Every year billions of dollars are stolen from corporations. No, I’m not talking about the latest financial services company in need of a bailout, or another overzealous hedge fund manager. I’m talking about employee training and development. Only 10% to 20% of participants in these programs will apply what they learn to achieve business results. The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) estimates that companies spent $134 billion on “employee learning and development” in 2007. That means approximately $107 billion was wasted that year and probably a similar amount was wasted in 2008 and 2009.
Trainers and instructional designers are unwitting accomplices in this fraud. They obediently fulfill client requests for performance improvement programs, not realizing or not caring that these programs will have little impact. I confess: I have designed and delivered programs that could have had no more than minimal impact on my clients' businesses. Maybe this transgression is not criminal in the sense of a Ponzi scheme; it is, however, misusing valuable resources of organizations that cannot afford waste, especially in this economy.
This misdeed is not the fault of learning professionals alone. Company leaders apparently are not willing to do what it takes to ensure that their learning investment pays off. Managers don't make learning a priority. This is like investing in new manufacturing machinery but not in maintenance of that equipment. It’s like investing in new computer technology but not in help-desk support. Learning is a process that requires care and feeding. For employees to learn, they need preparation, a positive mindset, the encouragement and support of people they respect, an opportunity to apply what they learn soon after learning, and reinforcement of learning over time - in addition to a high quality instructional experience. Learning professionals and their companies need to stop squandering valuable resources and start doing the things they need to do to get the results they want.