Training is a Dead End

Why employees are avoiding Training and eLearning in droves

Consider the results of a Corporate Leadership Council survey of 1500 managers in 53 organizations around the world:

  • 76% felt that their Learning and Development function was ineffective or very ineffective in helping them achieve business targets
  • Only 14% would actively recommend to a colleague that they work with the L&D department.

Surprised? Not me. Most L&D functions have followed the same approach to adult learning for decades, an approach that just does not work. Formal event-based classes or structured eLearning with standardized curriculum may be effective at imparting knowledge but are not typically effective in transferring knowledge into practice and are woefully inadequate in achieving meaningful behavior change. If you guessed that only about 15% to 20% of training content gets applied in a way that makes a difference, you wouldn’t be far off. That means that of the roughly $60 Billion spent on Leadership Development annually, $51 Billion is wasted. Match that waste with the data from a survey conducted by Chief Learning Officer magazine in which 77% of respondents did not feel that employees were keeping up with the needs of the business. The picture is unsettling.

The chief reason for training’s dismal record is that the competencies critical for success in today’s workplace, competencies like agility, adaptability, resilience, critical thinking and managing complexity, cannot be developed from a training event. Training addresses knowledge. What are needed are competencies – critical knowledge, skills and abilities that are reflected in behavior at work.

We have known since the 1980’s that key work-place competencies are developed informally by navigating challenging experiences laced with social interactions with others who can provide ideas, role models, support and coaching. Instruction can play a role by providing specific knowledge that is needed right at the time the learner needs it – not weeks away in a classroom where most of the content is irrelevant and out of the context of the work challenge. This is the 70:20:10 model of development. I regularly confirm the model when I ask people to draw a map of their career growth. When we review where the most significant development occurred, it invariably involves a key job, hardship, project or assignment and important other people. A training event seldom, if ever, comes up.

From my perspective, several significant changes need to occur to halt training and development’s inexorable march to extinction.

  1. Get L&D out of the event delivery business. Build expertise in L&D that can effectively diagnose business needs and prescribe interventions that have an impact. The interventions will seldom be training alone. Too often L&D is just delivering training that was determined by executive mandate and not from a meaningful root cause analysis.
  2. Understand the competencies critical to driving your organization’s success. Select the critical few competencies, assess the availability of those skills in your organization at all levels and construct intentional development to enhance the skills. Integrate the competencies not only into your development initiatives but also into your selection, assessment and promotion process.
  3. Capitalize on the 70:20:10 model. Build intentional learning and development into daily work, Don’t just bolt it on as an activity to check off or event to attend. Hire, assign and promote people who can “hit the ground developing” and benefit the most from the new experience.
  4. Reinforce employees’ and leaders’ contribution to the development others as much as individual performance. Build performance expectations that emphasize and recognize the importance of assisting others in their learning and contributing to a broader network.
  5. Create a feedback-rich environment. Change the old performance review approach to a regular cadence of feedback, coaching, asking and listening versus a once-a-year assessment. Create opportunities for team- and peer-based feedback.
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