Business Skills Development Focus

Part 1: Why business skills training often fails

Richard Lehnerdt

Part 1: Why business skills training often fails

Companies are spending vast amounts of money on soft skills or business skills training and improvement initiatives annually, but industry research provides limited evidence that these investments are attaining sustainable results for the most part.

More often than not, business skills training is put on the backburner and used only if there is surplus training budget or a knee-jerk reaction to company performance. How often has the sales director used “lack of new sales methods training” as an excuse for poor performance? With revenue growth being the most critical aspect to a company’s survival, it is critical to identify why companies are not attaining a higher ROI on training.

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We know from the Future of Jobs report, by the WEF that the top 10 skills requirements all fall into the business skills area. These represent a fundamental attribute to doing business, which in today’s knowledge based economy is demanding on everyone involved.  

What are the barriers to sustainable results for business skills training?

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Analysis paralysis  – the training “event”

Because organisations often rely on performance management and time-on-the -job measures, exposure to training is often forced into an intensive classroom experience, where the goal is to infuse as much “learning” as possible into a limited time frame. As a result, many training initiatives are intensive short term events that try to cover every possible aspect of the subject methodology. This is essentially the same as trying to learn all of the skills and nuances of a sport such as cricket or soccer in a few days. A student would attempt to apply a few basic ideas related to each of the batting, bowling or passing, but without repeated coaching, practice, and reinforcement the learner would never attain mastery. 

It is virtually impossible for working professionals to learn, retain, and apply more than a small percentage of what is typically offered in intensive, multi-day training events – unless there is a systematic reinforcement approach across an extended period of time. This is exacerbated in the soft skills or business skills arena, as traditionally this was a difficult area to assess ROI.

Training material is not aligned

In most cases, training efforts focus exclusively on skills and techniques pitched at a certain level. While these elements are essential to good training, if there is no process “backbone” with which to attach new practices, the new methods are applied sporadically and soon fall into disuse. In essence, new skills fail to “stick” without a committed change in the overall company business and communication approach and philosophy. The application of new methods is typically reduced to a few good ideas gleaned from the training at an individual level.

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Piecemeal approaches are not a continual learning experience

Many initiatives (and training providers) apply a partial or fragmented training approach that fails to address specific types of learning. Simply providing “blended” learning that is comprised of instructor led and e-Learning courses may not improve retention and application results. An appropriate blend of controlled learning “events,” on-demand resources, “push” reinforcement, and on-the-job learning is required to meet the needs of next generation high-performing professionals.

Disconnect between training curriculum and required competencies

As many as 10-12 key competency areas can be required to be effective in larger organisations. Even when there are attempts to define skills gaps with some level of rigor, some of the most critical competencies are often omitted from a formal training regiment. As an example, presenting a pressure management workshop to lower level workers, almost never includes mental and physical wellbeing, whilst dealing with the strategic levels of management, this becomes a far more arduous task. Organisations need well defined competency models with correctly aligned curricula that are specific to their business strategy.

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The discombobulated Senior Manager

Business skills management and coaching is often cited as an imperative when new training is introduced to any organisation. While there is a degree of truth to this perspective, in the high pressure environment of “your performance evaluation is due,” most managers simply don’t have time to address the overall coaching and mentoring needs of their direct reports. Many of the prescribed management and coaching methods don’t scale in the real world. As a result, even when management is philosophically committed to a new management process and methodology, the ability to follow through with adequate coaching and mentoring is often unattainable.