Creating Learning Programs that Actually Have an Impact

I was recently asked to weigh in on some questions about learning and development and whether or not they are worth the effort. My answer? It depends.

Q: How can learning and development support corporate KPI's (Key Performance Indicators)?

It depends on what you teach and why. Some training programs provide no improvement to KPI, others provide a lot. The challenge, as always, is to find programs that will actually help create changes in your staff’s performance.

Some are obvious – like learning new technology. Others are softer, like leadership skills and communication programs.  The hard skills often give you the most return on your educational investment because the employees need those skills to do their jobs.   The soft skills training are important too and can have a tremendous impact on output, but not all trainers provide trainings that work as this is a much more subjective area to measure.

Q: How will future trends in learning affect workplace skills development?

Obviously – people are moving to technology and online learning because It’s a cost-effective way to deliver training for most employers. For instance, I was just asked to bid on a job for a company with 7,000 employees spread out over 55 locations around the country. If we trained a location a day every day it would take us almost 2 months to complete that training. It would be a logistical nightmare to provide training for everyone that way. Online we can do it in a few days.  We also save on travel expenses, down time for employees and more. And we don’t have to worry about retake training if someone was absent the day of a live training.

You can also gauge learning through online tests to ensure comprehension of what is learned and record keeping for the training is easier online because the nature of how the training is conducted. This is important for mandatory trainings like harassment training.  However, online learning is not appropriate for every learning task or in every situation.

That 7,000 employee company I mentioned above is a manufacturing company. Only about 1/3 of their employees have access to computers. The rest work on a manufacturing floor. To get their employees trained, they have no choice but to do in person trainings or to arrange for online training in shifts for those workers which presents it’s own challenges. My point is that the solution will necessarily be a hybrid solution which is quite common. Most of my clients combine online learning with live Q&A sessions so that staff has an opportunity to dive deeper into the material and discuss real life applications of the soft skills training I just provided.

Q: Why should you use learning and development in your organization?

Training employees on how to do their job well is essential to every single job and employment situation.  At a minimum, companies need onboarding training for orientation purposes.  Ongoing training is helpful as it helps keep skills fresh, and to re-orient and refocus staff from time to time. It’s like reminding people of what they already know but why it’s important. Anytime you have a change in technology, you need to provide training on that new technology. Finally, there are some mandatory trainings that are done for liability purposes but that should be also be done to improve soft skills development.

For instance, harassment training. Most companies over a certain size provide harassment training. In some jurisdictions like CA, CT, ME and Canada – it’s mandatory to do this training.  Just doing this training reduces an employer’s liability should a harassment situation arise and they are sued.  The problem is most trainings don’t actually create any measurable change in behavior or value to the company aside from reduced liability.  This is because most of these trainings with few exceptions, don’t teach anything useful. They can be summed up in on sentence. Harassment is illegal so don’t do it.

But …. What if the training, in addition to saying it’s illegal so don’t do it also taught victims how to get it to stop?  That’s a training that is immediately valuable to the participants. It’s something they actually want to learn and are eager to learn and it will be put into practice immediately. When I do these sorts of trainings, my clients report an immediate change in how their offices function because every person is now applying what they learned.

Q: Why don't most training programs work?

Why don’t most soft skills training improve KPI?  It’s because what is being taught isn't useful. No amount of technology is going to change that. I once was asked in a learning and development discussion board about how people humanize their online learning programs. I was the only person who responded by talking about the needs of the learner. Everyone else was trying to humanize the trainer. The trainer doesn’t matter, the learned does!

The reason my trainings are so effective is because I use the self-interest of the learner to teach them what they want to know.  In harassment people already know it’s illegal. What they don’t know is what works to get it to stop. Almost all harassment training is focused on the harasser to try and get them to stop. It doesn’t work. It has never worked and it will never work. Why? Because harassers don’t want to stop. What they do works for them. No matter how many times you tell them "it’s illegal so don’t do that" you won't change their behavior. What works to change their behavior is to remove their reward. And you can’t remove their reward in a training.

This is why my training focuses on teaching the victims what they need to know. How exactly do you stop rewarding someone who is harassing you? How exactly do you document what is happening so you can get HR to assist you more effectively? In short, how do you retrain an obnoxious person to be less – obnoxious.  Everyone wants to learn that and that information is immediately useful to pretty much everyone, including people who bully, which is why after my trainings, they all implement what they have learned. 

To have an effective training, you don’t focus on what you want them to learn, you focus on what they want to learn and through that teach them what you want them to learn.

For instance, I have a course called How to Win Arguments Without Arguing: Socratic Jujitsu. It’s very popular as a personal development program. The first people who took it told me I had titled it wrong. It’s really a training on how to have discussions instead of arguments. But no one would take that course. I’m teaching people how to win arguments which people want to learn for their own selfish ego reasons. What they learn is a skill that they can immediately apply and get immediate positive results with by not arguing at all. It’s about teaching them to change their own behavior to change the behavior of others. Same thing with my harassment training – teaching people how to train other people to behave better, by changing your own behavior first. People really want to learn this and implement this knowledge immediately. If I focused on telling them they need to change, no one would want to learn it.

Focus on training the right people and provide them with the right motivation to learn and your training will be successful.

People who are motivated to learn will learn the content regardless of the format. If they are motivated to learn they will learn from books, audio books, videos and from live trainings. If they aren’t motivated to learn then it doesn't matter how good the training is, they probably won’t learn much.

Our focus as leaders and trainers and coaches should be on ensuring that what we teach is actually useful to the people we are teaching it to.  I provide my trainings in written form, video form, audio book form and live and in person. Why, because different people like to learn in different ways. It’s not up to me to dictate to them the learning format. What is important is what is learned.

Q: What analytics are important in measuring learning impact?

This is really 2 questions in 1. First, did they learn the material This can be done with a test to gauge comprehension of concepts.  The impact of learning though is often softer. Did it change anyone’s behavior?  With hard skill training, this is easy to gauge.  For instance, a safety training’s effectiveness can be gauged by its impact on the accident rate. I used to do a safety training for volunteers at an animal welfare shelter in Los Angeles. We reduced our accident rate so much we got a refund on our liability insurance. That’s a successful training, but that isn't surprising because it was a hard skills training.

Soft skills training are harder to measure but it can still be done. Did the training positively impact your employee turnover rate? Employee satisfaction?  Customer satisfaction surveys and more can all help you gauge whether the training helped.  For instance, if you were to do an effective implicit bias training, you would expect to see more diversity in hiring, less harassment complaints and more satisfaction with employees and customers.  All of that is measurable.

Why is a Learning Experience Platform the solution for corporate training in 2018?

It is a quick efficient way to deliver training to your employees.  Especially with onboarding and orientation. You can bring your new hire in, sit them at a computer and let them receive important safety training and corporate orientation training right there on the computer.  You can also use it to re-up training. Provide ongoing training and more. Is it cost effective?  Probably not for smaller companies, but for bigger companies with a lot of people working at computers already – yes.  For big companies that are manufacturing with a lot of people working on an assembly line? Not so much. It all depends on the company and their unique situation.

To learn more about the programs I offer, check out:

And yes - you can license my content for in house use on your corporate LMS.

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