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.

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Bill Cushard

1 Comment

  1. I knew it! I just wanted everybody else to realize that the company’s training now isn’t like anything they’ve been through before. I have found giving randomly drawn small prizes, such as full size candy bars, $5 Wal-Mart / Target / Company Store / Cafeteria Gift cards lure people into attending. Then when they actually go through some of the training, on topics they asked for, they realize that I am not interested in hearing myself talk, but rather them learning a process to benefit them in their daily lives, and professions. I am an 15 year engineer-turned-teacher for 8 years now, and many times, people/companies don’t realize the best engineers seldom make great teachers. I didn’t choose teaching…it chose me. Ever since I became a teacher, I have never known such a great feeling of personal reward as I have watching someone, who didn’t understand an aspect of their job (i.e. reading blueprints), and found it cumbersome. Yet after they learned how to interpret blueprints, and why the information on them is important, watching the light bulb turn on inside them, and seeing them embrace their career with new enthusiasm, and vigor was reward enough for me.
    The amazing thing – I didn’t teach them anything! I merely asked questions, and presented examples of things they experience in their day-to-day jobs, that they did without so much as thinking about what they were doing.
    When they realized the impact their job had on the final product, and how they could actually be instrumental in helping improve the overall processes, and then empowering them to do so, was like nothing they had ever known.
    Remember this, my good friend Dr. Adolf Brown shared this with me several years back (one of 10 important points in the whole learning process): “Significant learning will not take place, without a significant relationship.”
    When people realize that you care, genuinely care, about helping them, not just signing their name on the roster, taking the quiz, and so on, they will let their guard down, and embrace most information you put before them. Just keep it learner focused. It’s not about you, the trainer (at all), but 100% about the students you desire to help.

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