3 Ways to Make Mandatory Training Less Mandatory, More Effective

What’s the most sure-fire way to ensure people do not learn anything from a training program? Easy. Send an email announcement with a “MANDATORY TRAINING Next Week” subject line.

As e-learning author and expert Jane Bozarth writes on her blog, Bozarthzone, if people don’t want to sit through your program on their own accord, “then there’s something wrong with your program, not your learners.” The point she is making is that the minute you require training, you make it just another job task that interrupts a person’s work day, and you remove all motivation to learn something new. When you design training programs that you want people to attend, ask yourself this question: “Do I want to make sure people complete the training or do I want people to learn something new that they can apply on their job?”

The answer will determine if you decide to create a 50-slide PowerPoint presentation and walk your people through a mind-numbing, coerced exercise of sexual harassment or customer service skills training, at the end of which you ask everyone to sign the attendance sheet or take a 5-question quiz; or whether you take the time to think creatively about how to turn that session into something that people will want to attend. There are three things you can do to break out of this pattern and reduce or eliminate the need to force people to take your training.

1. Target training to specific people and their needs

Does everyone really need to take that customer service training class or is it specific people? If you put a high-performing, experienced person in a training class with less experienced, lower performers, you will kill the high-performers’ motivation to learn. Learn from marketing people and target your training offerings to people who want and need it.

2. Build learning into the performance management process

No one who ever worked for me could get a top rating on their performance review unless they engaged in some personal or professional development activity above and beyond any training offered by the organization. The point was not to force anyone to learn something new and apply what they learned. In fact, there were people who did not take classes outside of work, and still earned high reviews (4 out of 5) and very good raises and bonuses. They just did not earn the highest (5 out of 5). By encouraging commitment to learning in your organization, and defining high performance as something that includes continuous learning, you can begin to eliminate the need for those punitive mandatory training messages and increase the chance that people will want to attend your training programs.

3. Never, ever be boring

“But Bill, our training is mandatory by law or regulation.” Oh, come on. Take Jane’s advice: “Diversity,” “Harassment,” and “Ethics” can be truly interesting, engaging training topics if handled by good designers and facilitators. Take the time to think about how you can make compliance topics fun and interesting. For example, if you have a mandatory policy in your organization of not using cell phones out on the floor don’t make your people sit through a 60 minute training class or have them click through 40 slides in an e-learning module of boring legal talk, show them a video like this or this. Videos can inject some fun and teach a lesson. People will want to attend even your compliance training if they think they will see something fun and learning something new.

If you want to create a culture in which people want to attend your training programs, you need to tap into people’s motivation to want to learn. You cannot force people to learn by requiring training, you can only make sure they do not want to attend.

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Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at well-known companies like E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable. In his leadership role at Knowland University, Bill focuses on helping clients get the most out of the products and services provided through a combination of guided and self-paced learning opportunities. He believes all learning experiences should be grounded in real-world application and designed to improve sales performance.