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Every year organizations waste time, money and resources on employee development. Why?

by Tim Connor, CSP 

tim connor 50Most employee training & development that doesn’t last more than a few days or weeks.

Here is a process, strategy and approach that will guarantee a huge return on your employee development investment. Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that the overall program is over 25 pages – what I have given you here is a brief overview and summary of this process. 

What follows may appear to be a lengthy process, but if your organization invests over $100,000 a year in employee training OR none – I guarantee it will be well worth your while and will change your perception of this vital topic in a positive way.

I have been in the training business for over 35 years.  During that time, I have had tens of thousands of people in my audiences and training programs and I can tell you that one of my biggest frustrations during my career is knowing that a very small percentage of people (less than 5%) who are exposed to employee development programs apply and integrate what they learn over the long term.  Companies invest millions of dollars a year in employee development and what do they have to show for it? 

Yes, many organizations have very sophisticated measurement devices, follow-up programs and accountability systems, but I believe these are in the minority.

There are many factors that determine whether an employee will learn, understand, embrace, and apply new knowledge and skills.  Some of these can be controlled by the organization, but many are the results of an employee’s beliefs, expectations, mindsets, attitudes, and agendas which can’t be controlled by the training entity whether an outside outsourced firm or an in-house training department.

Effective employee development programs must be more than just putting 100 people in a room for a day and expecting them to change approaches or modify behaviors after just a few hours of exposure to new information.

Over the years, as a result of extensive study and research, I have developed a unique training process and approach that can be described as “curriculum based training” rather than short term or transaction focused development.  Essentially it involves four stages or levels of development and each of these will be described later in this document in further detail.  They are:

-The awareness level.

-The understanding level

-The integration level

-The mastery level  

If you want your employee investment to return itself several times over, the only guaranteed way to accomplish this is by ensuring that any training initiative takes the participants completely through a minimum of the first three stages.

Let me repeat - If you want a positive return on your training investment it is vital that you have a programmed learning strategy and approach and not a quick fix philosophy.

But first, here’s the problem. 

Due to any number of restraints organizations find it challenging to provide the right environment, material and approach to learning. 

There are logistical issues where employees are spread across the country, even around the world.  There are financial constraints where there are many other areas of the business where money spent elsewhere would yield far better return on investment.  And, there are management mindsets that restrict learning due to their shallow beliefs about its value or benefits versus the investment.

During every economic decline in the past 100 years, the most successful companies that sustained even grew successfully had policies and approaches to maintain or even increase their employee development budget.  As a result, they survived - and even prospered - during challenging times, and beyond.

Your employees are your most important asset and resource.  What good does it do to have the latest technology, tools, products, or services if your employees are under a great deal of stress or are de-motivated due to management approaches or policies, corporate culture, constant and increasing change or uncertain future economic factors?  Believe me, you can have the latest and greatest toys, software, products, and services, but if your employees lack the creativity, initiative, motivation, skills, attitudes and empowerment necessary for effective performance - I’ll guarantee that these resources will be underutilized.

There are two ways to educate, train or develop employees.

-The transactional approach

-The curriculum approach

Let’s take a brief look at both.

The transactional approach

A transaction is a single event, a onetime interaction or a short-term approach.  Let me give you an example.  Let’s say you send your customer service representatives to a half day seminar on how to improve customer relations and increase repeat business.  These people are exposed to appropriate and valuable material for a few hours with little interaction or participation.  They sit there all morning – and learn.  After lunch, they head back to work dealing with many of the routine customer issues that the training was designed to help them with.

Now I ask you, if a person has spent ten, twenty years – or just one to five years - developing mindsets, attitudes, habits, routines, approaches -- do you think they are going to permanently change these because of a four-hour seminar? 

Not going to happen.

The curriculum approach

A curriculum philosophy is a longer-term process where there are ongoing gradual incremental increases of information that is covered as well as some form reinforcement, coaching, inspection and/or accountability.

Let me give you an example.  If you took algebra when you were in high school, how did you learn it?  Let’s say after your first 45-minute class on the topic of algebra the teacher gave you your final exam.  Would you pass?  Of course not.  How do you learn algebra so that after three months of classes, three times a week you could pass the final exam?

Goes like this:  Class, homework, next class two days later you discuss the homework, then new material followed by homework on the new material. Two days later the process continues.  Three months later, you pass the exam. 

Now, let’s apply this to a corporate learning situation.

Put your salespeople through a one-day training seminar on how to close more sales (the transaction approach) and then send them on their way.  They might improve their ability to close for a few days or weeks, but I’ll guarantee that two months later if you gave them the final exam on closing more sales, most of them would fail it.

See the difference?

As I said earlier, most organizations are unwilling or believe they are unable to take the curriculum approach to employee development. But they still expect the people to pass their exams. In this case, that means keep on closing more business without any reinforcement, inspection or accountability other than end of the month sales reports and feedback on the results only and not the material that they learned earlier. 

