How to Make Employee Training More Useful

lecture hall

Learning then

During my high school, college, and grad school days, I remember being forced to listen to, read about, and memorize information that didn’t interest me.

All I knew was that I had to do well on the test because I needed a good grade in the class because that would somehow be a factor in whether I would lead a happy life.

Based on this belief, I worked hard. I took a business law course for my MBA program. There were three exams. I had the class’s highest score on all three. I know because the teacher posted the distribution of scores.

New leader training and coaching

In the wake of my great success, I remember two things from this course I aced—the term promissory estoppel and that there were four conditions that had to be met in order for it to exist. Of course, I don’t remember what those four are. What a waste of time and money.

Learning now

I did well in school, but wouldn’t say I enjoyed learning. These days I would claim that I love learning. So what’s changed?

Back then, someone told me what I had to learn. Now I get to decide what I want to learn.

Back then, someone decided when and how I learned. Now I learn on my terms.

Back then, I had to do a bunch of make-work to fill the time. Now I do just enough to satisfy the need I have.

Back then it seemed that I had no choice. Now I have complete control.

Employee training needs a change

For more than 25 years I’ve led employee workshops. More times than not these were for employees who were told they must attend. I pushed out the information I was told to deliver. I told them to put this information to good use, knowing that most won’t.

The employee development model is messed up, and I’ve been part of the problem. It’s too closely aligned with the model I didn’t like when I was in school. It’s time to reinvent learning at work.

The learning principles

I don’t claim to have all the solutions, but will suggest five principles that your training function needs to keep front and center.

1. Need-based

Your employees will seek out a solution to a need. If they don’t recognize the need, you will find a way to convince them they have it. Only then will they be open to learning.

Sure nice-to-know information will appeal to some. And others are interested in training that may help them progress in the careers.

But for most, it’s all about right now. What problem is staring them in the face today and how can you help them solve it?

2. Just-in-time and on-demand

Your employees are busy. They would likely claim they don’t have time to fit more information into their heads until right when they need it. At that point, they want access to solutions that will help them get where they need to go.

This means signing up and waiting for a class the might happen in three months isn’t going to cut it. They need a way to seek out and access answers now.

3. No fluff

Your employees want to cut to the chase. Background theories and nice-to-know information might be interesting, but not for busy people. Teach them only what they need to solve their problems. If they are interested in the extras, they’ll pursue that on their own.

4. Short

It should not take a minute longer than required to get them what they need. Think about searching YouTube for a how-to video. The search results come up and based on the descriptions each seems like it would answer your question. You do notice they are different lengths, running 5:06, 9:26, and 13:44 minutes. Which do you choose?

5. Personalized delivery options

It’s common knowledge that people all have different ways they prefer to take in information. For example, some like to read, while others prefer to get their hands dirty and just dive in.

Yes, it’s more expensive to develop different ways to teach learners, but at the end of the day, it’s all about being effective, and that requires personalized delivery options.

Be part of the solution

So let’s do something about it. For my part, when people want to hire me to deliver a session that I believe is unlikely to achieve their real goals, I tell them so. Then I advocate for a more effective solution.

You can do the same. Be the voice that move training from an old-school classroom model to something that works for today’s mobile workforce.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.


  1. So true! Thinking back on the dozens of employee training sessions I’ve had, I can’t remember what a single one of them was actually ABOUT. Just endless lectures in poorly lit conference rooms with bad pastries… Good luck with the revolution!

  2. Noa, don’t forget binders. Lots of binders. I’ve got shelves full of them. I swear never to put another workshop into a binder.

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