The top 10 training mistakes employers make — and how to avoid them
Training mistakes can do more than translate incorrect information; they can de-motivate staff, set employees up for failure and even put them at risk.
With all the time and resources businesses allocate to training, it's important to get it right the first time.
Training mistakes can do more than translate incorrect information; they can de-motivate staff, set employees up for failure and even put them at risk. HR Dive spoke with some experts in the field to find out the top training mistakes employers should avoid as they prepare their materials for the coming year.
1. Not knowing your audience or their needs
Knowing what your audience knows before you even design training is critical. If you make the training too easy and a teacher may be preaching to the choir, which will soon be bored and zone out. But if you make the content too far above their knowledge level and a teacher may turn them away from learning altogether. Having a grasp on what the employees understand before they start training may be job one for L&D professionals.
"Don't be afraid to ask your employees what types of learning they'd find most valuable. Truly listen to what they have to say — then tailor your programs to fit their needs," Laura Lee Gentry, vice president of talent and learning at Ultimate Software, told HR Dive in an email.
2. Not training for specific outcomes
"When delivering training, it's critical that all participants (and facilitators) are aware of the objective of the training session and the steps to take to get there," Colleen Kerr, senior career management consultant with Right Management, told HR Dive via email.
She recommended that employers set a concise agenda and make clear what is intended throughout the training. When teaching a lesson through a slide deck, for example, the learning objectives should be clear on each slide so the group can see their progression toward the goal. Another training must-do, according to Kerr? "Staying on track and on time sends the message that you value the participant's time and will ensure mutual respect in the room," she said.
3. Preaching instead of facilitating
Effective training is as much about asking powerful questions, gaining buy-in, and leveraging the knowledge of the group to work towards the goal as it is about creating experiences that are engaging, informative and fun. "Adults learn much better in an experiential learning environment with a variety of modalities: visual, kinetic and auditory," Kerr said.
4. Recycling on old methods and materials
Recycling old training videos and scenarios that don't reflect the work is one of the quickest ways to disengage learners, Meredith Ferguson, managing director at DoSomething Strategic, said.
"They know the training was not made for them," she said in an email, "and will feel there's less they can take away from the training overall." With so many new modalities available for L&D, from gamification and mobile learning, to VR and beyond, there really is no reason to dig those old instructional videos out, except to put them in the recycle bin.
5. Too much of anything
Making the training too passive, or too cookie-cutter-interactive is another training faux pas Ferguson has encountered.
"Both ends of the spectrum turn off millennials and Gen Z because they've gone their entire lives seeing the tacky extremes: passively watching a video with no interaction is just as bad as starting off an interactive training with weird icebreakers and corny role-playing," she said. Learners have seen these extremes spoofed on social media dozens of times.
"Once you start training this way, they'll take it as a joke rather than a serious initiative, mostly because it looks like no effort was put in on the facilitator's end," she added.
6. Not enough internal input
"A common mistake we see is the over-reliance on outside expertise," Jonathan Lau, SVP for skills at Cengage, told HR Dive in an email.
Developers and vendors are helpful in providing frameworks, structure, approaches, and fine tuning, but "experts at the company need to devote the time and energy to ensure the training is relevant. Internal experts know the context, key challenges, goals and specific skills that need to be honed in order to upskill employees," he added.
7. Not taking time to assess
Lau suggests launching a training initiative without first piloting the program is a common mistake. "Context and relevancy, especially in a corporate setting, is key to effective training." As with any product rollout, he writes, testing and learning is critically important to ensure the training delivers the right outcomes.
8. Creating training that's easy for the trainer, instead of the learner
"In instructor-led training, on the highest level, I'd say that the biggest mistake I've seen is designing the training for those delivering the training, rather than those receiving the training," Kevin Gumienny, senior learning architect at Microassist, said in an email.
The temptation is strong to put a subject matter expert in front of the group and let them share, but it's rarely the best way for people to gain knowledge, skills or abilities, he said. When experts share, they tend to lecture, providing one-way information delivery; that type of training rarely changes behavior — which is the goal, after all.
9. Foregoing experiential learning
"The way to engage with adult learners is to encourage them to relate new knowledge content to their existing, hard-won knowledge," Gumienny said. He suggested activities — lots and lots of activities. There are ample resources available to find effective training activities for small to large groups, or even independent learners. Experiential learning has been proven to help absorb and retain knowledge.
10. Treating training like a one-and-done
One of the most common training mistakes Gentry sees is how often training is provided. For most, it's a one-time activity, typically at the beginning of a job when an employee is provided with the basics. There's much to be said for learning firsthand, she said, "but organizations should shift their focus from offering one-time, job-specific training to providing all employees with ongoing learning and development opportunities."
Companies benefit greatly from continuous learning programs, developing in-house experts who can better serve colleagues and customers while building their own knowledge and careers. "People and businesses should grow together concurrently," Gentry said.