Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Most Common Reasons Training Programs Fail



Whether you are the executive leader responsible for a learning event or a front-line training specialist, this article is for you. Having spent my entire career in a training and development capacity I have seen and delivered exceptional learning experiences, but I have been part of some disastrous ones as well. With some forethought and an overall strategic approach to training, some principles can be followed to dramatically increase the overall effectiveness and value of any learning event you design.  

The Most Common Reasons
Training Programs Fail

We have all been the victim of a bad training event - and for some impossible to understand reason, it is often tolerated. Participants have come to expect that they will have to sit for too long, hear content that is too generic, and listen to speakers who are content experts but not trainers. Organizations tolerate bad training too, spending oodles of money on meetings and events with low expectations and little formal mechanism to measure any change in behavior.  The difference between bad training and good training can come down to some simple (but very critical) factors. Here are some of the most common reasons training initiatives fail, and what you can do to avoid them.

Poor needs assessment.

It is critically important for an organization to take the time to identify the real development needs of the workforce instead of turning to one-size-fits all learning events. Consider offering learning tracks based on participant job specialties, years of experience, or open enrollment so participants can choose the session they know would benefit them the most.  

Content that is too theoretical.
It is impossible to design an effective learning event from the comfort of your office. Program design is best done from the perspective of real field research, being in the field or office that the participants live in is the only way to truly understand the challenges they face on a daily basis. 


Trainers that want to check the box.
When training is seen as a singular event instead of one facet in an overall organizational development strategy, the learning is often disjointed, random and rarely leads to a direct improvement in performance. Every training event should build on a previous one; should add depth and layers to a developing competency; should continuously increase in complexity. 

No post-training reinforcement.
Training only creates awareness.  For true improvement to occur, participants need additional reinforcement in a real-life setting.  Consider providing participants with follow up options such as enrichment clinics 6 to 9 months after the completion of a program, job shadowing where coaches work onsite to provide participants with coaching and feedback on their application of the principles taught in the course and support in overcoming obstacles that impede performance, weekly or monthly email tips sent on practical ways to apply the learning content in day-to-day interactions.

No measurement of the behavior before the learning event.
It is impossible to know how much a participant is learning, growing or changing without a baseline measurement. Add knowledge surveys, skill evaluations, and self-assessments to your training process so you can better pre- and post-test to measure the results of your learning event.

Lack of professional trainers.
When budgets are tight, it is a common practice for organizations to use subject matter experts as trainers.  Learning specialists must have advanced speaking and facilitation skills that require specific training. A learning event can become a complete disaster with untrained trainers leading the program. In this case, the delivery of the learning is paramount to the content - hands down. 

No adult learning theory.
Too many programs are based on a classroom model of training - the trainer speaks and the participants listen. We've all fallen prey to Death by PowerPoint. Instead, it is critically important for content designers to understand the principals of how adults learn (which is very different than children) and ways to integrate various training methodology into the learning experience. Most adults don't sit in a chair for 8 straight hours with little opportunity for movement or discussion but in most training sessions, that is exactly what is expected.

Vacationer / Prisoner / Learner participants.
Every audience contains three types of participants: the Vacationer who is thrilled to get out of the office or the field for any reason and see a day of training as an escape from reality; the Prisoner who absolutely does not want to be there and sees training as an unwanted interruption from their priorities and resents the trainer for making them be there; and the third type is the Learner who is actively looking for ways to improve him or herself and will seek out takeaways to get value from any learning program.  Trainers must prepare for these three types of participants and build in engagement levels for each. 


These common mistakes are the main reasons why training initiatives fail in most organizations. They make proving any return-on-investment in a learning event impossible to document and give training events a bad reputation. Most employees dread the idea of being shut into a conference room or hotel ballroom for days and days with little attention being paid to their unique learning needs and preferences. A focused investment in time and effort by the learning and development team can make a very worthwhile impact on any event, not to mention the overall competence of your workforce.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Things Better Left Unsaid



One of the principle skills of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is self-control: managing impulses to say or do inappropriate things even when the urge is strong to do them. The stakes are high when we don't think before speaking or don't consider the negative consequences of being impulsive.

In fairness, we all struggle with maintaining self-control because we have biological impulses that work against us. For the purposes of survival, we are hard-wired to feel before we think. A small gland in our brain triggers this instinct and for a brief moment takes over our rational thinking, as Daniel Goleman calls it "an amygdala hijacking." We have all been the victim of it, reacting in the heat of the moment and feeling out of control to stop it. And in some cases, the outcome may be serious.