So, what’s the best answer?  Understand the learning process, then implement it into your employee development strategy. For example – read the following. A brief overview as to why people learn, change or adapt or why they don’t.

Over the years, I have struggled with why people will sit through a learning experience, pay attention, be engaged and act as if they accept the material being shared.  They briefly behave as if it will help them in some way in their career or life. And then, they do nothing with the learning, or never follow-through with action.

What contributes to this lack of application?  Is it intent, dysfunction or internal resistance to change or some other factor?

People learn when they are ready, but what exactly does this mean?  I know, during my career, I have participated in many career development programs, some for up to three days, and applied little or none of what I learned, even though while I was sitting there listening I kept saying to myself, “I can use this idea, this is great, this is just what I need to move to the next level of effectiveness and performance.”

Any employee development program to have long-term success must be curriculum based.  So, in the section that follows I will cover why some of these techniques when integrated and included in any training program still fail to achieve the desired results.

The Human Mind

Although the human mind is an extremely complicated device, there are certain behaviors that can be understood and predicted.  That happens when you are aware of general mindsets and pay attention to common internal, external and conditioned beliefs, as well as how experiences contribute to a person’s actions or lack of them.

The outcome of any training should be improved performance, effectiveness or changed behaviors or attitudes.  If these are not accomplished, the training served no purpose.

Let me summarize this section before we move on.

-Everyone’s brain is wired to handle an unlimited amount of information.

-Everyone is capable of learning new skills, behaviors, or attitudes.

-People tend to behave consistent with what they believe about themselves.

-People’s mindsets more than anything else determines what they will learn and accept.

-Everyone has a perceptual filter that is filled with a lot of personal garbage that prevents accepting new concepts ideas etc.

-The unconscious mind is a storage device only.  It doesn’t judge, it accepts everything without prejudice.

-If people are not exposed to new ideas, information, or concepts they will never be able to use any of this information. 

-Most people go through life on auto-pilot, and spend very little time in the emotional present.

The four learning strategies;

-The awareness level.

At this level of learning employees have an awareness only of techniques, tactics, skills, and approaches to be more effective in their roles.  However, they lack the clarity and understanding to embrace the learning in a way that will allow them to put the information into practice in an effective way and for the long term.  At this level, behavior will not change and you will have essentially wasted corporate resources and the employee’s time. They will be alert and attentive during any training session, but will lack the knowledge necessary to know how, where, when and why to use this new information.  The awareness level can be described as sharing information only.

-The understanding level

At the understanding level, employees get it.  They see the relationship between the information they have learned and its value, but they still lack the ability to apply what they have learned to their roles and responsibilities.

-The integration level

Knowledge if it is not used applied or integrated into current mindsets, activities, responsibilities, or approaches is essentially useless information.  Without a doubt, the biggest challenge in any training initiative is to ensure that the new learning is used and used whenever and wherever appropriate for the long term.  Applying new knowledge for the short-term only generally occurs when the curriculum approach is used.

-The mastery level  

Mastery is the highest form of knowledge applied.  This is where wisdom becomes the standard for learning and skill and attitude development.  Mastery occurs when knowledge becomes wisdom and wisdom is utilized at every opportunity when the situation or circumstance warrants.  Very few participants in a training session for a number of reasons that we have already discussed achieve this level of knowledge or information application.  Generally speaking people who achieve mastery in their chosen field or endeavor have made mastery their goal and they have followed through with discipline, persistence and planning.

Let me close with the seven laws of learning

To achieve long term positive employee development training results, it is vital that you follow the following laws of learning and requirements.

1.  All discovery is self-discovery.

2. People all learn at different rates.

3. People all have unique learning styles.

4. People learn when they are ready to learn, not when you need them to learn.

5. People who are experiencing a great deal of stress or tension will fail to learn what you want them to and when you want them to.

6. If material is not presented in a way that is comfortable for the person’s personality style they will fail to integrate the skills, techniques or attitudes into their roles and responsibilities.

7. Everyone’s personal perceptions either contributes to or sabotages their ability to learn, grasp and apply new concepts, ideas and information.

The ten training requirements.

Here are the ten requirements to ensure that any employee development program is effective for the long term.

  1. The program must engage the participants and can't be a one-way dialog or approach.
  2. The program must permit the employees to practice while they are learning.
  3. The program must allow time for group interaction in small discussion groups to talk about specific applications to their roles and responsibilities and their challenges and opportunities.
  4. The program must allow adequate time for questions and practical discussions.
  5. The program must take into consideration that everyone learns in different ways.  Some people need to hear it while others need to speak and some need time to process the information at a reasonable pace.
  6. The program must take into consideration the ‘real world’ issues that the participants deal with on a routine daily basis.
  7. The material must be reinforced in a variety of ways.
  8. The learning must be periodically inspected to ensure that the learned skills are being implemented and used where and when appropriate.
  9. Management must participate in the actual learning so they know what their employees are learning.  Without this knowledge, it is impossible for them to coach, inspect and hold people accountable over time.
  10. The program must provide opportunities for everyone to develop personal ownership of the material. ##