According to a survey by McKinsey, only one-quarter of employee training programs improve performance for businesses.
The research reveals a major loss of time, money and energy for both employers and workers. Companies around the world spend more than $100 billion annually on employee training, with £40 billion spent in the UK alone (2008 figures).
So, how do you, as an employer or employee, get the most from your last training course and make sure it’s not a waste of money?
1. Overcome Problematic Mindsets
“A big barrier to learning effectiveness is that you give people the ‘what’ before you have built up the ‘why’,” —Tom Bird, co-author of the Financial Times Guide to Business Training
One major reason why people fail to apply what they have learned is that they begin with a problematic mindset. This mental perception extends beyond the scope of the training course. However, it must be confronted; otherwise, they may not get any meaningful benefit from training.
Such problematic mindsets will eventually derail team-building efforts and overall organizational productivity, since members won’t be fully committed.
An effective way to overcome this, as Tom Bird suggests, is by explaining what the organization is trying to achieve through training.
An example of a problematic mindset becomes evident in the way companies deal with phishing attacks. Every year, companies spend billions to counter such attacks.
However, 23 percent of recipients continue to open phishing messages, indicating a far greater challenge than awareness. Seemingly, a significant number of employees still fail to appreciate the danger posed by phishing emails.
They likely have a mindset that, “It’s not a big deal. It’s just a simple email or Facebook message.”
To counter such a mindset, Mastercard took an aggressive approach by giving its employees a real-life phishing attack experience before training. Those who opened the “phishing” emails experienced a simulation of a program that mimicked a hacker removing data from the employee’s computer.
This made them appreciate the seriousness of the matter, and those who failed (opened phishing emails) went through an e-learning course.
Ultimately, Mastercard met its target to cut down open rates of phishing emails and, even more interestingly, employees loved the program.
2. Discover Your Learning Style
Just as we have different personalities, so do we also learn in different styles. This can affect how well we absorb and apply the information we receive.
Here are the four different learning styles and how you can get more out of training by understanding yours:
i) Active vs. reflective learners
As the name suggests, active learners retain and understand information best through activity. If you’re an active learner, look for opportunities to practically apply the information you receive. Working in teams will greatly enhance your productivity.
On the other hand, reflective learners retain and understand best by thinking quietly about the information. In this case, team building should include periods whereby specific projects are delegated to reflective learners individually. That will give them sufficient time for quiet reflection and better performance.
ii) Sensing vs. intuitive learners
If you’re a sensing learner, you prefer using well-established methods to solve problems. Focus on this as you apply what you learn.
Intuitive learners fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, preferring innovation and disliking repetition. Make the most of the innovative aspects of your training course.
iii) Visual vs. verbal learners
Images and demonstrations are best suited to visual learners. If you’re having a hard time recalling information that wasn’t presented visually, why not make your own diagrams, time lines and pictures?
Verbal learners prefer words. If your training was presented in written form, you can use text-to-speech software to listen to it instead.
iv) Sequential vs. global learners
Logical, linear steps best appeal to sequential learners; rather than large, random jumps which appeal to global learners.
As a sequential learner, you’ll find it easier applying what you learn in a systematic process even if you don’t have the overall picture; but global learners would first need to understand the big picture.
3. Get the Leaders on Board
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” —Warren Gamaliel Bennis, pioneer of leadership studies
Leadership is necessary to translate a training course into practical application in business. One key reason is that organizations work in teams; hence, they require someone to ensure all team members work cohesively.
This means, as an employer, you must not just focus on employee training and team building, but also invest in leadership training.
Effective team building skills requires leadership that serves as a role model and facilitates workers to make the necessary changes learned from training.
If leaders don’t provide a conducive environment, employees might lose motivation and assume their bosses aren’t interested in them applying the new skills they have acquired.
Even in situations whereby leaders provide support to team members, there may arise issues beyond the employee’s’ capacity.
Hence, it’s the role of team leaders to prepare appropriate actions to overcome such obstacles. This may require further training or incorporating other specialized professionals into the team.
4. Reinforce the New Skills
After 30 days, you’ll forget 80 percent of what you learned in your last training course (according to the ‘Forgetting Curve’ created by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist).
Fortunately, you can significantly improve how much you remember, if you reinforce the new skills you learn (through a process called ‘spaced repetition’).
Moreover, Dr. Brent Peterson of Columbia University reveals that 50 percent of learning effectiveness is achieved through after-the-course learning activities. The reason many businesses fail to generate performance improvements from personnel training is simply because companies spend a mere 5 percent on after-the-course learning activities.
Evidently, after-the-course learning activities are essential for organizational performance.
As an employee, you must constantly reinforce the new skills you learn through constant practice. This helps you overcome old habits, which are typically hard to change. Such habits are then replaced by the new skills.