Low self-control presents itself in angry outbursts, compulsive talking, interrupting or talking over others, impulsiveness, poor judgment, loss of emotional control (crying), and utter inappropriateness.

We have a good biological reason to have low self-control but that is absolutely not an excuse for it. There is no getting away with, "It's not my fault, I was the victim of a hijacking.” Sorry. Most of the time, the critical time to use self-control is the first five seconds of the trigger. When you feel the blood rush to your face and your heart race with adrenaline, is when you need to stop and count to five. The impulse wave will pass and you get your rational mind back.

One profession that could benefit overall from increasing self-control is sales. Most salespeople tend to talk way too much. When I am working out in the field doing performance coaching via job shadowing with salespeople it is very common to see chronic chattiness in interactions with customers. In one case, the salesperson spoke for 46 minutes of a 50 minute meeting (and yes, I timed it) and barely let a customer get a word in. It was torture for me to witness it and I couldn't get the song out of my head, "you talk too much...you never shut up...” Consider your talking/listening ratio when interacting with others, particularly customers.  

If you could use some help in increasing your self-control or need to coach someone else, here are some tips:

1. Be mindful of any impulses to say what you are thinking; use long pauses and take opportunities to buy time while you collect your thoughts.

2. Call a time-out if you sense growing anger; use cooling off periods and remove yourself from the situation.

3. Identify triggers for your impulsiveness; pre-plan strategies for dealing with people or situations that you know will test you.

4. Use the "draft" folder in email; it is there for a reason. Before sending any emails written in the heat of the moment, sleep on it and reread them the next day before you press Send.

5. Manage your stress; lower Stress Tolerance makes you more vulnerable to losing control.


Exercising impulse control is not easy, but with some conscientious effort it can be dramatically improved. And just think how nice it will be to spend less time apologizing for saying something that you later regretted.  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Month in a Minute

Clockwise from bottom left:  Speaking at ACFO-ACAF in Canada, Engagement Day, Steve and me in the Sandbox at SNHU, Caitlin and Annie at graduation, Steve at Alkermes, Downtown Ottawa.
June was quite an adventurous month for us. It started with a trip I was scheduled for from Boston to Ottawa Canada. It is a direct flight, about one hour in length. I was booked with Air Canada at 6 pm. At 7 am, I was notified by TripIt (an amazing travel app, if you don’t have it, you need it) that my flight was canceled. I called the airline to get rebooked and they had no other direct flights that day which meant I had to add a stop in Toronto, adding another hour to my trip. As the agent was rebooking me to a 3:30 pm flight, she informed me that it had also just been canceled. That left me with a 12:30 pm flight to catch, still through Toronto. The reason for the trouble was Logan Airport in Boston has runway construction so fewer flights could actually depart on time and combined with the drizzling rain we had that day, there was low visibility.

I rushed to leave my house in New Hampshire by 9 am, prepared for the inevitable traffic going into downtown Boston on a weekday morning and the 2-hour international flight rule. I arrived at Logan and got through security by 11:15 am. My gate was one of 3 in a very small section of the airport. By 11:45 am, a delay was posted to my flight of 15 minutes. By noon, it was delayed another 30 minutes, making my connection in Toronto impossible to make. I prepared to go find a gate agent to help me with a rebooking and there were none to be found. They completely left the gate area. After speaking with a TSA agent, they told me that I would have to leave security to go out to the check-in desks if I needed to rebook. Really?

Off I went, only to be told that there were no other later options through Toronto, so basically, I was not going to be able to fly out that day. At that point, I had still not been notified by Air Canada of my initial flight cancellation or the delays. I was booked to speak the next morning at the Canadian Financial Officers Association conference as a keynote so canceling that was not an option. So, I tried to rent a car one way so I could at least keep the return half of my flight intact. All the car rental agencies at Logan were sold out. I got back in my car and headed north (essentially backtracking past my house). I arrived in Ottawa that evening at 9 pm, 12 hours after I left that morning. Ugh.

On the personal side, this has been a busy month too. I am officially engaged to David, Caitlin graduated from high school, I got an offer on my house (we are still negotiating terms), and I was able to travel to Seattle, Spokane, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Phoenix.

Hope your summer is off to a good start and free from travel woes!