You’re Wasting Money on Training

I want to spend my time designing and delivering great interventions that help individuals and organizations get even better at what they do. So we need to find a way of building in the way we measure success to the actual interventions. Here’s how.

Do you know how much money you’re wasting on training? Probably not. Not because it’s impossible but because it’s so expensive to find out that we don’t bother. But we know it’s a lot. Everyone says so, and we just feel it to be true.

If you stand, as I do, in front of people and show them the “forgetting curve” proposed by Ebbinghaus, you will always gets of audience reaction as they nod their heads and tell the person next to them that it’s true; that they’ve noticed in themselves and others that people take training courses, but nothing much changes in their daily work life as a result. But if behavior isn’t changed, what’s the point of a training course (unless it’s to provide a nice buffet lunch and maybe a bit of cross-silo networking)?

So we could and possibly should find out how much of training is wasted, but we’re not going to because it’s expensive. We know it’s a lot but we don’t know how much because finding out might cost even more! I’m OK with that, to be honest. We can assess the ROI of any training intervention —we know how to do it—but that takes time and energy and money, and I don’t want to spend my time managing data and trying to prove the value we create. And clients don’t want to pay for it. Instead, I want to spend my time designing and delivering great interventions that help individuals and organizations get even better at what they do. And clients want training and coaching that is effective. So we need to find a way of building in the way we measure success to the actual interventions. And we can do that in all kinds of ways.

Interrupt the Forgetting Curve

Instead of looking at ROI or trying to find out what money is wasted, we instead should sort out the training we do. We know how to embed learning or how to “make it sticky.” We know what kind of interventions interrupt the forgetting curve, and we should be looking for them in the training courses we assess.

Does your training, for example, provide written tests? If not, then why not? Of course, you can’t assess skills, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t assess knowledge.

Do you provide follow-up materials and opportunities to practice and get feedback once participants return to their daily work life? Do you make this easy? And even interesting?

Do you constantly talk about real-life examples and encourage participants to be skeptical and to push back against what they are being told, asking “what if?”

If you are collecting data, does your provider treat your data with respect—not adding your people to spam lists about other things you “might be interested in” but instead sending useful and content- filled communication at an appropriate time? And do they share this data with you so you can see how you’re doing compared with others when it comes to seeing a real change in behavior?

Much of this can be done without any serious cost for the client, and the technology exists to do much more. One thing we’ve used in our HardTalk program is a platform called Rehearsal. This allows participants to video themselves using the HardTalk skills and get feedback from their HardTalk coach. In fact, it’s so important we make it a prerequisite of the program that participants do this before they are certified HardTalkers.

The Importance of a Certificate

This brings us to certification. This is often seen as a sign of quality, and it certainly can be. I’m pleased that HardTalk is certified by KHDA, but I don’t think that’s what makes clients trust it. I believe that is a result of reputation, a clear understanding of the content, and a need for a solution to a problem that holds back most teams—how to have the difficult conversations that feel bad in the short term but make the biggest difference in the long term.

But gaining a certificate is important to many of us—it’s “gamification” before the term became coined. And its ability to motivate should not be underestimated. When we work hard for something and that is recognized, then it’s of value. What is not of value is an “attendance certificate” or a certificate from an organization that is less than transparent.

Sometimes Training Isn’t the Answer

Even if your training is certified, delivered by qualified people, and incorporates every strategy known to make it “sticky,” it is still possible it simply doesn’t work.

This isn’t because people are stupid or because they don’t need the training or don’t want it, but rather because we don’t prepare the ground for the training. Instead, we see a problem—a gap in performance—and we immediately go to training or, sometimes, coaching as the answer. These can, of course, be helpful, but before you spend your money, your time, your energy, and your political capital (not to mention spending the time of all the people who aren’t at work because they’re at training), please make sure there are no impossible barriers. Spend just a small amount of time on really looking at the environment in which people work in all its aspects and ask yourself if there are other things that need to be addressed before the training. And why this is such an uncomfortable question.

We’re very interested in how people learn—and accept, process, and use new information—because we spend a lot of time teaching them things! If you’d like to talk about this or anything else related to people in the workplace, e-mail me at:

Dawn Metcalfe is an executive coach, facilitator, trainer, and leadership advisor. She is also the author of Managing the Matrix (published in both English and Arabic) and Hard Talk™. Metcalfe is the founder of Dubai-based PDSi, which helps individuals and teams get even better at what they do, and has worked with business leaders around the world to change the way they see the world, their behavior, and their impact on others. Her insights and straight-talking approach have kept her in demand from large multinationals and government entities, across the Middle East, over the last 10 years. Metcalfe’s latest project, HardTalk, is an innovative program designed to help people get better at having the difficult conversations needed for success. For testimonials,  click here. You can read more articles from Metcalfe and her team and hear what they say on the radio. Stay in touch and hear more about this and other topics via LinkedIn or Twitter . Or book Metcalfe for a consultation or event with one click.


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