How to make workplace training stick

South African companies spend billions of rand annually on training, but many find that the investment rarely correlates with the learning results. 

The impact on the business depends on, among other things, on the clarity of the purpose of the training, the engagement of employees and comprehensive career pathing. 

Michael Chapman from Chapman Coaching and Training says systematic training in South Africa is in its infancy: “As a generalisation, training is in short supply in SA. It does not seem to be a priority of senior management towards middle or junior management, certainly not in soft skills.” 

He says the approach often seems to be to promote a promising person, mainly because of some form of quantifiable performance such as achieving the highest sales. 

This is done in the absence of systematic training or coaching in the conventions or skills of management.

“The result, too often, is insecurity resulting in a command-and-control or even a bullying management style superseding a participatory style of management, [is] often ineffectual and bad for morale,” Chapman explains.

Impact on the business

Many managers are also dissatisfied when they do provide training to their employees, but its effectiveness is not seen in the workplace.

Susan Heathfield, human resource expert and contributor to The Balance, an online source of personal finance and career information, says companies should take certain steps before embarking on training sessions: “Make sure the opportunity you are pursuing or the problem you are solving is a training issue.”

She explains that if someone is failing to perform certain tasks, the employer needs to determine whether it is the right time to be doing these tasks. 

Managers also have to determine whether the employee has the correct tools to do the job before assuming they lack the skills. 

Heathfield says if it is a training issue, the person being trained needs to understand why it is necessary for them to acquire a new skill or to enhance existing skills. 

The training should be truly relevant to the skill the employee needs to attain.

Heathfield’s advice is to look for external service providers who will be willing to customise their training programmes to match the company’s specific needs. 

Chapman says in-house training is too often amateurish and given with divided attention, as the trainer often has a more primary job.

This makes external, professional training preferable.

However, he also cautions against hiring the first external trainer that one finds: “There is a great deal of opportunism in the training market and, on the part of both employer and employee, a great deal of naivety as to what constitutes training value.”

Failure to see results

According to the Canadian Performance Management & Appraisal Resource Centre, much of the resources companies allocate to training are wasted. 

This happens even in companies that tend to support the training of employees and make training and development opportunities available to employees. 

This is because training is not supported enough – such programmes must be planned well to ensure they will teach employees the relevant skills. 

“The training is available, but the actual focus, content and training methods are not really linked to the actual business or personnel needs of the company, or the needs and desires of the people who attend training,” the centre explains on its website. 

The result is an investment of time and money, and little impact in the workplace.

According to the centre, asking the right questions to get the right fit is vital. Once the company finds the answers to the questions, they have to be acted upon.

Some questions managers can ask are:

- What business problems are we addressing?

- Is the business problem a result of a skills gap, or is it something that can be addressed through training?

- Who should attend?

- Is training the best solution to addressing the problem? What are the alternatives?

- How can we provide support after training to ensure that it pays off?

Carl Greenberg, president and founder of Pragmatic HR Consulting, says poor needs analyses can lead to training solutions concentrating on the wrong competencies or people, or the wrong training methods. 

In an article published by XpertHR, he says the ultimate goal of the training should be clear and kept in the forefront to ensure the needs analysis remains on the right path.

Steps to conduct a proper needs analysis include: determining the desired business outcome, linking the outcome with employee behaviour and identifying trainable competencies.

Other steps include evaluating competencies, determining the performance gaps, prioritising the training needs, deciding how to train (for example on the job, in the classroom or coaching) and doing a cost-benefit analysis.

Chapman says there are several factors which inhibit “learning transfers”. Many employees are discouraged from showing initiative in an “overly hierarchical” or even hostile workplace. 

They are not overly enthusiastic about training when they are confronted by an unresponsive line manager or when they are being “sheep-dipped” through “perfunctory and generic” skills-induction courses. 

According to Chapman, learning transfers are enhanced by a proper fit between the training design and the organisation’s needs. Part of the learning process for employees is to formulate a personal development plan:

- Identify the three things you found most useful during the course and why;

- Commit yourself to something that will make the biggest difference to your performance; and

- Identify ways in which your line manager can assist you in fulfilling your plan.

Employees are more likely to absorb the impact of the training if their line manager’s attitude is positive and participatory and if the business culture in their workplaces supports continued learning.

This article originally appeared in the 15 March edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot