Stale PowerPoints. Endless PDFs in some archaic intranet. Cheesy videos. Binders and binders of printouts. Just thinking about the typical ways companies handle on-the-job training can put the best of employees to sleep.

If your training programs are as uninspiring, un-motivating and out-of-touch as a lot of companies, you're driving away your best people because they aren't getting adequate opportunities to develop. And that's even if there's training available--one report shows 35% of companies spend $0 on onboarding.

New employees are often thrown directly into the fire and left to figure it out own their own, especially in startup environments. Long-time employees are pushed towards generic conferences or kept narrowly to their own niche, neither of which are all that beneficial to an employee's overall growth and development.

Companies forget that job training and development aren't just about the employee--they're something that benefits the company in the long run. So why in the world wouldn't you invest just as much in training as you do anywhere else in your business?

Too many companies lose good people because they set them up them up for failure. Something must be done to fix it, and its starts with building a learning culture from day one.

Let's focus on the two most important types of on-the-job training: new employee onboarding, and professional development for existing employees.

New Employees: The Infamous Information Dump

Even the most experienced hire will face a learning curve when they arrive on their first day. Beyond the "this is how we do things" kind of information, there may also be a steep learning curve about your products or services.

The tendency is to stuff as much information as possible into the first week, so that your new employee--in theory--can be up and running quickly. Hate to break to you, but all that does is stoke their short-term memory, much like those late-night cram sessions before final exams in college.

Unsurprisingly, this isn't the best way for someone to retain information. Instead, consider the approach known as spaced learning. Studies show that spacing learning over time helps people learn more quickly and remember it better.

Before you balk at the idea, let me ask you this: Would you rather someone new learns fast but forgets quickly, or takes their time and remembers it forever?

Here's my advice: Revisit your onboarding process, while keeping a few important ideas in mind:

  • Don't cop out by putting it all on HR--they're good at what they do, but they don't know the ins and outs of all the roles you have within your organization.
  • Bring in employees from other departments to help develop a new curriculum
  • Follow up with new employees after a couple of months to find out what aspects of their training could have been better--and then implement those changes for the next new hire

If you leave onboarding a mess, you're just setting the expectation that training and development isn't important in your organization. And if you don't solicit or implement feedback, you're telling new hires from the get-go that their voice isn't important.

Professional Development That Actually Develops

Every employee in your organization has a job to do, one that's vital to helping you not only make money, but simply keep the lights on. However, treating them that way stumps their growth -- and your company's as well.

Here's the fallacy. You think your people are too busy doing their jobs to allow them opportunities for on-the-job development or professional growth. Congratulations, you have an entire workforce wearing blinders. There's a word for that: stagnant.

Let me run some questions by you. Would you rather have an employee who:

  • Does their job without understanding the big picture, or one who sees how their individual efforts contribute to as a whole?
  • Never ventures outside their department, or one who spends time shadowing other areas to gain insight they can use?
  • Has always done something a certain way, or one who's interested in improving processes?

Good people want to learn more, and those are the people you want to keep. It's to your company's benefit to not only encourage them, but to actively create opportunities for them to do so.

For example, I can make sure all of my employees get certified in Marketo, the software we work with as consultants. But without giving them the chance to enhance their marketing knowledge and expertise, all I'm doing is teaching them how to use a tool, not how to think strategically about the reasons for what their doing.

Bottom line, it's in your best interest to build a culture with an emphasis on learning. Coaching, mentoring, shadowing, outside speakers--find interesting ways to keep your people engaged and growing. Just get rid of that awful stack of binders, will you?

Published on: May 10, 2017