How to Get the Most from Your Skills Training Initiatives

You may have seen statistics such as “only 15% of what people learn in training is retained”.  To make matters worse, what if it was the wrong 15%? Conversely what if the 15% retained was the same 15% that was holding someone back?

More importantly, what about the vast differences in training quality? I would actually argue that people retain almost nothing from poor training, but tend to implement a lot of what they learn in quality training. Next time you fly you might consider that your pilot attended skills training too and likely remembers close to 100%.

Why?  Because pilot training is of a sufficiently high quality.

Here are our tried and tested methods that can be used to ensure that skills training is of sufficient quality to give you a strong return on your investment:

Do a careful needs assessment

This is the place to begin. Three key items you need to look out for include:

  • Focus on the root cause
    Skills training works best when the root cause is a skill gap, while problems with items such as leadership, structure, incentives, morale, etc. are often best solved via other means.
  • Ensure participant readiness
    Participants who self-select, or groups that have expressed a specific need for skills training are going to be the best learners, while people who are “sent” to training against their will or without context about why they need it are less likely to implement the learning back on the job.
  • Connect the trainer to the group manager
    It is not uncommon that HR represents the group being trained and contracts with a vendor “seller” who then allocates a trainer to run the workshop. While this is fine for open-enrollment-style training, it is a recipe for a communication breakdown when working with intact groups and increases the risk that the training will not hit the mark.

    It is critically important to connect the group manager to the person who will be providing the training and give them the opportunity to step through the specific issues and anecdotes that need to be addressed.

Set the stage before training takes place

One needs to make sure that learners are adequately primed before entering the training room. Some effective ways to do this include:

  • Provide some pre-work
    This might include reading an article, watching a video or in some cases interviewing people around them to help build self-awareness with respect to their own skill level.
  • Identify personalized case studies
    People are seldom engaged by canned case studies. If at all possible, have participants identify a number of actual problems that they can work on in the classroom.

Use a variety of learning tools

Have you ever attended a presentation where the speaker is an obvious leader in his/her field but still puts the audience to sleep?

A knowledgeable presenter is not enough. Here are some of our favourite tools for engaging the class:

  • Draw out specific participant objectives when beginning the workshop – then address each one during the class
  • Use participant-driven case studies versus hypothetical situations
  • Use impactful and relevant simulations
  • Find creative ways to practice everything they learn in the classroom environment
  • Include effective videos
  • Engage the audience through questioning, provocation and storytelling – it is about “edutainment”
  • Create personalized assignments at the end and find a mechanism to ensure that people actually implement them
  • Design good workshop materials – avoid longs lists of bullet points and keep it visual

Measure and refine

Ensure that the quality of training is measured and that the trainer has immediate access to the results with a view to future improvements. The two ways we like to measure training are:

  • Same day evaluations (smile sheets, etc.)
    These often provide clues with respect to facilitator style and quality of materials. We prefer to keep these very short, as participants are seldom in the mood for filling out a long form after concentrating for 7 hours.
  • On the job evaluations
    We give participants at least 2 months to implement what they have learned, and then perform a second evaluation to determine what actually happened on the job. While more complex to administer, we find that these provide the richest information and a much clearer measure of training effectiveness.

I hope this helps you.

Kwela provides skills training on a complete set of leadership competencies.

Russel Horwitz, Principal