4 Common Reasons Why Staff Training Doesn’t Work

4 Common Reasons Why Staff Training Doesn’t Work

Ever been to a computer training program only to find you learn eight topics, with generic exercises, have a great lunch but walk away none the wiser about what to do with your newfound knowledge?

You aren’t alone!

As a professional speaker, trainer and educator in the corporate computer productivity space for over twenty-five years, I used to facilitate those programs.

Participants would arrive filled with hope that the program could be the missing piece that would make them more productive or skilled with a computer software program.

The course they attended was based upon their own or their organization’s assessment of their skill level.

I often encountered participants who had been sent on intermediate Microsoft Excel courses because they had been using Excel for more than 12 months. Many came missing fundamental skills such as understanding formula structure or how to add up numbers that meant they were starting well behind, whilst others really were at an “intermediate” level.

Those with confidence issues often felt further out of their depth before the day had even started!

Despite learning a lot, participants would often leave feeling frustrated rather than empowered, with thoughts in their head of how they find the time to apply what they have learnt and how do they apply it to their own work environment.

In short, they often left feeling worse than when they arrived.

So why do organizations send people off on generic training programs?

Here are some reasons:

1. It’s easy – send someone off on a course, a box is ticked and the onus of not being able to do something shifts to the participant.
Unfortunately, this is not always good for employee self confidence or morale and can in fact increase, rather than decrease, stress for staff.

2. It’s cheap – sending staff members off on a generic training course appears on the surface to be a cheaper solution; a few hundred dollars up front makes it attractive. However, the “hidden” costs of attendance is often never considered.

Costs such as, the hours lost attending the training; stress on the staff member to “catch” up for a missed day of work when they return; frustration when the staff member cannot connect what they have learnt to how it applies in their work are not “added” to the overall cost of participation.

Cheap isn’t always the best.  That’s why there is a difference in price between a Toyota and a Mercedes motor vehicle!  You get what you pay for.

3. Limited funds – unlike sales training or customer service training that tend to have direct impact on revenue, computer training skills are often perceived as a non-discretionary spend and there is a perception that everyone should know the “basics”.

As a result, many organizations do not allocate funds to keep staff updated beyond a few hundred dollars spent every year or two to “update” staff as part of the performance appraisal process.

Limited funds doesn’t have to mean cheap training.  With availability of learning through online courses and webinars, the cost to have staff attend a session can be significantly impacted. For example, a customized webinar for 200 people in an organization with 12 months access to the recording, if leveraged strategically will deliver a greater return on investment over a longer period of time than having 200 people go off site to a training course.

4. Lack of Expertise – the organization does not have specific learning and development expertise in the area of Microsoft Office programs, so generic training is the default option. These days finding learning and development professionals is as easy as a Google search (or reach out I’d be happy to have a conversation) to find someone who can listen to your organizational needs and develop a solution to suit your organization’s budget, needs and staff diversity.

So why doesn’t training work?

Here are 4 common reasons why training doesn’t work

1. No context – one of the challenges facing participants in any training program is understanding “what’s in it for me”. When generic examples are used that have no direct connection or context to the learner’s working environment, participants often disconnect.  They don’t see how it can help make their life easier.

So how do you create context?
When working with corporate clients, I take the time to understand the type of data an organization works with. For example, is it end user type information such as customer, staff, patient, individual detail, or is it business information such customer sales, invoices, accounts receivable, accounts payable.  Once the context is understood, more customized exercises can be created that provide context relevant to the organization and participant’s environment.

In addition, providing opportunities for participants to contribute to the creation of a training program also increases the likelihood of them being engaged in the solution!

2. No time – Whilst many participants make the time to attend training, this is the easy part! The hard part is allocating time to apply what has been learnt to their everyday environment.  It’s great to have knowledge, but it is worthless if it isn’t applied.

Training in computer programs is like anything, you use the skill, or you lose it. I often speak to participants who tell me they used to do (for example) pivot tables in a previous job, but have forgotten how to do them.  Unless time is allocated to apply what is learnt on a regular basis to make tools and skills part of a participant’s everyday use, it will be forgotten.  Add to that the fact that the programs are regularly updating, so keeping pace is essential!

So how do you create time?
Understanding the importance of practice and application of new skills is vital. Organizations need to provide a framework to support staff on their learning journey.  This is achieved by dedicating time to implement learning. It could take a variety of forms such as, incorporating questions in weekly team meetings, knowledge sharing and discussions.  It doesn’t have to be onerous.

For some of my clients it can be holding regular facilitated accountability sessions to draw out questions, share learnings and provide new ideas and contexts. For even better accountability and practice, consider having these programs delivered by an external expert.  Staff are more likely to pay attention to an external expert than an internal facilitator!

3. No desire – I mentioned “what’s in it for me” above. Some participants simply aren’t interested in learning something for what ever reason.  They may feel they are being forced to change.  One thing humans do not like doing is changing, unless it is by choice.  When staff have no desire to learn, I liken this to attempting to row a boat upstream rather than go with the flow.  After awhile it becomes tiring and left unaddressed can result in staff presenteeism and disengagement.  All of which cost businesses indirectly.

So how do you create desire?
The simplest way is to create context.  When participants in programs see what the benefit is for them to participate, learn or apply they will engage. In today’s business world, everyone wants to make their workload easier and NOT harder.  It’s just that creating desire for some people is harder than others.  Additionally, there will be the odd few, that regardless of what you do, they will never be on board.  Not everyone wants to get it or chooses to get it.  That’s OK, the goal here is to get the majority desiring a change or improvement.

4. Negative mindset – Often participants come in with negative experiences of school, past training programs or just a belief that they are not good with computers or the relevant program. They have decided before they arrive that this training isn’t going to work because they cannot change and cannot learn this skill.

So how do you overcome a negative mindset?
This requires a bit of support.  Acknowledge that feeling this way is common. Position learning something new with the benefits that come with it.  Find a common personal theme that helps them connect with the fact that they have learnt new things in the past and are now comfortable with what they have learnt.  For example, smart phones and the ability to see pictures of family and friends instantaneously.  At some point this was new.  Make them feel supported and provide an alternative perspective for them to consider.  Often when they start to participate, the idea that this might not be so bad after all reveals itself!

Making your training work doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require consideration, expertise, and time to prepare.  Sending staff to generic training is like passing the buck.  There is no guarantee that it will deliver any return on investment, and it may additionally create further stress and frustration for the participant which can end up with them feeling disengaged from the organization.

Whilst not all organizations have the money, capacity or capability to develop customized programs that focus on the organization’s needs. I hope identifying the 4 Common Reasons Why Training Doesn’t Work brings them to light and that the suggestions provided can help you make your staff training more effective and rewarding for your organization and its staff.


Feel free to reach out if you would like to have a no obligation conversation to see how I can help improve your organization’s productivity, book a time at www.donnahanson.com.au/15donna or sign up to my free productivity pointers at www.donnahanson.com.au/subscribe

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