Training just isn’t working* article 4

Training just isn’t working* article 4

Back at article 1, we made the ‘outlandish’ claim that investment in Learning and Development across organisations is, more often than not, delivering very little by way of return. This is because the knowledge, skills and behaviours wrapped up in workshops, programmes or e-learning modules is not having the impact on individual, or collective, performance that it could have. The vast majority of learning is not being effectively captured and transferred into improvement in role.

We have spent some time looking at what we believe are the fundamentals of any service (and learning should be an immensely valuable service to individuals and organisations) that are the WHY, WHO, WHAT and HOW questions.

Now it is time to move onto some more, essential, questions which have to be focused on constantly and consistently by L&D and HR professionals.

  • How do we embed and lock-in L&D into performance as effectively as possible?
  • How can we create an environment where learning is encouraged and supported?
  • How do we create more individual accountability for ensuring learning is embedded?

We have talked a lot about the concept of ‘pull learning’ which, in essence, is passing much of the responsibility for learning to the individual and away from the internal learning teams. Clearly the more a person is really engaged with the learning, and the more they can relate it to role, the more likely it is that they will drive new skills, behaviours and mindsets into individual performance.

But there is still a sense of ‘hoping’ that they will do it. You need to think deeper and wider.

L&D needs to be viewed by organisations and individuals as a key driver – of the business, of individual performance and progression and of contribution. Alongside sales, profit, cash flow and client satisfaction, learning needs to be seen and spoken about as a cornerstone of business. Change is constant, which means that organisations (and the people who work in them) need to continually learn and evolve, and strive to improve performance, to ensure that they remain successful. Learning has to be taken seriously.

What can help?

Investment in learning


This doesn’t just mean setting up a pull learning platform, providing effective aligned, relevant and immersive programmes and bringing in some fantastic internal and external L&D resource. Although this helps…massively.

It’s about demonstrating that the business and senior management are INVESTED in learning. Constant messaging about learning, ensuring that senior management are role modelling engagement with, and application of, learning (success stories, sharing learning ‘play lists’ etc.). Encouraging participation and collaboration on forums, driving a focus on continual improvement.

We worked with a CEO who introduced 90% of the management and leadership programmes that we ran for the organisation over 3 years. That was 45 programmes. The ones he could not launch he made sure that one of his senior management team filled in for him. This had a massive impact on engagement with their programmes, moving the perception of them from ‘training courses’ to  business and career accelerator initiatives.

It is also important for learning to become part of everyday language and interactions:

  • What are we learning right now?
  • What have you learned this week and how can you apply it?
  • What is your development plan for the next 3 months?
  • What do we individually, and as a team, need to Stop, Start and Continue?

This helps to reframe the brand for L&D and will have a powerful impact on the business.

This also means that learning opportunities are viewed as a priority. If an individual has learning time booked in (attending a workshop, listening to a podcast) then it has equal priority to… work!

Anyone involved with L&D will understand the frustrations of people cancelling attendance on a module, or not joining a webinar, because they are just too busy – ‘a project has just dropped in, my boss told me I couldn’t attend’. Learning needs to be embedded as a core value within the business.

Individuals need to be supported through ‘learning time’ to enable them to find the answers to challenges that arise during the working day and to implement new skills and behaviours. This not only means that they need space and time for personal change (and this can be very difficult to justify in the Professional Services sector with time charging models) but there also needs to be support along the learning curve. If a blame culture is present in a team or organisation then individuals will always find it tremendously difficult to implement learning.

Linking learning to performance and progression management systems


Building on the above point, learning has to be a core part of the systems that underpin performance management. This means ensuring that individuals reflect on how they have taken learning and turned it into performance improvement, ensuring that line managers ask the right questions to identify real-time learning needs and longer term development aspirations, and ensuring there is clarity of the learning ‘requirements’ for progression.

There is an old saying that ‘measures drive behaviours’ so thought needs to be given to creating effective KPIs and measures, linked to learning outcomes, that will incentivise individuals and teams to action new behaviours.

For example, we recently ran a programme for a team of client facing professionals with the brief to help them develop a key client approach. This meant getting closer to key clients, ‘walking in their shoes’ and helping them to navigate the future. It also involved scanning the horizon for ideas on how change may impact their businesses. All of the delegates walked away with an action plan and with an individual performance measure around ‘number of strategic ideas presented to key clients’.

What all this does is create a sense of accountability. There is a clear carrot for growing performance through applying learning, and if it forms a major part of performance conversations and appraisals then there is a clear consequence of not taking advantage of learning opportunities and/or not embedding learning.

If you pay for something, you are more likely to buy into it!


The concept of pull learning empowers individuals to drive their own learning agenda aligned with their needs. But even the availability of brilliant learning opportunities on a fantastic platform may not be enough to drive real impact.

One idea is to provide each individual with their own development budget. A notional amount, on top of their benefit package, to invest in their personal growth. This doesn’t include real time ‘learning’ needs that may arise on a day to day basis – it is about development. Each development opportunity (module, programme, video, podcast, mentor meeting, collaboration workshop etc.) is given a notional cost and responsibility is passed on to the individual to create, and invest in, their personal growth strategy. What this does is take away the excuses of:

‘I am not really performing (or improving) because I have never had the right support’

‘I never get these training opportunities’

‘It’s not fair, everyone else gets so much more than I do’

And if the adage of ‘If you pay for something, you are more likely to buy into it’ is true (and in our experience, based on the results of offering FREE sample sessions compared to fee based sample sessions, it certainly is) then passing on the ‘pain’ of cost to the individual should mean better results.

Next time – Bringing it all together. Helping learning to have the impact that it really should.

theGrogroup are experts in advising organisations on how best to improve performance by effectively executing and embedding required change. We do this through our proven framework; clarifying strategy and change needs, enabling people through skills, behaviours and mind-set development and creating the systems, processes and infrastructure to lock in change as the new normal.