The Missing Link; Why Training Fails

By Elizabeth P. Cipolla, VP of Talent Development

For nearly twenty years, I’ve had the fortune of working as a human resources and organizational development professional. Developing and facilitating team effectiveness training has been a common need that I’ve happily fulfilled countless times. Whether I’ve served as a leader in a traditional corporate role, or as a management consultant hired to help an organization overcome hurdles through training and development of its people, there is one common thread I’ve seen rear its ugly head when asked to solve a business problem through training. If not detected and addressed at the earliest stages of developing training, it will lead to disappointment and wasted resources every single time.


What is this ugly thread of commonality that leads to wasted time, squandered money and frustration? It’s the belief that training will provide a “quick fix” for the team to improve its performance. Millions of dollars are frivolously spent out of training budgets every year, because well-intended leaders identify the need for something to change in their team’s output. Naturally, they frequently turn to training as a solution to enlighten employees and thus cure the behavior once and for all. Sadly, many trainers have fallen into the ineffective habit of operating in a reactive mode. They dutifully provide the training requested so they can check the box of doing what was asked by the executive who hired them – even when training is not the best answer.

In truth, training is only part of the solution needed to achieve the desired outcome and guarantee a return on the investment of maximizing organizational performance. Don’t spend another dollar trying to initiate change through training until you consider how to challenge your understanding of training and development. It is not a quick fix. It is not a silver bullet. It will not work if it isn’t a part of something more.

Consider this; imagine you’ve attended a training course to learn how to run more effective meetings. The trainer was engaging and knowledgeable. You walk out of the day-long session feeling inspired and excited to try out the new techniques you learned. With each passing week after the training session, you find yourself slowly slipping back to your old ways of leading a meeting, until eventually you realize you’ve completely gone back to your familiar habits. You no longer feel inspired or excited to put your efforts into trying anything different. What went wrong?

Scenarios like this play out every day in organizations all over the world. Employees are frustrated that “nothing changed” after the training, and managers lose their belief in the importance of developing employees. They become increasingly frustrated at the resources they wasted in training, and choose to put their focus elsewhere.

I’m here to tell you there is hope. It rests in the hands of leaders like you. Take the time to truly understand your role in ensuring the success of employee development. The next time you consider training as a solution, ask yourself some key questions to ensure you get long lasting results.

What barriers exist in your organization that will prevent the desired change? For example, take an honest look at the leadership styles of you and your executive team. Are you expecting your employees to implement new behaviors as a result of training, only to be stifled by an inherent top-down management culture? Or, are you setting employees up for failure because of inter-departmental conflict that must be addressed before any successful change as a result of training can be realized? In reality, internal barriers will make it extremely difficult for your employees to put their newly learned skills into practice.

Are you and your top leaders deeply committed to – and understanding of – the changes desired through training? Your investment in training will be successful if it is championed and truly understood by leadership. Without such commitment and understanding, the conditions won’t exist for an internal support network to implement changes learned through training. Your employees will quickly recognize this and put their energy elsewhere. If you don’t care enough, neither will they.

Is experiential learning being incorporated into the development of your employees? When employees are given the opportunity to experience an authentic situation like those provided with on-the-job projects tied to new skills being learned through formal training, the learning becomes significantly more powerful. By incorporating structured, on-the-job projects, your employees will deepen their knowledge through repeatedly practicing and then reflecting on new skills being taught.

Prevent another training disappointment and ensure measurable results by reflecting upon the missing link you can unlock within your organization.

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