Ever find yourself wondering what went wrong after spending big bucks on employee training? You send your supervisor to a one day seminar to work on his delegation skills, and six weeks later he’s back to his old “point and shout” routine; or you send your manager responsible for bidding and estimating to three day-long computer training sessions, and she’s still not using the computer. Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

Training experts tell us that although the U.S. spends billions of dollars per year on training, the great majority of skills that are supposed to be learned are NOT transferred back to the job.

What can you do to improve the success of your training? It’s important to remember that training is aimed at changing people’s behavior and that is never an easy job. It requires good planning and a high level of attention by management to work its best.

I like to use the following five-step Employee Development Model for all training projects:

  1. Review current skills and identify needed training. This is often given short shrift. Training to enhance productivity is most often aimed at teaching specific skills needed “on the job.” While managers may be eager to provide employees with training, they will often leave the details of the training to chance. The result is that the training may not be targeting the actual skills that need to be improved, and to make matters worse, the manager doesn’t know what the training entails. Without that knowledge, the manager has no way to judge whether the training will help the employee, and later, whether or not it has actually worked. A good way to plan for training is to prepare a quick listing of the skills that the employee needs to know, but hasn’t yet mastered. This can serve as the outline for the training, and is a great way to measure success at the conclusion of the training.

  2. Jointly plan training program. This is a chance for the manager to sit down with the employee and discuss the details of the training and how and why it will be implemented. This is a critical step in providing the employee with the motivation to actually learn the material and later use it on the job. Employees need to know how the training will benefit them. Additionally, it is important for them to know that the company has high expectations for their success. Remember, many employees view training as a veiled signal that they are having difficulty on the job. While this is sometimes the case, more often than not the manager believes the employee has the potential to grow in his/her job and is using training as the vehicle to accomplish it. I like to remind employees that companies don’t spend money on people that they don’t expect to succeed.

  3. Develop and implement training. This step can be accomplished using outside or inside sources for training. Don’t be afraid to build your own training program if the type of training you need can’t be found outside the company. I know one company that gave an especially savvy salesperson the responsibility of developing and delivering several short customer service training sessions for their personnel. They were held over lunch (on the company), and the result was quite an improvement.

  4. Practice, encourage and measure behavior. This is the most important step if you really want training to stick. Managers and supervisors should be heavily involved in helping newly trained employees to get into their new routines, and there’s no better way than “coaching” them. Spend time observing the employee on the job to see whether they are using their newly learned skills. This is the step that communicates to the employee that the training was important, and that they will be expected to follow through with it on the job. Without this step, you have little chance that the training will be used in the future.

  5. Provide feedback. This last phase is a chance to follow-up with the employee to review how well (or not so well) the training has worked. Remedial training can be planned if there are any “gaps” that still remain in the employee’s skill level. This is also a great time to establish new opportunities for growth, and begin planning the next training program.

Kathryne A. Newton, Ph.D. is an associate professor of industrial distribution at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., and the coordinator for the University of Industrial Distribution. She will be speaking at the ISSA/INTERCLEAN® convention and trade show in Chicago on October 4. Her presentation titled “Find & Keep the Right Employees...Without Stealing from the Competition!” is part of the executive and leadership track and is sponsored by Contracting Profits.