Employee Training: What's Your Measuring Stick?

$70 billion.

Work Rules!: Insights from Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

Work Rules!: Insights from Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

That's about how much businesses spent on employee training in 2016.

Think back to the last time you took part in a training at your organization. Was it entertaining? Dull? Comprehensive? Shallow? Perhaps a mixture of many of these.

We've all heard the collective sigh and pen-tapping from colleagues who groan about sitting through "another training". They might be onto something. Remember you last training - did it change your behavior? Did it instill a new skill in you? Or were you simply buried with a deck of slides, full-loaded with text and witty images?

Laszlo Bock, the head of Google's people team, writes in his book Work Rules!, that many employers are missing the mark when only measuring employee training by time spent and content covered.

"...Most organizations measure training based on the time spent, not on the behaviors changed. It's a better investment to deliver less content and have people retain it, than it is to deliver more hours of 'learning' that is quickly forgotten."

Bock backs up his advice, citing psychology professor Ander Ericsson, whose research found that it's how the training time is spent that makes the biggest impact. So what, exactly, makes for good use of training time?

In a story earlier this year from Business Insider, Ericsson expanded on his research, highlighting what he calls 'deliberate practice'. This sort of practice doesn't just follow the "practice makes perfect" idiom. You can try again and again and learn very little when there's an absence of a knowledgable guide.

Ericsson's is more of a sensei-led approach to learning.  

Student tries task.
A knowing sensei suggest tweaks, based on wisdom.
Student tries task again, implementing the sensei's feedback.
Eventually, the student is able to see the answers as they approach the task again and again.

The idea is to further refine the skill you're building, until it becomes second nature.

While I can see this method applying easily to roles where there is a specific, logical workflow, I'd imagine this approach becomes less effective as you get into ambiguous, creative types of work.

The thrust of Ericsson's approach of deliberate practice is a straightforward way to improve training material, without spending a lot of extra time redesigning a training.

Instead of dumping truckloads of information on your trainees, create back-to-back scenarios where they can fine-tune the specific behavior or skill you want them to learn.

Guided practice makes perfect. Give it a whirl with your next training - how does this approach feel different? What results did you see?