Learning & Development

Breaking the Cycle of Bad Training

Companies have been following a broken training system for a long time now. They recruit and hire top talent, spend hours and money training, and then focus on upskilling the existing workforce. But when the desired results don’t follow all that and even more, the desired change in behavior doesn’t occur, and organizations go back to the beginning and start the cycle all over again with new people.

Adding to this C-suite frustration and making matters worse, students, both in school and in business, typically forget whatever they were taught with incredible speed. This is often dubbed the “forgetting curve,” with various sources indicating that 75% of what is taught is forgotten within days of training. Think about it: Do you remember the lessons in your trigonometry classes? Or did you remember just enough to pass the test and class and then move on?

A Broken System

Traditional training doesn’t work despite enormous amounts of investment by companies in it, and it really doesn’t work when applied to complex jobs. In these intricate careers, learning actually occurs from actively doing the job in question. You don’t get taught how to play baseball in a classroom. You have to go out and learn by playing it, with hours at the batting cages, playing catch until the sun goes down, and even taking a few errant ground balls to the face in the process. When commercial teams have to solve complex business problems for customers, they are not taught how to do it. Instead, they are forced to learn by actively coming together as a unit and solving the problem with the full support of their team.  

It’s Not What You Know But How You Know

More often than not, organizations are too focused on training specific content and programs rather than the students and their actual development to work with others on a team. It’s very similar to companies being too focused on their own products and not the customer’s needs as the design point for sales conversations. Businesses exist to create a profit for shareholders, and that means managing and growing customer relationships. This is a complex job! It requires more human muscles than automated, robotic skills. 

For example, curiosity, empathy, intuition, listening, and communicating are more important than knowledge of a particular widget or interface when problem-solving. Why? Because knowledge is only valuable within the situational context of a customer and when it is combined with other perspectives that represent a complete view of the problem in the first place. It’s not what you know; it’s how you use that knowledge with who you know. The knee-jerk reaction in business is typically to recommend a solution without truly understanding the problem because there is a lack of curiosity and empathy that would easily lead to creative solutions. And when anxiety around deadlines and performance kicks in, creativity in problem-solving unfortunately takes a back seat when it should be at the wheel.

Learn to Do

What do sales and account management have to do with training? Traditional training is about learning to know instead of learning to do. You are taught something that becomes the answer when you should be learning how to solve problems with the right answer. Being able to work on a team and integrate multiple perspectives into a complete view of a problem before solving it as a team requires an entirely different approach to learning. Training needs to change to being experiential as a journey of learning through active participation in practicing and doing the desired behavior. Learning by doing is the simple design point change of looking at where a student is in his or her learning journey and exposing the student to the active participation of applying, in practice, the very behavior being taught. 

Shifting the focus from the curriculum to the students, from just skills to muscles, and from classrooms to experiences that engage the students is the future of how to break the cycle of bad training. To make the shift from the “sage on the stage,” organizations should step back and refocus on what truly makes a difference in their end goals. It’s a new frontier of moving from what doesn’t work to something that does, and it starts with changing the mindset from teacher to student. After all, being lifelong learners is something we should all aspire to.

Dave Irwin is CEO & Founder of Polaris I/O.

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