According to the IBM Report on the value of training, two-thirds of global leaders identify talent and leadership shortages as their number one business challenge. And 71% of CEOs cite human capital as the leading source of sustained economic value – ahead of products, customer relationships, and brands. Soft skills are on top of the list of skills that employers seek.
No wonder hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on corporate training every year. And yet, 9 out of 10 frontline managers still do not feel well-prepared to meet their business challenges, according to Development Dimensions International’s survey of 2,001 mid-level leaders worldwide.
Why is that?
Published research from training experts confirms that only about 10-20% of employee training actually enhances an employee’s job performance. In other words, more than 80% of the investment in staff training is wasted.
The problem is, the two main approaches used for skills training have severe shortcomings. These shortcomings are especially apparent with most soft skills training efforts, such as communications, leadership, and management training.
Instructor-led workshops are great at many things, which is why they are used so often, but ultimately they are not an effective way to build soft skills. Here is why:
- Mode. Often, instructor-led workshops are built around traditional lecture-based teaching. Being the “sage on the stage” is intoxicating for all but the most disciplined instructors, so they end up spending most of the time talking. Meanwhile, building people skills is a contact sport – done best through practice, interaction, and feedback. Most workshop attendees spend more than two-thirds of their time listening. Now imagine if we could flip that and attendees could spend most of their time practicing!
- Cost. In-person workshops often cost hundreds of dollars per day (if not thousands). Because they are so expensive, most employers are very selective about when they use them – as in when they bring new employees on board. The most effective way to build up communication skills is through ongoing, on-demand learning experiences, not infrequent, one-off events. Because workshops are held so infrequently, employers often use them to stuff a bunch of information into the attendees. Again, communication skills are built through practice and feedback, not through transferring content.
- Disconnect. Workshops are, by definition, not integrated into the attendees’ daily lives. Employees are pulled out of their daily lives to attend the workshop. So at worst, employees treat them as a boondoggle, or at best, they think the workshop was helpful but the employees don’t have a clear way to translate the lessons learned to their daily work lives. This lack of training transfer is the basic challenge when you bring people to the training. Instead, we need to flip this around – we need to bring training to the people.
You might say, “Isn’t that kind of flexibility what web-based training offers?” Indeed, web-based training has come a long way quickly and is great for certain kinds of learning (e.g., compliance, product knowledge etc.). However, current forms of web-based training are even less effective than in-person workshops for soft skills. Here’s why:
- Passive. For all the strides made in web-based training recently (from next-gen LMSs like Cornerstone to micro-learning providers like Grovo and Lynda), we’re still largely working with digitized versions of outdated teaching modes. So while a lecture becomes an online video, our brains still only remember about 10% of the information delivered through these passive learning approaches. That’s why we say: “Stop Watching. Start Practicing.”
- Feedback. Practice alone doesn’t get the job done. It is critically important to get specific feedback on how you did – this is what moves you from just practicing over and over again without making any real progress to what Malcolm Gladwell calls “deliberate practice” in his bestselling book Outliers. This feedback is key to helping you improve on a skill every time you practice it.
- Isolation. With many of today’s web-based training models, the learner is interacting with content, quizzes, etc. in isolation. Meanwhile, people skills are best acquired by practicing with other people, not by watching a video.
So there you have it. The two primary ways companies train their people on the critical soft skills that lead to career success have fundamental flaws.
No wonder people on the front lines feel less than well-prepared, and companies don’t get a good return on their investment. We need a better way.
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