Top five training myths

In my 25 years in the training business, I can’t say I’ve heard it all, but I’ve certainly heard a lot, especially when it comes to the numerous myths about training.

In this column, I have assembled the five training myths that I hear most often.

MYTH #1

Training is an expense we have to learn to do without.

Fact: Those who proclaim this are usually looking at two things: the dollar amount budgeted for training and the time/productivity loss for employees to attend the training.

Unfortunately, few do the follow-up evaluations needed to truly measure the training’s effectiveness.

“Smile sheet” surveys immediately following the training are not enough. Periodic empirical measurements, observations of behaviors and organizational improvement studies are needed.

Most companies who do make the effort to perform these higher level evaluations see training as an investment rather than a cost.

For example, Motorola invests about 7 percent of its payroll in training and has averaged a 20 percent productivity improvement over the last four years.

Their competitors who train less, conversely, have averaged two to five percent increases in productivity. (Source: The Sales Alliance, Inc.)

MYTH #2

Younger employees prefer eLearning and new media delivery methods to classroom training.

Fact: While younger employees are more apt to accept media-based training, the majority still prefer to be trained in classroom/hands-on settings. Many say they are able to focus more on learning in an off-site setting with interaction as part of the training.

This does not mean younger audiences will tolerate the old, boring lecture-based training that those in my generation have gotten used to.

Well-designed courses and course materials are perhaps even more important when training younger workers.

MYTH #3

If you dedicate your resources to recruiting and hiring the best people, you don’t need to do as much training.

Fact: Even the most experienced employees still need training. Training is needed for new products, new tools and new company policies, of course, but refresher training to sharpen work practices is a plus, too.

Also, experienced employees usually benefit the most from training because they have learned how to put it into practice on the job.

Even the most experienced athletes get coaching and training. Being a seasoned bowler (with eight sanctioned 300 games, I’m proud to say), I often get funny looks from fellow league members when I talk about needing coaching.

I tell them to watch the pros on TV. “See that guy they’re talking to coming out of a commercial break?” I ask them. “That’s his coach, and these are the best, most experienced bowlers in the world.”

MYTH #4

Only 10 to 20 percent of training content transfers to the job.

Fact: The truth is the transfer figure varies greatly, based on the type of training in question. Training more geared to skills transfer will have more on-the-job relevance than that which is more educational in nature.

Interestingly, a study by Dr. Laurie Bassi tracks down the origins of this figure in multiple publications where it is mentioned. It turns out that the 10 to 20 percent figure is most often based on an answer some “expert” gave in an interview, rather than a scientifically valid study. (Source: nwlink.com.)

Bassi is a leading authority on the emerging “decision-science” of human capital management - the processes and practices within an organization that align the management and development of employees with its business results.

A scientific study, “An Investigation of Training Activities and Transfer Of Training in Organizations,” done by Sacs & Belcourt in 2006, found an initial transfer rate of 62 percent, though that number declines over time on-the-job without reinforcement.

MYTH #5

When employees are not performing, we need more training to fix the problem.

FACT: After all I’ve said to back up the need for robust training strategies, this myth may seem contradictory, but it really is not. Training is very often part of the solution, but not the entire solution.

Lack of motivation, working conditions, lack of the necessary tools and information, company policies and politics and many other factors can affect employee performance.

These must be filtered out to determine the skill and knowledge gaps that can truly be addressed through training.

Stephen Howe is employed as a field trainer by United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, with approximately 600 locations in North America and an a rental fleet worth more than $3.5 billion. He is a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council - a global non-profit organization dedicated to sharing best practices and recognizing outstanding training in the automotive and heavy vehicle industries.

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