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4 Steps to Make Employee Development Stick Improve the way you improve your employees by making a plan for training and development.

By Beth Miller Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


According to Training Magazine, 2015 training expenditures in the US were $70 billion. Small companies spent an average of $1105 per employee, which doesn't include the time dedicated to training. This level of investment was over double the investment larger companies made in employee training. Yet while many companies understand the importance of developing talent, they too often fail to get a return on their investment. In a 2010 survey, McKinsey & Co. found that only 25 percent of respondents thought training improved employees' performance. Before you commit financial resources and human capital to develop your leaders and workforce, ask yourself these questions.

1. Is the employee ready for training?

When I deliver my coaching workshops, I start with an exercise to get an understanding of my audiences' level of engagement. I ask them to place a sticky note on a bulls-eye target; the closer to the center they place the note, the more interested they are in the workshop and the more ready they are to learn.

If you find yourself having to push an employee to be trained, that's a red flag and a great topic of conversation to have with them in an upcoming 1-1 meeting. Make sure you ask questions and fully understand why they aren't taking ownership.

It's simple: Don't waste your money on someone who isn't interested in training.

2. How does the training help the employee and the organization?

Well-structured development plans will give you the answer to both aspects of this question. All too often managers don't take the time to work with their employees on development plans. Without a plan, training becomes an afterthought and not strategic to the needs of the employee and the organization. Training should focus on filling a current skill gap or core competency that will help the employee be more successful in his/her current position, or prepare the employee for a future responsibility or position.

Development plans should link back to the employee and organizational goals, be documented annually, and reviewed quarterly during 1-1 meetings.

3. How will the training be delivered?

The way training is delivered has an impact on the amount of new knowledge retained and used. Training research has shown that there are several key factors to successful training.

For example, people have different learning preferences. One person will jump at the opportunity to read a book while another person will be looking for the audiobook. When I am creating development plans prior to a coaching engagement, I always ask the executive their preferred method of learning. Don't confuse learning preferences to learning styles which is a "neuromyth."

Also, learning happens over time. It doesn't happen just by sitting in a classroom or watching a webinar. That's why so many organizations will use spaced learning over a period of time to build on previous knowledge and reinforce the learning.

The important part is to evaluate training. Make sure it mirrors the learning preference of the employee and whether the new knowledge is delivered incrementally over time.

4. When will the new knowledge be put into use?

The answer to this question is extremely important for seeing results. Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve demonstrates that new knowledge will be halved in a matter of days unless new material is reviewed and/or put into action. If new skills and techniques aren't put into action soon after training, the learning will be lost and the training investment will be wasted.

As a manager, you need to understand the expected outcomes of the training before your employee goes to training and identify with him/her what immediate actions can be taken after the training, which will reinforce the new knowledge learned.

That's why it's a good idea to meet with your employee before training starts and understand what work he/she will be doing in the days after receiving training.

Most importantly, you need to have a plan to make training stick. So, before you commit to investing in developing your employees, first stop and ask these four important questions. Taking the time up front to answer them will greatly improve training success.

Beth Miller

Leadership Development Advisor, Speaker, Executive Coach

Beth Armknecht Miller is a certified managerial coach and founder of Executive Velocity Inc., a boutique firm offering talent management and leadership development solutions. She chairs a monthly Atlanta meeting for Vistage, a company that hosts advisory meetings for small business CEOs. Her latest book is Are You Talent Obsessed?

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