The dark side of training: 4 mistakes to avoid
Instructional Design

The dark side of training: 4 mistakes to avoid


Imagine you planned out the perfect strategy for effective employee training. You pinned down your KPIs, vetted top-rated courses, and rolled the content out in an LMS that meets all your training needs. Then you sat back to enjoy the results of all your hard work.

But months after the training, you’re no closer to hitting your KPI goals. And your LMS report shows that many employees never even finished the course work.

What happened? You did everything right, but your program’s failing.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, training just doesn’t land. You know the biggest learning and development mistakes to avoid. For example, you used engaging infographics and videos so that employees don’t have to read lengthy articles that challenge short attention spans. Or, you included mini-games and quizzes to make training more interactive. You even made sure to give employees a flexible training schedule so they don’t rush learning.

But some hazards aren’t always obvious. Often, they’re the product of good intentions gone awry. Subtle or obvious, though, training pitfalls put your entire business at risk.

When training fails

When your training success is less than stellar, it has a big impact on your business. And in more ways than you might realize.

Some of the pitfalls are obvious. When your training falls short of its objectives, you’re wasting company money on resources, materials, and instructors. And if learners aren’t getting anything out of the course, you’re wasting precious employee time away from the job.

But there are other repercussions, too, that hinder your business and training success. And they’re equally important. For instance:

  • Dissatisfied employees. When employees aren’t engaged with their training or don’t see the value of it, they fail to grow their skills. But beyond that, they also feel frustrated. They feel like they’re wasting their time. And that can reflect poorly on you as an employer. Employees are more productive and more likely to stay with an organization when they feel you care about them and are invested in their future. In a meaningful way.
  • Compliance risks. When employees fail to learn, you could be leaving your company open to legal liabilities. If compliance training knowledge transfer fails, people don’t follow mandatory or essential regulations. And that could leave you open to fines, legal action, or cyberattacks. You could even have your license to operate suspended.
  • Lack of agility and innovation. An organization that wants to progress should make sure that its people progress, too. Otherwise, they stick to outdated procedures and strategies. Or, they fail to address challenges that come their way. And that could cost you customers and hurt your brand, if, at the same time, your competitors are adopting innovative methods.

Even your best efforts when implementing your employee training plan could leave you open to costly missteps. The good news is, knowing what to watch for can help you reduce these risks—or eliminate them altogether. And build an effective employee training program.

4 common training mistakes — and how to avoid them

Sometimes our best intentions backfire when we don’t see the dangers lurking behind them. Learn what to watch for with the following list of four common but not always obvious pitfalls and turn your obstacles into training successes.

1. Rewarding employees, but encouraging learning for the wrong reasons

It’s natural to want to encourage people to complete the course. After all, the sooner they learn the content, the sooner you’ll start seeing results, right?

Rewards are generally a good thing. Everyone likes recognition for their accomplishments. But finishing the training doesn’t necessarily equate to understanding. Certificates or rewards for getting through the curriculum may send the wrong message—that completion is the goal, not real learning.

To overcome this obstacle, make sure employees understand the value and the purpose of the course before setting up a reward system. Then, ensure the course design reinforces learning and knowledge retention. Include interactive exercises and quizzes to put people’s understanding to the test and help them practice what they’re learning. Then rewards are a nice touch that contributes to a positive learning culture. Not the end goal.

2. Making time for learning, but scheduling the wrong times

Scheduling learning into the workday is a crucial part of supporting an effective training strategy. But when HR determines timelines in isolation, conflicts can leave your efforts unsupported.

If training happens during busy times, employees won’t be engaged and managers won’t encourage participation. When you don’t consult with key players and don’t take hectic working schedules into account, you leave yourself open to unnecessary resistance.

Overcome this obstacle by coordinating training times with managers or offering self-paced solutions. If sales reps need to be on calls with clients during certain hours in certain time zones, plan to meet outside those hours. If downtime varies from day to day, roll out a longer course in multiple self-paced sessions through your LMS.

When employees can learn on their own time, they won’t feel the stress of urgent work hanging over them. And they’ll be more likely to engage and really learn.


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3. Measuring success, but tracking the “wrong” metrics

How can you know whether your strategy is effective if you don’t measure the results? Tracking and analyzing training metrics helps you know whether your approach is working. But not all data is created equal.

Your LMS can track many different aspects of your course, and some are more valuable than others. Instead of focusing on the obvious—like rates of completion—look at some that may be more helpful.

How are people performing in quizzes and tests? That will tell you more about the success of your program. Are they losing interest at certain points in the training? That lets you know to rethink the content there.

You can also track the financial or behavioral impact of your course. If your goal is to increase customer satisfaction ratings, track your scores and report them regularly after skills training. As they increase over time, you’ll know your efforts are having an impact. And if they don’t, it will be your cue to revisit the course and improve it. Which brings us to one last common pitfall.

4. Rolling out a vetted program, but not updating the content

You should review and revise course content regularly. Setting goals, finding the perfect content, and rolling it out in a way that suits all employees is a strong start to a successful employee training program. And it’s easy to feel like you’re done. But even if you’re seeing strong results, complacency could cost you.

Software and processes evolve. Compliance rules and regulations change. And ongoing research uncovers new business best practices.

To avoid ending up with outdated programs, resist the urge to think you’re done. Revisit the content at regular intervals to ensure it’s still up to date. Check your metrics periodically for signs that something’s not working and address it. Keep up on changes to regulations or tools you use and make sure your course information’s current.

When you make adjustments along the way, you won’t need to do an entire reboot of your curriculum down the road. And employees will always work from the latest information.

Effective employee training: How to avoid common pitfalls

Avoid the “dark side” of training with a customized plan

Training isn’t a one-time event or a fixed process. To truly tap into its potential, you need to tailor learning to your company goals and employee needs.

Being aware of the “dark side” of some of your training best practices can help you root out serious problems. Keeping these principles in mind as you plan will ensure you’re doing everything you can to make your training effective and flexible.


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