Avoid the 10 reasons most workplace training fails

Employees rank training and career development high on the list of desirable benefits. Yet organizations waste most of the time and money they spend on training. That’s because most employers rely on outdated training ideas and boring methods. Poorly presented information goes in one ear and out the other.

Any organization’s goal for training should be to change employee attitudes or behaviors. After working in the training field for more than 40 years, I’ve compiled the Top 10 reasons why group training fails.

1. Large groups. Changing behavior requires buy-in from trainees, which requires a certain amount of enthusiasm. But it’s hard to have a lively group discussion with 100 people in a room.

Tip: Limit training groups to 15 participants when the objective of the training is to change behavior or learn a new skill.

2. Dominant participants. Even in a group of 15, three people will do most of the talking and half won’t say anything at all. The facilitator must draw out employees who are reluctant to ask questions, offer opinions and discuss what they are learning.

Tip: Facilitators must call on everyone in the room so there’s more buy-in from everyone. Ask lots of questions, and direct some toward the quiet folks. Once people know they’ll be put on the spot, they start to listen.

3. Role-playing games. People typically don’t like playing any kind of games during training, and they really dislike role-playing. Tip: Design competitive exercises that involve all participants. They should be fun, involve teams and require everyone to participate.

4. Complicated training materials. Handouts and manuals that are dense, boring or written over the heads of the participants will land in the trash. You have just a few seconds to get your trainees to understand and internalize your message. Tip: Rewrite materials so the information is easy to understand in one quick reading. Test your materials on small groups in advance.

5. A dominant facilitator. A lot of facilitators want to be the star of the show. Yet the more involved the participants are, the bigger the impact.

Tip: Facilitators should steer the conversation, not dominate it. The facilitator is a juggler who needs to keep the conversation going. The more discussion there is, the more likely attitudes and behaviors will improve.

6. Lectures. Today’s multimedia-savvy employees won’t tolerate listening to someone drone on. Tip: Use visual aids like videos and PowerPoint (but never, ever simply read from the PowerPoint screen).

7. Irrelevant information. Employees want to hear ideas and learn skills they can use immediately. Tip: Learn in advance who will be in the audience so you can connect the material to participants’ jobs.

8. Bad physical environment. If the room is too hot, too cold, too noisy, too full of distractions or too dark, it won’t be conducive to learning. Tip: It sounds basic, but make your audience physically comfortable. Make sure the room temperature isn’t blazing or freezing. Ensure there’s adequate seating for all participants. Minimize distractions.

9. Repetitious programs and materials. Organizations tend to use the same training programs over and over. But like a Super Bowl commercial, a presentation makes its best impression on first viewing. Tip: Bring in new trainers with fresh presentation ideas, and regularly invest in new training materials.

10. Ignoring differing learning styles. Young employees are the bulk of most training audiences, yet many trainers still teach the same way they did when baby boomers were young. Twentysomethings are impatient and easily bored. They want to be entertained.

Tip: Avoid theory. Use humor. Show videos. Keep each part of the presentation brief. Move at a quick pace. And ask audience members to turn off their cellphones. They won’t hear a word you say if you don’t.


John Tschohl is president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, which helps organizations improve workforce performance and attract customers. Contact him at (800) 548-0538 or through www.JohnTschohl.com.