Overcoming the Challenges in Designing Training

I remember clearly leaving a training programme a few years ago thinking how much I had enjoyed the training and looked forward to using the learning on the job. But a while later I remember being so disappointed as I reflected back on how little I had managed to use in my daily work. Lack of opportunity, conflict with my manager’s own views and my own workload had all contributed to me not applying what I had learnt. I wonder how many of us have been in this situation?

The purpose of training is to obtain better organisational results, yet in the majority of training, up to 85%[1] of participants fail to do what we need to get those results.

In this blog, we identify the key challenges that designing any training faces. We then provide some training design steps to overcome them and create real value for the organisation.

Key challenges: 

1. "We need training”

So often we hear managers identify a problem and say ‘we need to train our people’ to fix the problem. This poses two professional challenges for those expected to procure training or to design and deliver the training:

Problem 1:

We know that if we deliver the standalone training, it’s highly unlikely that the training alone will fix the problem – partly because training on its own does not lead to a change in on the job performance

Problem 2:

The ‘problem’ is often a symptom of something deeper and if we do not address the deeper issue first, then the training will have been a waste of resource

2. Training needs to be cost efficient

Operational requirements and financial demands in the organisation often mean that we end up with training solutions that are far from effective. So many times, we have seen e-learning packages that are efficient at giving the knowledge but are left wanting at helping the learner retain that knowledge, use it on the job or help them develop their skills.

3. Losing sight of how the training subsequently affected job performance or organisational impact

The training has been delivered and we expect it to fix the ‘problem’. How do we know whether the problem has been fixed and to what degree the training contributed to fixing (or otherwise) the problem? Short answer, we often don’t …because we change focus to the next organisational issue or because we are not close to those employees and managers who have been working through the issue .

Overcoming the challenges of training design

1. Work with stakeholders at a strategic level

Even before even contemplating training, identify the root cause of the problem and understand the role that job performance has to play in that problem. Ask the questions:

· "What will success look like for the organisation if we address the problem’s root cause(s). Which organisational metrics will show improvement and when?"

· "If we are starting to turn around performance, what will we see happening in the organisation to tell us we are on our way?"

· "Apart from lifting job performance, what else needs to change if we are to solve the problem long term?"

2. Identify the critical behaviours that we want employees to perform

These are the few vital and specific behaviours employees must perform on the job if they are going to fully contribute to resolving the problem or opportunity. They can be hard to express succinctly. A good question to ask your stakeholders here is:

· "If the employee was performing the job well and we were to video them, what would we see them doing when we played the video back?"

3. Develop a training solution package

The key word here is package. We know that training alone will not help someone perform the vital few critical behaviours on the job. Research and indeed your own experience may well tell you that most training fails to realise its full potential (in terms of on the job performance and impact on organisational results) because ‘stuff’ gets in the way when we return to the job. This means that substantial effort and resource must go into:

  • preparing the learner for training (the amount of effort and resource required here is the same as goes into the training itself, according to studies by Professor Robert Brinkerhoff[2])
  • a comprehensive performance support and accountability package after training that facilitates further on the job learning and encourages, reinforces and rewards the performance of those critical behaviours on the job. According to Brinkerhoff, the amount of effort and resource that’s needed will be twice that of the training itself
  • A variety of tools here are going to be required to meet the various needs and learning styles of those being trained, so consider a range of job aids, checklists, coaching and mentoring
  • Dr Jim Kirkpatrick, an expert in training evaluation, often reminds learning and development professionals “Training alone will cause about 15% of the people to do what they learned to do. For the rest, you are battling human nature. Most people need support and accountability on the job to adopt new behaviours.” 

