Why You’re Not Getting the Most from Your Training Dollars



By Kate Zabriskie

Each year, organizations waste thousands of dollars on training that doesn’t deliver what the people who bought it thought it would. Consequently, remorseful purchasers determine that either training has no value to their employees, training facilitators don’t know what they’re doing, program designers are out of touch with reality, or all three.

If only the root causes of training failures were as simple! Even with willing learners, great content, and strong facilitation, you can still encounter problems that will keep you from realizing strong returns on your training investment. If your training isn’t delivering what you think it should, you may be suffering from one of three major problems that plague all organizations.

1. Training Isn’t Part of a Larger Learning Ecosystem

Just because people participate in a workshop doesn’t mean they’ll change their work behavior. In fact, even if they demonstrate an ability and willingness to apply what they’re learning in class, all may be lost once they exit the classroom.

For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions. Click To Tweet

Why does this happen? Good workshops usually fail to deliver because they’re treated as a training solution instead of a component of one. In other words, a workshop isn’t the answer. Rather, it should be part of a larger apparatus or ecosystem.

Solution: Start small. Creating a strong learning ecosystem is an ongoing and often complex endeavor. It takes time to build a holistic structure that supports continuous development. Ask yourself: 

  • Prior to training, do managers explain to people why they will be attending a course and what the expected application will be?
  • Will someone with authority (other than the facilitator) launch the session by explaining how the workshop ties into the bigger picture?
  • Are there check-in opportunities after training to ensure participants are implementing new behaviors?

If you answer no to any of these questions, do what you need to do to shift those answers to yes.

Next, think about the incentives you can put in place to encourage behavior change, the barriers you need to remove to encourage success, and the corrective action you’ll take if what’s happening in the classroom isn’t replicated on the job.

Once you start thinking holistically and view courses and workshops as a component of learning versus learning in its entirety, you will have taken the first step in getting the most out of your training dollars.

2. Continuous Learning Isn’t Part of the Culture or a Priority

You have great content, and you have a skilled facilitator, but half the people scheduled to attend don’t make it a priority.

When training occupies a position of “nice to have” versus “need to have,” getting the most from it becomes problematic. This most often happens when people are in survival mode instead of on a growth trajectory. In other words, they scramble to get through their work instead of thinking mindfully about the work they’re completing and how they’re completing it.

In practical terms, if people are always putting out fires and don’t regularly ask “What have we learned?” and “How can we improve?”, why should they care about learning new skills?

Solution: Start by asking the right questions. Shifting from a reactive culture to one that is deliberate about its activities takes months or even years. However, it’s not difficult to make big strides over time when you begin by asking the right questions throughout the organization.

Start the improvement conversation at multiple levels and at various times. Frequently ask after training: 

“What have we learned?”

“What do we need to do better next time?”

“What do we wish we’d known earlier?” 

In the rare instances when something goes perfectly, remember that there are still questions to ask: “How can we replicate what we just did?”; “Why did that work well?”; and “Is there any reason this approach won’t work again in the future?”

When questioning becomes the norm, the solutions offered via training should have stronger importance and value. For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions: 

“Are we hiring the wrong people?”

“Are we expecting too much?”

“Is there something better for the same money somewhere else?”

“Do our managers not manage well?”

“Do we need to provide people with better tools?”

Then, when learning and improvement are a priority, you’ll hear such things as, “Today is a training day for me. I’ll be unavailable until 4:00. If you have an emergency, please see my supervisor, Melissa. The workshop I’m attending is of top importance and part of my effort to reduce turnover.”

Who can argue with that? The logic sounds right and ties into big-picture improvement goals.

To get larger returns from training, use questioning to drive improvement. The answers will help people connect the dots and understand why training is a priority and not just something they do because their schedule tells them to show up in a classroom.

3. Few Annual Development Plans Exist

The world doesn’t stagnate, and your employees shouldn’t either. If they’re doing their work the same way they were five years ago, and nobody is encouraging or demanding change, why should they care about training or think you care about them?

Solution: Regardless of level, every employee should have a development plan and some learning and growth goals that connect to the big picture and enhance their skills.

“I want to improve XYZ skill to drive ABC result, and 123 is how I plan to grow” is a quick and easy format to follow when setting development goals. Three to five goals is a suitable number for most people.

Better still, if you can tie those goals to performance reviews, you’ll be amazed at the interest people develop in improvement, training, and implementing new skills. As with the other two solutions, start small. For example, if your company doesn’t have any development plans, choose one department to pilot them.

Act Now

Whether you suffer from one, two, or all three of these problems, act now. When thoughtful goals and development plans exist throughout an organization, people are conditioned to ask the right questions. With a drive toward improvement and a strong learning ecosystem that supports learning, it’s almost impossible not to realize a stronger return on your training dollars.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.