Globally, companies spent $362.2 billion on training in 2017, up from $359.3 billion the year before. With expenditures on the rise, it becomes even more important to make sure that training delivers a return on investment by creating long-term positive change. Here are six ways to improve the impact of training initiatives.

1. Train More People.

As you determine the scope of training, including more participants often provides better results than training only one group, department or division. Change is difficult enough as it is, but it’s even harder in a vacuum. A small group working to make changes inside a larger organization can meet resistance when others are unaware of changes or are surprised by new behaviors – or when new behaviors conflict with existing policies.

2. Customize the Content.

Training is more likely to stick if the content is customized to the needs of participants. Off-the-shelf training isn’t as effective, especially for hard-to-quantify soft skills like leadership and communication. As you select trainers, make sure that you have insights into the needs of the departments being trained. It’s helpful to involve the department heads in conversations with trainers you are considering to ensure that the training will align with their expectations.

3. Cultivate Buy-In.

You can’t teach someone what he or she doesn’t want to learn. When training is mandatory, but leaders don’t generate buy-in, the likely result is resentment and even efforts to undermine the training. For example, if an employee believes that he doesn’t need the mandatory training or that he doesn’t have time for the training, he might look (deliberately or subconsciously) for reasons that the training “didn’t work,” so that he can be “right.”

For maximum success, employees should agree that the topic of the training is an issue that affects the team, believe that the training will have benefits for them and want to experience those benefits. There are many ways to uncover attitudes and generate buy-in, including team conversations, a pre-training introduction to the material, formal or informal needs assessments, and asking for input when selecting a solution. An experienced trainer will discuss these options in your conversations.

4. Enlist Leaders as Role Models.

To head off any employee complaints that the training is not needed, it helps to have leaders talk openly about how they could make improvements in the area being addressed. This discussion creates a safe space for employees to admit to their own skills gaps and embrace the learning with an open mind.

In the same way, when leaders participate fully during the training, they set a positive and open tone for learning to occur. After the training, leaders can help make changes stick by creating accountability and modeling those changes.

5. Include Hands-On Practice.

Any training session should give participants the tools they need to start making changes, but if they’re left on their own to implement those tools, they will probably never find the time and, thus, never change. It’s better if the trainer includes hands-on learning during the training itself, so participants are ready to hit the ground running when they’re back on the job.

6. Examine the Overall Culture.

Finally, any training will have a bigger impact when its lessons become a part of the organizational culture. Make the language of the training part of the language of the organization, and incorporate learning objectives from the training into individual goals and/or performance reviews.

Training may even spur the need for a deeper examination of your work culture. Sometimes, the problems the training is intended to remedy can be symptoms of a culture problem. In that case, training can’t lead to lasting change until the larger culture issues are addressed. For example, the benefits of productivity training will be curtailed if an organization’s culture emphasizes quick responses to all communications. Constant connectivity to communication channels and undistracted thinking time for high-impact work are not compatible. Your trainer should be interested in uncovering these conflicts so they don’t become a barrier to effective training.

The bottom line is that simply carrying out training is no guarantee of lasting results. By partnering with the right trainer in following these strategies before, during and after training, you can help the desired changes take root and realize maximum return on your training investment.

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