This true story illustrates this: We worked with an organisation to roll out a Coaching skills programme for its frontline leaders. The programme was well aligned with a key organisational KPI. Besides the training workshop itself, there was emphasis placed on the frontline leader being prepared before attending the workshop and also on the on the job performance support package following the training. Part of the package involved us meeting with the programme participants to check on progress. In one meeting, I was struck by how Paula, a frontline leader, was describing how she was using the coaching tools and techniques on the job and the impact she was having. It was clear from what she said (and confirmed by her manager and colleagues) that Paula would have passed the video test in terms of performing the coaching skills on the job. So far so good….  Only Paula had not been able to attend the coaching workshop. So I was keen to understand how she was doing so well coaching on the job, without having attended the training. She explained it was partly because she had completed the pre-work but mainly observing her colleagues back on the job, asking them to explain the coaching techniques job aid they’d been given and the role modelling she’d experienced from her own manager. All credit to Paula, she is naturally a good listener, so that has certainly helped her. Nonetheless the on the job performance support package we put in place was the key to her coaching success.

4. Agree with your stakeholders how you will measure the success of the training

Globally, most effort and resource goes into evaluating how well learners reacted to the training[3]. This is typically through a ‘smile’ sheet or brief online survey. Far less resource is put into whether learners learned what was intended and even less to evaluate whether the training has transferred to on the job behaviour and to whether the training is having an impact on the desired organisational results.

If the problem we mentioned at the beginning of this article is mission critical or of strategic importance we would expect stakeholders to want to see data collected and reported on at Kirkpatrick Level 3 (Behaviour (on the job performance)) and Kirkpatrick Level 4 (Results - (organisational impact)).

Stakeholders generally are not interested in the results at Kirkpatrick Level 1 & 2, they are interested in whether people are doing what needs to be done and that this is achieving better results.

5. Delivering the training

We would encourage you to work with your stakeholders to develop a mindset of ‘effective training’ as opposed to ‘cost efficient’ training. 

The New World Kirkpatrick Model can provide you with good guidance here on identifying appropriate training.

At Kirkpatrick Level 1 test likely Reaction and ask:

To what degree will participants react favourably to the learning event – how engaged will they be? How relevant will it be to their jobs? How satisfied will they be?

At Kirkpatrick Level 2 test likely Learning and ask:

To what degree will participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills and attitudes based on their participation in the learning event? How confident and committed will they be to perform new skills on the job after training?

6. Evaluating the training

Go back to the plan you put in place to measure the success of the training and evaluate how well participants reacted to the training and what they learned as a result of attending the training. Evaluate on the job performance (Kirkpatrick Level 3) and organisational impact (Kirkpatrick Level 4) if the training is important to stakeholders.

Build your plan to evaluate the training as part of your design of the training. Here is a Training Design Checklist on what to do before, during, and after any training.

7. Work with stakeholders at a tactical level to drive on the job performance

In Paula’s story, her manager and colleagues had a key role to play in role modelling coaching and supporting Paula to use her coaching skills on the job. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of gaining the active buy in and commitment of managers or other close colleagues to the training package.

Bear in mind too, that keeping clear sight of how the training has transferred to on the job performance is going to be difficult. Managers of learners have this knowledge and insight so keeping close to them is going to help you gather credible evidence of how the training has impacted on the job performance and also gives you the data to modify (if need be) the training for future groups.

Overcoming the challenges is, of course, easier said than done. Working closely with stakeholders from the outset, building relationships at a strategic and tactical level, is a good place to focus. This will provide the basis for a robust training design process. This Learning Design Checklist provides training design tips and questions to ask of stakeholders and managers.

Get the Learning Design Checklist!

To learn more about how to build partnerships with stakeholders at a strategic level, click here

To learn more about how to apply the New World Kirkpatrick Model in your training design process and to evaluate your training programs, click here.

[1] Telling Training’s Story, Professor Robert Brinkerhoff

[2] Telling Training’s Story, Professor Robert Brinkerhoff

[3] Association of Talent Development 2016 State of the Industry report

This blog is an adapted version of an article we wrote for Employment Today magazine. You can download the original article here. With permission from Employment Today magazine

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