6 Problems with Training and How to Solve Them
Every business owner and manager knows that their biggest asset is their team. Employees probably represent your largest ongoing fixed cost, but they're also the lifeblood of your business. It stands to reason that every pound spent improving their productivity through training is a pound well spent.

However, business training is very hard to get right. It's all too easy to burn entire training budgets on attractive courses and programs, but when employees return to work, skills haven't been learned and performance doesn't budge.

But what are some of the most common problems with training and how can you solve them?

Problem and Solution

1. Every Company Uses the Same Trainers

Consider the following scenario. Imagine that in your industry there is one company who does sales training. Their methods look strong, they have a good reputation, and they claim they can cover all the sales skills you need to improve on. They also have great testimonials from several of your competitors. They're the ones to go with, right?

Well, if all you can do is give your employees the same training as your competitors, then at best, you're just keeping up. Where's the competitive advantage? Instead, you need to find a way to leapfrog the competition.

The Solution:

If you can closely analyse your exact training needs, you should be able find a solution that will really give you an edge. Does your sales team need generalist sales training, or are there one or two areas that you want to dominate in – for example, lead generation, or upselling your premium offer?

Don't be afraid to go with a smaller vendor who seems to offer a more customised solution. By hiring the specialists that focus on a narrow skill set, you can develop a crack team that beats the competition in the core areas that matter to your bottom line.

2. Training Targets Low Performers, Not High Performers

Training is almost always about bringing up the weaknesses of the many, instead of growing the strengths of the few. This seems to make sense – after all, if we can get the majority from a four to a seven, that should be a bigger gain than getting the few high performers from an eight to a ten.

However, this thinking is flawed. You've no doubt heard of the 80/20 rule: in business, 80% of your outputs come from 20% of your inputs. That means most of your profits come from a few top performers.

Sending high performers to generalised training aimed at the average employee is one of the most common problems with training and is highly ineffectual. High performers often do the basics subconsciously, and are likely to absorb few new skills from general training.

They've also figured out their own methods that work exceptionally well for them, which often don't mesh with the standard approach.

The Solution:

Spending time and money to get the majority from "mediocre" to "OK" won't give you the returns that developing your top performers will. For example, you might consider sending your top closers to advanced sales training to take them from good to great.

Think about hiring high-end coaches to work closely with your top performers. In any business, it's the handful of rock stars who really drive results, and every pound spent on furthering their skills will yield a large ROI.

3. The Training Just Isn't Engaging Enough

For employees to genuinely learn something, training needs to be engaging, and (at least in parts) enjoyable. Professional training is all too often dry, stodgy, and ends up being a tired cliché.

Too many training courses take the form of a conference that employees end up "enduring", rather than engaging with. And when employees aren't genuinely stimulated in training, they don't learn – in fact, they may even resent it, and possibly you too for forcing them through it.

The Solution:

Carefully choose trainers and programs that engage and stimulate. If you can, look for testimonials and feedback from actual attendees. Don't get sold too early without digging into reports of the actual training experience – with a little research, it shouldn't be too hard to filter out the dullest programs.

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4. Training Isn't Optimised for Learning

Sadly, most corporate training programs are built on severely outdated educational principles. It's simply not the case that employees can sit through twenty hours of material with a few exercises thrown in, and come back to work with an completely new and integrated professional skill set.

Happy Employee

Education experts know that learning occurs over time, with repetition, practice, support and feedback. If you want employees to retain and develop the skills absorbed in training, they need to be able to continue their learning on the job.

The Solution:

Give your teams the opportunities to build on what they've learned. That means your company needs to make dedicated efforts to support them in practising and implementing new skills. Choose a vendor that offers follow-up, or at least provides materials and guidance for ongoing skill development in the workplace.

Ask vendors specifically how they ensure employees develop these skills after work. Vague or dismissive answers, along with "They'll get everything they need to know on our course", should be seen as red flags.

5. Training Doesn't Resonate with Employees

Ideally, trainers will have experience themselves as managers in the types of companies they're offering training to. Such trainers intimately understand the skills needs of employees, and speak their language. However, these people are fairly rare.

In reality, most trainers come from educational or psychology backgrounds, and worked as teachers in one form or another their whole careers. Few have extensive front-line business or management experience.

As a result, they often speak a different language from employees. If your team comes back from training seemingly disillusioned, or you overhear mutterings of "psycho-babble", you know you picked the wrong vendor.

The Solution:

Go with trainers who really speak your employees' language. When considering vendors for an engagement, ask yourself "Do these people really understand businesses like ours?”

If they seem to come from a purely coaching background, they may not be able to connect well with your team – which means poor learning and low skill retention, post-training.

6. Training is a Poor Fit for the Trainee

Training needs to be highly appropriate for an employee. Every year, millions of pounds of training fees get wasted because the attendees are being taught the wrong skills, or the right skills at the wrong time.

Usually, this is a symptom of a deeper problem in the organisation: the owner or managers identify poor performance, but they don't take the time to dig in and pinpoint the true cause. It can be tempting to throw money at general training to fix the problem – for example, sending everyone to team-building exercises, or to learn "interpersonal skills". But this blanket approach rarely works.

The Solution:

Focus tightly on your organisation's training needs – really drill down to specifics. Exactly who needs to be trained, and what exactly do you want them to gain from it? Will they be able to practice and apply these skills soon after training, or will they be waiting a year before they have a chance to use them?

A careful needs analysis before shipping your employees off to a training program can massively boost your return on investment.

Done Right, Training is Rocket Fuel for Your Business

In 2015, the skills gap is larger than ever before, and companies that can effectively close it will attain massive competitive advantage.

Take the time to get your training right: analyse your needs thoroughly, carefully choose your vendors, and relentlessly focus on developing your high performers. The results will pay for themselves many times over.

Want to Improve your own training skills?

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Can you think of any other problems with training that you would add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!