The biggest secret of HR: over 80 % of training programs are ineffective

Most HR professionals are painfully aware of how many training programs aren’t truly effective. Many employees are excited to take part in corporate trainings, but the new things are soon forgotten. In fact, research shows that less than 20 % of what employees learn in training programs is actually put into practice. In other words, over 80 % of a training program goes to waste. Why? And what can HR professionals do about it? These questions are the passion of Ina Weinbauer-Heidel, who has cracked the code to effective training through her PhD dissertation.

It is one of the core tasks of HR professionals today to design training programs. However, they often find themselves under the expectation that it is solely their responsibilty to make trainings effective.

”And the honest truth is – effective training is very, very rare. Research shows, that the learner as well as the organization – especially the supervisors – play a key role and can either enable or prevent a great training program from being successful,” Doctor Ina Weinbauer-Heidel says.

”It is sad – but unsurprising – that so many times the HR training programs falls victim to budget cuts. Of course they do, if they can not be proved to be effective. By knowing what it takes to design and implement training programs with a highand measureable business impact, HR-professionals strengthen their position as a strategic business partner who are indispensable for the companies’ success.” Weinbauer-Heidel says.”

In her doctoral thesis, Weinbauer-Heidel looked into over 120 years of transfer research and went through over 4000 articles. Based on her work, she named 12 levers of transfer effectiveness.

”The 12 levers are the gist of scientific research for HR practitioners. They show HR professionals what it takes to make training programs effective – scientifically sound and practically tested. Every HR professional can use them in their daily work.”

Making trainings effective is neither coincidence or a miracle

The 12 levers have been described as revolutionary in the field of HR, since Weinbauer-Heidel’s research is the first one that wraps up everything together. However, Weinbauer-Heidel did not only build a bridge from research to practise – but also the other way around.

”HRD professionals already use a lot of transfer-supporting tools like pre- and post training discussions with the supervisors, transfer projects or action plans which can help to improve success. But practice shows: those single measures are no guarantee for transfer. The secret is the right set and mixture of measures – in which you cover all the 12 levers.”

Many HR professionals are pulling hairs since it can be hard to emphasize the impact of shared reponsibility. Often, they end up saying ’You should just take my word for it’. The levers are a rock-hard evidence for them to get the support they need to execute effective trainings.

”The levers give HR professionals a solid, relieving and convincing structure to show other stakeholders – like the learner’s supervisors – how important and inevitebly their contribution is. Training (in)effectiveness always is a shared responsibility. Making trainings effective is neither coincidence nor a miracle – it is possible and manageable. It is unbelievable to see how even little interventions can boost transfer effectiveness when HR professionals just know which levers they have to pull.”

The ground-breaking 12 levers turn training programs effective

The spark for her research originates from her previous job. At the time, Weinbauer-Heidel was working in a Business School and designed tailor-made MBA programs.

”I was designing programs that were very expensive to the participants. I was frustrated since I had the feeling that these programs were not meeting their full potential,” she says.

Weinbauer-Heidel wanted to find a concrete solution to the issue. Her doctoral thesis on transfer effectiveness has been critically acclaimed globally. Currently, Weinbauer-Heidel is the head of the Institute of Transfer Effectiveness in Austria. She also has written a book about the 12 levers, and works additionally as a consultant, speaker and a scientist.

”I invested several years to piece the 12 levers together – so thousands of HR professionals don’t have to. This is also why it has been so rewarding to prove that yes, trainings CAN be succesful – and if they are, they can be a game-changer to the whole company and for the HR professionals, she summarizes.”

She hopes that the 12 levers also might cause a ripple-effect in the whole HR industry.

“Henry Ford said once that if he had asked what people wanted, they would have said faster horses. This is exactly the mindset every HR professional needs to take towards training – there is only so much you can improve if you use the old scattered methods that are insufficient and stretched out to the maximum. You can’t make horses run notably faster than they already do. You can’t raise the 20 % effectiveness rate of trainings significantly by, for example, just planning them better. But once you take the holistic approach that the 12 levers entail, you will be the speeding race car that won’t be stuck in 20 percent.”

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