Over the years, the challenges training and development (T&D) professionals describe haven’t changed much. That says a few things to me: They don’t seem to understand their role, their approaches haven’t reduced or eliminated the challenges, and they continue using the same strategies regardless of new classroom technologies.

T&D professionals are talented people. They are educated and articulate and generally have above-average platform skills. An increasing number of them have skills in analytics, mentoring and curriculum development. Still, a client of mine who is the training director for a mid-size aerospace company recently said to me, “Our continuing challenge is justifying our existence.”

Lacking the full commitment of senior leadership, T&D professionals work on designing long-lived sustainable programs. When profit motives drive them to work quickly, cheaply and efficiently, they confirm and continue the organization’s status quo: Their value lies in creating and distributing new three-ring binders.

It’s Time for Some Disruption

My client Karen, a director of training for a large food processing firm, feared that her department couldn’t handle accelerating needs. Contemporary and global businesses like Karen’s present some sizable problems for T&D. They must:

  • Satisfy larger, more diverse and more scattered employees.
  • Bridge time zones and cultural differences.
  • Reach employees with shortening attention spans and related education.
  • Deal with broad differences in age-related values and work ethics.

I empathize with them, but my research indicates they may be missing a major point. T&D professionals speak of difficulties in engaging employee learners. To fix the problem, they focus on strengthening presentation skills, gamifying e-learning and creating entertaining ideas. They spend time developing content and testing platform methodologies. Managers drive T&D staff to expand their training portfolios and integrate tech tools and devices.

A more effective, engaging approach incorporates trainees as stakeholder-customers. It invites them to review, revise and reconfigure the training in its development.

Disengaged employees hurt workforce productivity. However, throwing training at them is not the solution. There is always a need to share product news and specs, but my research shows that employee engagement requires the development and communication of the organization as an environment worth their work.

Employees work more willingly and happily in a place where psychological safety enables a comfortable and inviting climate and community. For example, the camaraderie employees enjoy among their teams and squads reflects the unconditional respect they have for each other’s work. T&D professionals should expand that same emotional connectedness to employees’ relationships with managers and customers.

Employees need and respond to training that stresses relationships, paths to achievement and ways to connect with customers. In my new book, “In Great Company,” I define emotional connectedness as “the sense of belonging that people feel when they see that their work positively impacts organizational outcomes and matters to their managers, colleagues and the wider world. It is the motivating sense of satisfaction and intellectual alignment that results from feeling appreciated and part of a purpose that people believe in and have in common with colleagues.”

If T&D is to communicate and sustain an engaging environment, it must value its trainees in new ways. If they are to serve customers, if they are to support corporate objectives, if they are to collaborate effectively, learners must assist with training’s creation and deployment. If they have some ownership of the training, it gives them ownership in its outcomes.

It’s Time for Something New

  • Secure the enthusiastic commitment of C-suite partners.
  • Set clear goals in language and media that everyone can get their hands around.
  • Issue no training without acknowledged employee contributions.
  • Use employees as reverse mentors.
  • Develop curricula to enable self-pacing toward tangible recognition.
  • Focus on program units requiring teamwork and co-collaboration.
  • Solicit feedback at the end of any training unit or package.
  • Allow trainees to advise on the determination of measures and KPIs.
  • Design employee/customer exercises, and invite customers to participate.
  • Separate T&D accountability from that of the human resources department.

As social animals, we have an innate desire to establish and maintain close ties with each other. Forming those ties is easier in a psychologically safe environment where each person can share ideas, opinions and problems. It’s a place where employees feel free to identify and collaborate on solutions. And, it’s a center that encourages them to build sustaining customer relationships.

The positive news is emotionally connected employees remain in their jobs longer, perform better and connect more deeply with customers. Organizations can take these outcomes to the bank with proof that the top-performing businesses boast a climate and culture of connected employees.