The Five Common Pitfalls in Training (And How to Avoid Them)

As we move forward into this fourth industrial revolution, as a society, we have the opportunity to create a better and brighter future through advancements in manufacturing. One of the essential elements in building that better future is the need to effectively and efficiently train employees, whether they’re new to your business and processes or perhaps simply because your business is changing.

That being said, there are a number of common flaws in training that can hold your business back that you’ll want to avoid as you upskill or elevate the knowledge of your workforce. Read on to learn what the five common pitfalls in training are and how you can avoid them.

Before we start, let’s walk through what good training looks like. If the learner has retained the information, learned the skills, and demonstrated competencies (or changed behaviors), those are strong signs of effective training. An additional sign is whether the learners can take their training and apply that knowledge to different situations. So, what’s the most direct way to determine if your training has achieved these results? Ultimately, it comes down to return on investment. Are you seeing increased production? Reduced turnover? Fewer mistakes, resulting in less downtime, and less scrapped material? Fewer (or no) injuries? Simply put, is your bottom line improved? If so, that’s a pretty good indicator that your training strategy is on point.

Now that we know what we’re striving towards, let’s break down those five pitfalls of bad training, as well as how to steer clear of these productivity killers.

Pitfall #1: “Clearly, They Need More Training”

This quick-trigger response is common when performance issues arise. In many cases, it can be true. However, often the appropriate response to this is, “are you sure?” It is important to challenge the thought process that more training will solve all problems. Companies should reassess their needs before jumping into training development.

Imagine a company with multiple shifts, in which one shift is consistently falling behind the others. Clearly, there is a performance issue of some kind with that shift. Many operations managers, in this instance, would leap to the conclusion that more training for that shift is the answer. But what if there are other factors hindering performance? Perhaps the employees are not informed on the expectations and standards they are measured against, or they are not being provided with timely feedback.

Is it possible that the “problem shift” does not have access to the same resources as other shifts—be it tools, systems, experts, or otherwise? Is there some sort of motivation issue on that shift causing negative moods or a lack of confidence? Could there be other unidentified constraints preventing that shift from having the capacity to perform? If some of these factors are in play, training may not be the best solution. Environmental factors could very well be limiting performance—not a gap in knowledge or skills—and addressing those is a better use of your time.

Pitfall #2: The Afterthought Effect

Somewhat in contrast to #1, the next pitfall is “The Afterthought Effect”, in which companies think of training far too late in the game. Every year, businesses invest millions of dollars in projects that are doomed to fail because they overlook the importance of proactively developing training programs to support the achievement of their goals. Ample time and attention to training is needed to ensure that the investment in every project is worthwhile. Too often, the focus during a new project becomes reaching the “finish line” instead of ensuring the long-term success of the initiative.

The next time your business identifies a new initiative, make sure that while you are still in the planning stage, you consider if the project requires any changes in knowledge, skills, or behaviors. Then develop a training plan around those areas. This should allow you time to put together a comprehensive training plan that prevents frustration from employees and gives you a much better chance of your investment paying off in the end.

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Pitfall #3: “I Told Them How to Do It… Why Don’t They Get It?”

This pitfall appears when businesses don’t understand what effective training actually is. Some businesses operate under the impression that training is simply a matter of “show and tell.” Training is much more involved than telling the learners what they need to do or handing them a handbook. Showing the learners what to do is helpful, but it’s still not enough. Demonstrations and instruction materials are good elements to include under a comprehensive training program, but one of the key aspects that cannot be forgotten is that learners need practice to learn a new skill or change a behavior.

Training, just like the actual job employees are training for, should be performance-based. The more that learning is tied to something that matters to the learner, the more likely it is that the learning will stick. Timely feedback is also a key part of training. Remember, in training, you want to Tell, Show, let the learner Do, and then Review. Cutting corners in training and expecting optimal results from your employees is unrealistic for your business, and unfair to your employees.

Pitfall #4: The Firehose Method

As you may gather from the name, this pitfall is about companies thinking that they can cram all the necessary training into one extremely long session… in essence, blasting the learners with an overwhelming wave of new knowledge and skills. Companies often opt for this type of method because it appears more cost-effective than breaking up the training over time. However, a lengthy and ineffective training session is more costly in the long term. Putting extensive resources into a several hour/day/week-long program can be physically exhausting, and even more mentally taxing, to the learners. Knowledge retention falls off drastically after long periods of learning.

A better method is to provide smaller chunks of information over time—with feedback loops to ensure each segment of training is being learned—and giving the learners time before moving on to the next skill. Let the trainees absorb a skill, practice it, perfect it, and ultimately internalize the skill before overwhelming them with an entirely new skill set. Obviously, the amount of information and time spent practicing a new skill depends on the actual skill being learned, but the important part is to remember to “scaffold” the learning into manageable steps in order to provide more effective training.

Pitfall #5: The “Sheldon Cooper” Delusion

The final common pitfall is the fallacy that training can be refined to a single event, as opposed to an ongoing process. Many companies throw employees into a training program several months before the information is relevant to the employee. When the new training skills are finally needed, employers tend to expect the learners to have perfect, instant recall of the training that took place possibly six months prior. Unless the employees have eidetic memories (like Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory”), this is an ineffective training method. There is a definite balance that needs to be found between too early, too late, too little, and too much.

Map the Pitfalls, Then Work Around Them

In conclusion, let’s review why these training pitfalls can be dangerous to your business:

  • You cannot expect to deliver training long before new skills become relevant to the learners, and assume they will take off running with the new equipment or processes when the time comes (Pitfall #5).
  • You also do not want to put training off until it’s too late (Pitfall #2) and feel forced into blasting your employees with the needed information (Pitfall #4) to stay on top of things. Find the sweet spot that blends preparation, segmented learning, and feedback periods with your employees.
  • On the flip side, you also should not expect learners to be fully competent just because they were toldhow to perform their new tasks (Pitfall #3).
  • If you detect a problem, ensure that your trainees have the resources they need to perform up to expectations before defaulting to additional training (Pitfall #1).

Keep these training pitfalls in mind when you begin your next big project, to ensure that you are not wasting time and money on your training programs. It will no doubt lead your employees and your company to a much more knowledgeable and profitable future!

Have questions or need help with your training? We’d love to hear them! Reach out to chat.

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