UK businesses spent a record £6.6 billion on plugging skills gaps this year, according to the Open University’s Business Barometer 2020. That’s up from £4.4 billion in 2019 and demonstrates the scale of the nation’s skills crisis. What’s even more worrying is that much of this extra investment in training and employee development is wasted, when people forget the vast majority of what they learn, even a day later.
With mass immunisation still a long way off, continued lockdowns to keep the virus under control, and nine out of ten British employees saying they want to keep working from home, the hybrid working model is clearly here to stay.
For business leaders, this means that staff development, training, and coaching could be even more challenging, and even less effective, unless they act now. Here’s a look at where businesses are going wrong with professional training, how technology presents new opportunities, and what’s at stake if we don’t give people the support they need to fulfill their potential.
The Way Humans Learn (And Forget) Hasn’t Changed
Businesses are investing billions into employee training that is often forgotten. This loss of learned information is explained by the ‘Forgetting Curve‘ theory developed by 19th century psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. People lose an average of 50 percent of the information presented to them within an hour, and about 70 percent within 24 hours.
It’s also important to realise that effective training in business isn’t just about remembering things — it’s about using that information to drive new behaviours, which, in turn, boosts productivity.
There are a few core principles of learning something new. Firstly, people won’t do something in public — with a customer, for example — unless they’re really confident. Secondly, they need support to learn the difficult things. Thirdly, busy people need structured training that fits into their workflow and helps them focus on things that matter — especially the important-but-not-urgent tasks they need to learn. Time and practice are essential. You can’t teach someone to sell by cramming for two days non-stop or by watching videos and clicking on multiple choice questions. People have to practise the skill in a real-world environment in a way that’s guided, spread over time with space in between sessions, and with gradually increasing difficulty. This lets them absorb what they’re learning more effectively and grow the confidence they’ll need for when it really counts.
Data Puts Training Back on Track
Too many company training programmes ignore these principles of human learning and have failed to make a difference. Online training doesn’t have the best reputation because it’s often poorly designed, irrelevant, uninteresting, or feels forced. These programmes lack the ability to tap into real-world activities and show no clear way of applying the lessons.
Now, because of the accelerated shift to hybrid working and the digital transformation that makes it possible, we have an incredible opportunity to do things differently.
To start with, not everyone needs to get the same training anymore. In fact, a general, one-size-fits-all approach to training is destined to fail. Data and modern training platforms let you personalise the experience delivered to each individual employee just in time and suited to their job role, even when some people are working remotely and some are in the office. Now you can build, segment, and mix modules to ensure all parts of a programme are directly applicable for, say, account managers, solutions engineers, or business development specialists. Through data and analytics, you can identify who’s engaged with which module and who’s applying their new behaviours to customer interactions.
The scalability of this technology makes training development more like workflow orchestration: employees can be tasked with first watching a video, then completing a quiz, then shadowing an experienced sales rep, writing a sample email or practising a pitch. The secret to maintaining active learning in this new working environment is to prevent a passive environment. This can be achieved by using topical, relevant, and interactive training that is personalised through technology. It sparks active learning mode, helping employees stay engaged and motivated.
Why Leaders Need to Act Now
Leaders everywhere are rising to meet the World Economic Forum’s rallying cry to “build back better” from the pandemic. For business leaders, this offers the opportunity to create a new kind of social contract with their employees, one with investment in people at the core.
Too often, the entire weight of an employee’s success and failure is placed squarely on their own shoulders. When people aren’t growing, they soon stop seeing their work as meaningful and relevant to their journey and will lose connection with the organisation. They’re much more likely to experience burnout when an employer makes no effort to understand and support their development.
To write a different story, employers must reconsider one of their primary responsibilities — set their people up for success and enable them to reach their full potential.
With more data points available every day, leaders can now form a rich and detailed picture of each employee. Are they overperforming or struggling? What are their strengths and weaknesses? In which moments do they shine? What are the best practices of top performers that can implemented to help others? Technology gives leaders the chance to offer staff razor-sharp recommendations for improvement at an individual level and cement repeatable successful behaviours across entire teams. This is an incredible opportunity to prevent wasted resources, enhance employee satisfaction, improve consistency, and unlock growth.
Well-designed data-driven programmes that provide a structured learning environment and nurture the workforce through personalised training and continuous coaching have never been more important as we all look to build back better in the new year.