Unlike fine wine, training programs rarely age well. While experience and accumulated data can be useful, many training programs fall into the trap of complacency, which leads to outdated, inconsistent content and unproductive employees.

Employee training often gets a bad reputation for being time-consuming and costly. But most executives fail to consider the costs associated with an ineffective training program. It’s important to remember that training programs are an essential investment in product quality, building company culture, and promoting a safe work environment.

We’ve all heard horror stories of company crises that resulted from failing to adequately train employees. Before your organization winds up in a bad situation, you should identify red flags that indicate your training needs refreshing.

Companies lose sight of the importance of training when they prioritize profits over virtually everything else. This mindset can lead to cutting corners on seemingly less critical priorities like safety training, exposing you to serious liability and production issues.

Some other examples of red flags to watch for include:

  • Poor retention of employees, especially new ones.
  • Exit survey data that reveals frustration with training.
  • Low employee productivity.
  • Spikes in incidents and near misses.
  • Low employee engagement.

Before you can update and improve your training programs, you have to identify the current issues that need addressing. Below are a few indicators of ineffective training.

Outdated Content:  It may sound obvious that companies need to keep their training content updated, but we’ve actually seen examples of work instructions from the 1970s still being used. That doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook if you’re training isn’t that old. As processes, policies and regulations evolve, always stay on top of things by reviewing and refreshing your training portfolio regularly. To ensure you’re up-to-date on the latest internal processes, set up a process to document on-the-job training.

Ineffective Material:  Employees with specialized expertise are critical to providing the content needed for good training, but that doesn’t mean they’re adept at designing training programs. Subject matter experts often know their topics a little too well. They have trouble conveying information in a way that’s easily understandable for new hires or workers who are cross training. Always make sure training is designed with the learner being top of mind

Inconsistency: Training is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Some topics are ideal for the classroom or eLearning, while others must be covered where the work happens. Always work to align the audience, the topics, and the objectives with the most appropriate training format. But also make sure to provide a consistent experience and messaging between different formats.

One process that can hinder consistency is the buddy system for on-the-job training. While it brings several benefits to new employees trying to get a lay of the land, workers often hand down bad habits they learned that could impact safety and productivity. Providing standard materials, processes, and clear expectations for job shadow buddies can go a long way in preventing this situation.

Downplayed Importance  Another practice that can convey the wrong message about the importance of training is making it a low priority that gets pushed to the end of the quarter or year. Training comes across as a check-the-box versus the business-critical initiative it should be.

Limited Languages:  If employees speak multiple languages in your workplace, multilingual training can show workers you care about them by training in their native language.

Poorly Prepared Facilitators: Facilitators who are not well prepared and engaged can have a hugely negative impact on the learner experience. Again, subject matter experts (SMEs_ are the best at what they do, But they might not be interested in or equipped to facilitate training. On the other hand, facilitators who have little knowledge of the material can also impact the learner experience because they may not respond to subject-specific questions. It’s important to find facilitators who thread that needle and make sure their job responsibilities carve out time for training.

Now that you’ve identified training issues that need to be addressed, it’s time to take the steps necessary to build an effective – as well as efficient – training program. The first step in the process is to make sure you’re solving the correct problem. Start with a needs assessment.

By conducting a thorough needs assessment, organizations can choose the correct format and identify the gaps between current and required employee performance and satisfaction. Next, evaluate your objectives to ensure all training is not only useful but applicable to the company’s overall business goals, such as machine uptime, process improvements or productivity gains.

It’s also important when designing training programs to create opportunities for employees to practice what they’ve learned through role-play exercises and buddy teams. Organizations should set up processes such as assessments, evaluations and on-the-floor observations to allow employees to demonstrate proficiency.

The best way to constantly improve training is to set up feedback loops to make sure employees and facilitators have opportunities to make suggested improvements to training content, facilitators and their overall learning experience.

But if you’re adopting new strategies to reboot your training program, how do you know it’s time and money well spent? Assuming you’ve linked training objectives to your business results, you can feel confident that it’s moving the needle for the company’s bottom line. By carefully tracking activity, trends, and results over time and incorporating learnings from the feedback loop, your training program will improve along the way.

But don’t lose sight of two of the most important steps: making sure people across the company are kept up-to-speed on the progress and celebrating success.

Show the return on learning by generating tailored reports on how things are improving and highlighting how the program impacts various internal audiences. Also, make it a priority to call out employees who have completed and excelled at training courses and celebrate with the whole company when training milestones are achieved. This not only boosts morale but encourages even more interest and participation in future training, as well as helping to elevate the overall importance of training to the organization.

Bad training can cause big problems in the long run and could severely dent your bottom line. By making time to assess your current training program and taking the steps needed to ensure effective training is being developed, you can feel confident that your investments are not just justified but absolutely essential to achieving their business goals.