisation’s success. But training should never be the outcome or goal in itself – it must always change performance.

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