Navigating business grows more complicated every day. The experienced workforce of baby boomers is retiring and taking their knowledge with it while many remaining employees lack the skills that come from decades of work experience. As the pace of technology continues to accelerate, companies are forced to become more agile when it comes to training — or face challenges that can stall business operations.
Companies struggling with maintaining a skilled workforce can solve these challenges with an approach known as transformational training. Developed by Peter Drucker in 1999, transformational training is based on the notion that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers is the most important contribution managers can make in the 21st century. To date, organizations have largely failed at this task, with Gartner research finding that 70% of employees have not mastered the skills they need to do their job.
From lack of engagement to lack of follow-up, training fails for a number of reasons. Ultimately, however, it does so because companies provide the wrong training at the wrong time in the wrong way. By following the guidelines of transformational training, businesses can actionably improve training to better support knowledge workers.
Letting Go of Past Training Models
When most people think of training, they think of the “sage on the stage” classroom, where an educator provides information in front of rows of trainees through a PowerPoint presentation. After a week or so of training, employees may complete an assessment or they use the information in a test environment for a day. At the end of the training, they return to their job, where their manager expects them to be fully trained. This kind of training is ineffective, because it does not capture learners’ interest and attempts to be a one-size-fits-all experience.
On the other hand, transformational training uses methods that are more engaging and learner-centric, enabling employees to learn on their own through training that is continuous and encourages discovery. It is focused on enabling employees through targeted training and accessible, on-demand information at the point of need. This approach includes giving learners micro-lessons rather than a traditional 40- to 60-minute lesson.
Retaining Information With Repetition and Accessibility
Under the traditional training model, learners receive information about an entire process at one time, whether or not they will perform the entire process as part of their job. The danger with this approach is that employees might not know how to determine what is and isn’t relevant to their job. This information overload is a fundamental shortcoming of traditional training.
Learning techniques like spaced repetition, which spreads learning out over time, can counter some of employees’ learning loss. It takes advantage of the spacing effect, a psychological theory positing that long-term memory is enhanced when events are spaced over time. In fact, we can remember about 80% of what we learn after 60 days with repeated exposure.
Unlike traditional training, transformational training does not overload learners with extraneous details while they are trying to learn and remember a process. Rather, it gives them the micro-lessons modern learners prefer and is designed to provide them with the opportunity for repeated use to increase retention.
Aligning Training and Business Strategies
For Drucker, transformational training requires a transformational culture in which training and corporate strategies align. Training cannot be just about teaching a skill; it has to be about enabling employees to perform at a higher level. Most corporate cultures have evolved without regard to learning and treat training as an add-on to business strategies.
The truth is that some business goals are not attainable without a change in training strategies. It’s difficult to increase sales of a product line, for example, if information about it is not accessible to the people selling it. Similarly, training strategies that are not aligned may use resources that do not support the business strategy. If the strategies are aligned, training becomes a powerful contributor to the corporate culture.
Once the training and business strategies are aligned, the best way to take advantage of transformational training is to bring training to the employee. In other words, organizations should prepare information for display on multiple devices and in different formats. Beyond desks, many employees work in the field, on the road and, sometimes, in places without access to wireless internet. Providing employees with a variety of options makes content readily accessible and makes it easier for learners to integrate practice into their workflow, no matter where they are.
Furthermore, providing employees with the ability to find the resources they need on multiple devices means less disruption in their workday. When sales information is available on a tablet, for example, sales staff can quickly answer customer questions on the exhibitor floor of a conference without needing to say, “I’ll get back to you on that” — enabling them to continue the conversation.
According to Drucker, employee knowledge is a company’s most valuable asset and the most underused, making it imperative for today’s organizations to transform their training programs in order to increase the productivity of their knowledge workers. Applying transformational training practices enables organizations to empower their employees with the information they need, when they need it, ultimately driving business outcomes.