Training Objectives – The Solution to all of Training's Problems

Published on 2013-10-21

A GROUP OF INTERNAL TRAINERS from a corporate university were in my  Train the Trainer course last week in Qingdao, China. At the beginning of the course I asked them to share the objectives for the training programs that they currently deliver. As they started to list them out one by one, I became quite worried.
One trainer wrote down the objectives for her communications training. She wrote, ‘Recognise the importance of communication’, another objective was ‘Feedback to others’. For another trainer they had the goal to ‘manage a team’. But these are all examples of bad training objectives. I don’t need to train someone in recognising the importance of communication, the very fact that they have signed up for this training shows that they already recognise the importance of communication! And for goals like ‘feedback to others’ and ‘manage a team’, what do these mean exactly? What is meant by feedback? What counts as managing a team?
When setting training objectives you must  do so with two simple questions in mind:

  1. Is this a behaviour?
  2. Can you measure it?

Why Train?
The end result of training is to change behaviour. Yes, along the way there may be increases in knowledge and understanding, there may even be changes in attitude, but all of these ultimately result in changes in behaviour. Furthermore, the purpose of training is to enable people to fulfill the organisation’s goals, and they will do this by performing certain behaviours. If trainees can’t currently behave in the way they need to, then training is there to bridge the gap between the behaviour they lack and the behaviour they need.
After working with these trainers a little bit more, they started to create much better objectives. ‘Summarise the key points of a conversation’, ‘Praise staff’s accomplishments’, ‘Set SMART goals’, and ‘Find common interests’. These are behaviours that can easily be measured. For example,with ‘Set SMART goals’, I can first check to see if a trainee has created any goals, and then check to see if they are SMART goals or not. For ‘Praise staff’s accomplishments’, well I can go and ask the trainee’s staff if they have ever received praise. It’s a ‘ye’ or ‘no’ answer.
Having such specific goals set up before we start designing our training puts us in a very strong position throughout the whole process of training. According to the Wall Street Journal it is estimated that up to 90% of training is forgotten within a year. Given the fact that around the world hundreds of billions of dollars are invested in training each year, that’s a huge amount of waste. Why is training forgotten? Well it’s down to one major reason, lack of reinforcement.
Making it Work
Reinforcement comes in the form of incentives and reminders. Incentives really don’t have to be huge monetary rewards. They can be as simple as recognition. Likewise, reminders don’t have to be that complicated. They can be as simple as a monthly meeting to check progress. In fact, that’s all managers have to do to reinforce the effect of training. Set goals, and track progress. In one study conducted by the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), they discovered that trainees who had met with their manager to discuss how to apply the training to their jobs were four times more likely to have applied to their jobs what they learnt from the training. The same study also found that trainees who perceived that their manager supported their learning and development, and expected to be rewarded or recognised for progress towards training goals, were more than twice as likely to successfully apply what they had learnt.
Training departments are frequently viewed as the only group in the organisation responsible for learning and development. Unfortunately this is an extremely flawed mindset, because a significant amount of learning and development’s success hinges on the involvement of line managers. But line managers are not the experts on learning and development, so it is up to training managers to educate them and make their input as simple as possible. One very easy way to do so is to start with effective training objectives that are clearly focused on behavioural outcomes. Not only are these useful for designing training courses, they are also extremely useful for managers in setting development goals for their staff, and in tracking their staff progress.
Another way of viewing this is like the cockpit of a plane. Sometimes planes fly at night, so when the pilots look out of the window they can’t see anything. But they can still fly because they have all of these useful indicators. They have an altimeter to tell them how high they are. They have a speedometer that tells them how fast they are flying. They even have a GPS that tells them exactly where in the world they are. These are much like the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) used for tracking staff performance, because they give clear indications as to whether or not staff are getting closer to their targets. Having these set up beforehand makes the reinforcement of training far more simple.
Taking Action
So if you are a trainer or a training manager, here are several very simple steps you can take right now to create the best training possible which will increase the applications of skills learnt in training:

  1. Before you design a course, set out clear objectives that describe specific behaviours.
  2. For each behaviour, determine how a manager could measure this change.
  3. Sit down with the line managers of the trainees and tell them what they need to measure and how they can measure this behaviour change.

The rest is up to the line managers, but by following those simple steps you will build the best training program possible.