This is the underlying principle of the Sticky Learning ® training method, designed to ensure 80 percent of learners are still using new skills 5 months later. It focuses on repetition, re-learning and applying the skills to form new habits.
5. Set Specific Learning Goals
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” —Tony Robbins, entrepreneur, best-selling author, philanthropist, and life and business strategist
It’s not enough to set long-term performance goals. Research shows that setting specific difficult learning goals produces greater performance than setting long-term performance goals.
Without specific goals, you won’t be motivated to achieve, simply because you won’t know what you’re aiming for.
If you’re working within a team, make sure your goals are aligned with the overall team goals. This way, the actions you take to achieve your goals won’t derail your organization’s team-building efforts.
This has an impact on your company’s financial performance.
A study by Workforce Intelligence Institute & SuccessFactors revealed that setting closely aligning goals across an organization produces greater financial success.
6. Apply Memorization Techniques
Simply put, you can’t apply what you don’t remember. Therefore, memorization techniques will help you recall what you learned so you can apply it.
Here are three proven memorization techniques you can use:
i) Semantic encoding
Semantic encoding is attaching meaning or factual knowledge to sensory input (the information you receive). Research shows that this is a particularly useful strategy in recalling information longer. For example, you can associate a new business operation process with something you’re familiar with, like the natural water cycle that forms rain.
A mnemonic is a tool to help you recall a large amount of information. For example, the order of the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) can be recalled by using the first letter of each planet, to create the phrase: “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” You can also use acronyms, music or rhyme.
We often use this technique to recall phone numbers, chunking them as “888” “555” “0000” rather than the cumbersome and memory intensive “8 8 8 5 5 5 0 0 0 0.” By grouping more information into smaller sets, we can hold more than the limit of 4 different items in our working (short-term) memory. You’ll simply find similar patterns within multiple items and organize them into a few sets.
7. Apply the Protégé Effect
“While we teach, we learn.” —Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman philosopher and statesman [4 BC–AD 65]
Teaching others helps you understand better, recall more accurately and apply the lessons more effectively than simply learning for yourself. Called “the protégé effect,” this was scientifically proven in a study whereby students who taught other students achieved higher test scores than those who were simply learning for themselves.
Teaching others forces you to put more effort into grasping the material so you can explain it properly. This can also involve practical application of the lessons so you know that you’re sharing sound knowledge. All these enhance your own understanding.
Various organizations have taken advantage of the protégé effect, including The Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The SEIU successfully applied the train-the-trainer model to train employees of different nursing homes, who then trained their fellow employees.
This not only resulted in many workers being trained, but also ensured all trainees were actively involved during the process. Most of all, it produced a beneficial team-building effect as employees learned from and exchanged ideas with their fellow workers.
8. Get Rid of Interference
Interference can make you forget what you learned in training and prevent you from effectively applying those lessons. Therefore, you must focus on achieving your training goals, by eliminating as many distractions as possible.
Interference comes in many forms, including: anxieties, emotional problems, intellectual interference (mental overcrowding), intense concentration on something else, and the presence of strangers.
Intellectual interference, in particular, can happen even during your learning process. It occurs when you overcrowd your learning hours with unorganized material. To deal with this, you should avoid cramming new information and have a well-organized and properly spaced-out learning schedule.
Eliminating interference will also help you conserve your willpower. Research shows that constantly exerting ourselves to fight off temptations and distractions depletes our energy and leads to less progress towards our goals.
The fewer distractions you face, the more productive you’ll be.
9. Measure the Impact
“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” —Milton Friedman, award-winning American economist
According to McKinsey research, half of organizations fail to track participant feedback about employee training programs. In fact, just 30 percent of organizations use specific metrics to measure training effectiveness.
Without standardized ways to measure the effectiveness of training courses and team-building activities, companies will shun programs that challenge employees’ comfort zones.
Also, without measurements, it is quite difficult to accurately identify the true impact of any training course and gauge the overall return on investment.
Progressively measuring the impact of training will help you further refine it. You can identify which aspects are beneficial and need enhancement and which should be cut out.
10. Find a Mentor
“If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m a product of great mentoring, great coaching…” —Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo
It’s not just enough to be shown and told what to do during a training course. You also need someone to guide you while you do it.
That’s where a mentor comes in.
A mentor is a teacher, counselor and advocate; an experienced employee who advises juniors on how to meet daily responsibilities.
Having a mentor will help you succeed much quicker and more smoothly. Your skills will develop faster as you benefit from the experiences of another and avoid the mistakes they made. Working closely with an experienced senior, you’ll gain insights that could otherwise take a long time to understand.
Most of all, mentoring offers greater benefits beyond specific skill acquisition or career development. The close guidance and interaction between experienced and novice workers is a powerful team-building tool.
Whether you’re an employer or a worker, you can clearly see how much time, money and effort you need to further invest after receiving training, so you can achieve maximum results.
Without this follow-up, all that you had invested in the training course itself could go to waste.