Four Ways To Do Training Right

Off-The-Job-Training-Cartoon1In corporate America, approximately $100 billion is spent each year on training.  Yet, many studies show that training is only 10% – 15% effective.  As Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer writes, this is…

the great training robbery

Yet, training is a vital part of developing a winning team.  So, how can we do training right?


Keep It Simple… Keep It Small… Keep It Focused

Training is only useful when it can be put into action and change our thoughts and behaviors.  The best way to do this is to change one habit at a time.  As such, our training goals need to be modest and focused on one (or at absolutely most, three) specific concepts at a time.    In addition, the trainer needs to be explicit about how the training relates to the trainee’s job and how the training can be put into action.


Do It Often

To be effective at training many small, simple topics, we need to do short trainings often.  First, multiple training on the same topic will ingrain the concept in the minds of the trainees and show the importance of the idea to them.  Further, constant, small training sessions will allow many small and simple topics to be addressed.  Over time, this will lead to a strong body of training and development for the team.

These first two concepts, keeping it simple and doing it often, dovetail nicely with the academic work on how to make training as effective as possible:

The second most effective method to learn a new skill or concept is to learn or study a little over multiple times.


Train Just in Time, Not Just in Case

Most corporate training is done all at once at a time convenient for the trainer.  This leads to waste as an employee is trained in a topic that he or she might not be able to put into practice for months.  This guarantees that most of the concepts will be completely forgotten before the employee can actually make use of the training.

Instead, we need to train our employees on ideas and concepts right before they will be using these ideas and concepts.  With this just in time training two positives will happen:

  • The employee will be more motivated to learn because he or she knows that the training can help him or her in their job…today
  • The concepts from the training can be immediately implemented in the trainee’s job and thus are used and not forgotten


Require Work

Most corporate training is passive.  The employee reads a book, watches a video, or sits listening to someone give a presentation.  No real work is required of the trainee, just their attention.  This is great for us as trainees as most of us hate doing the homework and tests that we were forced to do when we were in math class.  While this makes the training easier and more enjoyable, it also makes it much less effective.  Instead, we need to require the trainee to do work.

  • We need to give them diagnostic tests to determine their initial understanding of the material
  • We need to require homework before the training to be passed in and evaluated
  • We need to give them on-going tests throughout the training that require them individually to recall and work with the material being taught
  • We need to ask them to summarize and re-cap the material putting the concepts into their own words
  • After the training, we need to give them a follow up written or oral test to see how well the material has been learned and to reinforce the training.
  • Finally, as a Masters Class, we should require them to teach the material to other people

Yikes!!  That is a lot of work.  However, the academic work on effective training is crystal clear.

The single, most effective method to learn new material is to actively learn, either by performing the skill or task, or by testing oneself (or being tested) and thus requiring us to recall the material and then recite or write down.



Unfortunately, effective training is not as easy as attending a one-day seminar with comfortable seats, an entertaining instructor, a hearty lunch, and plenty of Starbucks coffee.  Truly effective training is kept small and focused and requires work.

To get better at math, we need to do our math homework and pass our math tests.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Improve / Turnaround, Perform / Execution, Team / People and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s