How to Make Your Employee Training Transformational

Training cannot be just about teaching a skill; it has to enable employees to perform at a higher level.

The last decade has been incredibly transformative for the enterprise, and the events of the last year alone have accelerated things even further. As cloud adoption makes business processes more aligned, faster, and efficient than ever before, other areas or businesses may still be struggling to catch up. In order to match the pace of change, employee training needs to lead the way, ensuring staff is able to keep up with this ever-changing landscape.

This isn’t just to benefit business outcomes. According to research, 40 percent of employees with poor training will leave a company within the first year. With so much riding on employee retention and performance, it’s time to put more emphasis on employee training than ever before.

What Is Transformational Training?

Peter Drucker was an educator and author whose writings influenced the “philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation.” More than 20 years ago, Drucker saw that businesses needed to shift toward becoming knowledge-based organizations from skills-based, but few heeded his advice. Today, knowledge drives organizations and it’s key to helping develop the skills needed for business success through effective training programs. Drucker’s approach combined training with enablement, and was one of the first to position employees—and not products—as an organizations’ assets. Failure to transform, as Drucker saw it, meant failure to thrive.

Today, business leaders finally are embracing transformational training and recognizing the value of their most important assets—employees. Many learned the hard way, as other training approaches failed due to a lack of engagement, a lack of follow-up, or worse. At its root, training fails because companies provide the wrong training at the wrong time in the wrong way. Drucker’s method features both a short- and long-term training focus as employees are given the tools to learn and the encouragement to self-manage their own upskilling, directing employees to the information they need when they need it. This creates a transformational culture, improving employee productivity by aligning training and corporate strategies. It’s a simple shift but an important one: Training cannot be just about teaching a skill; it has to enable employees to perform at a higher level.

So how do we get there? Follow these four steps:

  1. Forget the Past

The phrase, “sage of the stage,” is an old interpretation of the classroom, wherein an educator addresses rows of students. In this model, students eventually are given assessments used to judge their understanding of the material or test its application in a specific scenario. If successful, these students are able to move forward; in the case of the corporate employee, they return to the job ready to utilize their newfound skills and knowledge. It’s a model still employed today but one that is woefully outdated, as we now know that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not an effective way to train or to learn.

Instead, look to utilize models of training that are user-centric, which will help to engage employees, and available at the point of need. This means training isn’t scheduled; instead, it’s available at the moment an employee needs it. Putting the power to learn in the hands of employees improves engagement and encourages discovery. These “micro-lessons” will have more impact than a one-hour training session, and the business outcomes are immediate.

To know whether or not you’re achieving this style of learning, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my training flexible—can learners chart their own path?
  • Is learning available on-demand, allowing employees to access information when they need it?
  • Is learning content brief and focused, as opposed to long training sessions?
  • Is learning targeted to the specific task at hand?

If you answered, “Yes,” to the above, you’re well on your way to transformational training.

  1. Assess Your “Forgetting Curve”

For most organizations (and not to the fault of any one person or group), major gaps or blind spots exist within training programs. Typically, it’s a mismatch between who owns the responsibility of training and the outcomes for specialized groups often outside that ownership. As a result, employees may receive training in things that aren’t relevant to their jobs, without knowing what will or won’t be important later on.

Without responsibility sharing across internal groups (such as HR and Operations) to own training initiatives, the threat of “information overload” increases, and this can have serious consequences for employee performance.

People quickly forget what they learn. This “forgetting curve” has a rate of change based on the individual, the emotional connection to the content, or level of interest. Developed by psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, this curve may account for why we lose 75 percent of new information within six days of acquiring it. The fix? Spaced repetition. This refers to how training is structured, giving opportunity for repeated exposure to information over time to improve retention. This approach enhances long-term memory, and testing suggests it can lead to retention rates of roughly 80 percent after 60 days of repeated exposure.

One way to ensure spaced repetition is to offer learning information on multiple devices and in different forms, ensuring employees have access to it at all times, locations, and channels.

  1. Accessible + Accurate = Enablement

Finding information is usually the biggest challenge for employees. The inaccessibility of information is often due to the lack of a central repository or search functionality of digitized information (if an organization even has this material digitized). Or, if information can be found, it may be out-of-date or inaccurate, which leads to information overload.

The first thing to address is making sure information is accessible. While straightforward steps and guidelines are a mainstay, all extraneous information is managed in real time, and formatted for a knowledge management platform that is updated regularly. These extraneous materials—often the clog in the drain for training programs—may include schematics, troubleshooting details, product price sheets, etc. Once in the platform, this data should be properly tagged, giving employees the ability to find what they need, and ignore what they don’t.

The second important thing to pay attention to is accuracy. Who in your organization is monitoring materials to ensure they are still relevant and useful? One way to achieve accuracy is to solicit feedback from employees on the training, asking them to identify areas of improvement. This helps administrators improve any materials deemed outdated—ideally before the employee needs to access them while doing their job.

  1. Build a Learning Organization

Simply put, if your organization isn’t fostering a learning environment, it’s dying. This sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Today’s knowledge-based economy demands that training and business strategies are carefully aligned, with equal emphasis and importance balanced between the two. It’s important not to overlook the critical impact training has on business. Beyond creating a stronger business, employees who understand how their jobs support corporate goals are more engaged and productive.

As we have established, the traditional method of lecturer and learner no longer applies. Instead, think of instructors as guides, helping employees take ownership of their training and technology as the collaboration and communication “engine” of learning. To take it to the next level, when businesses encourage collaboration across employees, they increase opportunities to learn from each other. Thanks to remote working tools, this knowledge sharing now can span the globe.

Now Is Almost Too Late

If the approach to training outlined above doesn’t sound like your learning organization, there’s a problem. By continuing to follow the traditional training model, you not only put your business at risk of failing, you most certainly will feel the impact of employee productivity loss and could even lose talent as a result.

Promote learning. Reward learning. Make learning and training a central part of your corporate culture. As Drucker said, “If knowledge isn’t challenged to grow, it disappears fast. It’s infinitely more perishable than any other resource we have ever had.”

As we head toward the retirement of our civilization’s largest generation, it’s this accessible tactic knowledge that needs to be preserved. This knowledge comes from years of experience and must be captured before the owners of this knowledge walk out the door for good.

If you are ready to let go of the past, enable employees, and build a knowledge-based organization, by leveraging the deep expertise of the most seasoned employees, then you’re ready to transform your training. Good luck!

Gjergj Demiraj is president and CEO of Gutenberg Technology, which provides a knowledge management and distribution platform for higher education and corporations.