Let’s start with some statistics. Organisations spend roughly $400 billion a year on external training programmes, yet according to research conducted by Harvard Business Review only 12% of these employees apply what they learn in their jobs. Further research from McKinsey shows only 25% of respondents felt that training improved performance. Despite this, 70% of employees feel they do not have the required skills to perform their role to its full potential. There needs to be a complete re-think as to how organisations approach training its workforce.

Learning when its needed

The truth is that humans learn when they need to learn. Therefore, there needs to be a specific purpose to training. Let’s look at digital transformation as an example. You can send your entire workforce on a digital transformation training course, but if they are not working on digital transformation, most of the participants are going to forget what they learned. As far as the employee is concerned, its not something they need, but they are obliged to attend the training and so they do. In fact, further research by the Harvard Business Review shows that an individual will forget about 75% of what they have learned if they do not physically apply it within 6 days of learning it. So, the first rule of any training programme should be, to tie it in to an immediate need to apply what they have learned. Without this, employees do not see the experience as worthwhile.

Practical not theoretical

The second requirement to ensure that the training programmes employees are sent on, deliver the required ROI, is to not make them theoretical. Far too many courses confuse employees who attend with endless slides on methodology and processes to be followed. I can relate this to my own experience in becoming certified in Agile and Design Thinking. I spent many years working in consulting and project-based roles, and so although I had never formally been certified, I was used to working in an Agile way and applying design thinking to solutions. But when I attended the training courses, my mind boggled as they walked me through 60+ slides of methodology.

If I had not been using the principles for several years before the session I would have been lost. Then when speaking to the trainer, I had to clarify that what I had been doing is the same thing and it was confirmed I was correct. But I could have summed up the same session in about 8 slides and an hour. Not the required two days that we sat through. The truth is that most employees do not need to become experts in all the methodology. They just need practical guidelines on how to use the tools to improve their performance. This shift on emphasis will greatly increase practical application, rather than confuse employees and slow adoption to new ways of working. This will greatly improve employee’s appreciation of such programmes.

Focus on outcomes

Finally, all external training should be linked to a specific business outcome and built into an employee’s objectives. So, if they go on a course and learn design thinking, the training needs to be linked to a tangible business outcome. For example, there is a low net promoter score for the business and the individuals who are now design thinking trained, have to deliver a solution that must be implemented and deliver an increase the net promoter score within 12 months. Or, if they have gone on a digital transformation course, they must have an approved business case to automate at least one business process within their team within 6 months of attending the course. This allows for employees to get the most out of the training. Not only are they applying the skills that they have learned. But they will also gain confidence from the success achieved due to the impact the new skills have had. Encouraging them to continue to apply such skills in future.