Why Training Programs Fail: Unravelling the Common Issues of Training

We have seen countless training programs. Many programs fail; some succeed, barely. Based on our wealth of experience in corporate training and Organizational Change Management (OCM), we understand what works and what does not. This is the first part of a blog series with a formula to get the best out of your training programs.  

A staggering $100 billion was spent on training initiatives during 2022-2023 according to the 2023 Industry Training Report. Yet issues with organizational change, building capabilities, and productivity persists.

Business leaders in IT, HR, CapEx and more only get value from well-rounded training programs. Proper planning, fit-for-purpose design, and delivery excellence will provide a critical piece of the puzzle in successful projects and strategic initiatives.

Before any training begins, it is important for staff to be prepared for the impeding change of a new process. OCM and its associated training programs play a significant role in this transformation. The right OCM practice can help people want to learn, align trainings with project objectives, reinforce new skills attained, and comprehensively measure success.

According to multiple findings, the corporate training ecosystem has a lot of room for improvement. Here are some numbers that stand out:

  • A long-standing research project commissioned by Middlesex University in the UK indicated that 74% of a sample of 4,300 workers felt that they were not achieving their full potential at work due to a lack of development opportunities.
  • A 2022 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey report found that companies with fewer than 100 employees gave only 12 minutes of manager training every six months, while organizations with 100 – 500 employees provided just 6 minutes.
  • Gartner states that only 20% of employees have the required skills to perform their current and future roles.

With the limited time allocated for training, it is crucial to ensure that what is learnt is absorbed to the maximum extent possible. However, we have witnessed organizations face a few common issues in their pursuit for the optimal training.

Issue #1: Unclear Training Objectives

Many training programs often try the one-size-fits-all method which falls short in delivering impactful learning outcomes. Such basic and boring project trainings fall through the cracks and result in delayed or unfulfilled project deliverables. Training sessions should be tailored based on the specific needs and availability of the participants. The primary goal of these sessions is to impart knowledge or facilitate the acquisition of new skills that are directly related to the participants’ daily tasks. For instance, a project scheduler might receive training on the latest features of their scheduling software and have constant feedback on their software usage progress. If the training is not measured with the right metrics, the employee will leave several gaps in project deliverables.

Organizations fall short of their potential when they fail to strategically design their program structures, relying instead on an assumption that the existing mix of projects will continue indefinitely. Neglecting the gradual development of skills will prove detrimental, particularly in the context of long-term objectives like digital transformation as employees will need a pool of skills that are future proof. Similarly, individual projects frequently suffer when organizations succumb to pressure and hastily accept tasks without proper evaluation. This rushed approach, especially evident in ventures involving modern technologies, execution strategies, or geographical expansions, results in overlooked skill gaps and inadequate workforce development initiatives. Consequently, projects are more prone to inaccuracies, delays, and budget overruns, hampering overall organizational effectiveness.

Issue #2: Terrible Timing

Project-related trainings are mostly scheduled around system go-live dates, while performance management training is usually coordinated with the availability of the training group. However, the optimal timing for both types of training needs is frequently overlooked. For example, performance management training, such as improving meeting facilitation, might be conducted in a single day but not applied until several months later. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the most appropriate timing for a training application in the workplace.

It might seem logical to equip employees with the necessary skills right before they start using the new system. However, the flaw in this approach becomes evident when considering the learning curve associated with any new technology or process in relation to the complexity of the task. Complex training sessions conducted too close to the implementation date suffer from rushed delivery and limited absorption by participants. Employees may feel overwhelmed by the impending go-live deadline, leaving them with little mental bandwidth to fully engage with the training material. As a result, while they may grasp the basics during the sessions, retaining and applying that knowledge in a real-world setting becomes a challenge. A well-timed project training with a high-level of complexity should account for the time needed based on the current knowledge and skill levels of employees.

Issue #3: Forgetting What Was Learnt

The effectiveness of training is regularly undermined by one fundamental human trait: forgetfulness. Consider a common workplace scenario: a project team diligently works through the development phase of a new HR system, collecting end-user requirements and performing unit and end-to-end testing. The team is on track to hit their planned go-live date. They schedule training across the enterprise one week before the go-live date. The training sessions are insightful and useful, and everyone leaves with the confidence that they can navigate the new HR system with ease.

Fast forward a few months, and an employee is looking to submit a vacation request for the first time in the new HR system. Despite the training, they struggle to remember how to access the HR application, where the menu icon for vacation is located, and even how to input their vacation request. The training they received has long receded in their memory. While user guides and SOPs are available, their location becomes another piece of forgotten information. This predicament is not a reflection of the quality of the training provided but is a fundamental truth that forgetting is an inherent aspect of human cognition.

The insights garnered from these issues compel us to delve deeper into the variables influencing training effectiveness. Only by understanding these nuances can we break down the actionable steps to creating or optimizing training programs.

About Dokainish & Company

The capital project landscape is impacted with billions of dollars lost from cost overruns. Dokainish & Company stands out with a track record of building award-winning PMOs and lowering cost overages up to 200% on projects in energy, infrastructure, mining, construction, defense, and more. We are the category leaders in project controls and technology consulting. We are ISO 9001:2015 certified, minority owned, and maintain a 97% rate of client retention. We provide integrated project controls, project management, and change management services. Learn more at dokainish.com and follow @Dokainish&Company.