You've invested money and energy in building an education department, or at least in training materials. You've been open to hearing about what employees need to better do their jobs. Maybe you've even allowed time off for workers to sit in on webinars, or conferences. But despite it all, some employees just don’t seem to absorb your training message. Why?
Motivational speaker and writer Zig Ziglar addressed this very problem. He said that even though everyone attending his conference was paying attention, only 5 percent of the audience was likely to actually do something with what they’d learned. That's an alarming percentage.
As a previous director of education for a large multinational company, here are the two reasons I think this happens, and what we can do about it.
What’s Going Wrong?
- Employers, instructors, and learners aren’t lined up about the message and expectations. Employees frequently select education programs based on a seminar, book, or program title, not by a clear understanding of the material, its correlation to the job, its ability to enhance performance, or the level of effort and commitment required to carry it out. And many times educators present what they want without any understanding of what their particular learner want and need. For example, imagine an experienced customer service employee attending a program billed as 10 Ways to Build Customer Loyalty, only to find out that the seminar presents only very basic service ideas. A waste of time.
- Employees have to want to be better. Education is nothing more than information (meaningful, timely information, hopefully). Employees need to want to be better — to intentionally use this information to improve and grow. Think about those employees that meet during their lunch break to discuss the latest Seth Godin book, or attend a webinar about personal investing, or work with their colleagues on developing their computer skills. That's what you've got to have. Without that intrinsic motivation and personal commitment to improving, learning rarely leaves the training room. Training is not for everyone. Though we may think it needs to be, it is wasted money on some.
What Can I Do About It?
- Assess the learner’s needs and only present things that make sense for the learner. This is not an opportunity for a presenter/educator to show off his level of knowledge. Clearly define the learning objectives, training delivery method, and expectations of the program so learners can choose which ones to attend or complete. For employees reviewing programs to attend, insist that they know the program’s objectives to justify whether the material will be meaningful. If not, the materials will be seen as irrelevant and will be immediately forgotten.
- Be selective about who participates in education. Education is not for everyone — I know, it’s hard to hear. But some employees don’t want to be better (so my first question is why are these employees on your team?). Reserve education for those who are inspired to want greatness and want to improve their performance. Award employees who are inspired to reach for greater responsibilities take greater ownership and show personal commitment with more educational opportunities.
Sometimes, employees’ failure to learn is simply a reflection of the educator —how they prepare, define, explain, and deliver training. They make the learning about them, not the learner. And sometimes, the failure to learn rests with the learner — sometimes they have no interest in learning, improving, or growing.
Value your training dollars by expecting more from both the educator and the learner. This gets both parties in synch, and reserves training for those who will be changed and improved by it. For everyone else, you should spend your resources on finding better talent.
Jay Forte is a nationally ranked thought leader and President of Humanetrics. Jay guides organizations — their leaders and managers — in how to attract, hire and retain today’s best talent. He is the author of Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition and The Greatness Zone – Know Yourself, Find Your Fit, Transform The World. Jay is a member of SHRM, ASTD, the National Speakers Association and the Florida Speakers Association. follow him on Twitter.