The Number One Reason Employee Training Programs Fail to Deliver (is not what you think)

My friend Lisa Orrell, an award-winning Leadership Coach, shares an important truth gleaned from her years in the industry, and that is this; millennials love to learn. In fact, it’s the one benefit they consider most critical to job satisfaction. Indeed, US corporations seem to agree, as the 60 billion dollars a year spent on training continues to climb a steady upward trajectory.

Yet one challenge effects nearly every corporate training program conducted, and that one (seemingly insurmountable) challenge is this: no matter how much you invest into training and development, nearly everything you teach to your employees will be forgotten sooner than you might think.

06forgettingcurveThe Forgetting Curve

As far back at the late 1800s, psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted extensive research into patterns of memory retention. His findings are widely accepted in explaining how people learn and retain information.  By graphing his results, Ebbinghaus developed a formula for how long items tend to remain in working memory.

The resulting graph is called Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. The bad news is; the Forgetting Curve is steep.  The good news is, there are strategies you can use to improve both memory retention and performance results.

From Ebbinghaus to Psychology Today, studies show we retain approximately 10 percent of what we see; and 30 to 40 percent of what we see and hear, assuming we saw and heard 100 percent of the information presented to begin with. This is a big assumption.

Of course frequent review of learned information can improve retention, but over time, we still tend to forget what we’ve learned.  The key is to immediately put that learning into practice, which ups those anemic figures above to the 90% retention range.

In other words, the number one reason your training programs are not working, is you haven’t set the stage for creating new routine.  No strategy, regardless of how innovative, can succeed without an accompanying change in behavior, and experts agree that behavior doesn’t change unless either the environment changes or new habits are formed.

40% of the actions people perform each day aren’t actual decisions but habits, and most of these habits happen outside of our awareness.

Habits work when people respond to a cue, which triggers a routine, which produces a reward. Urban legend has it that it takes 30 days to form a habit. The truth is, the amount of time it takes to form a habit depends upon the individual, the complexity of the new behavior, and the environment.

The effective way to shape new habits is by using the same cue and reward, and focusing on changing the behavior that occurs in between. Cues can be everywhere. Every time we see, hear or even think of something that prompts a “that reminds me” moment, we’re responding to a cue. The trick is to plant cues in the environment to trigger the behavior you want, and then use a recognition system to provide incentive for it to become assimilated into regular routine, or to adopt a training retention program that creates the conditions to enable new habits to form.

Cues and incentives work more effectively within a supportive environment. Studies show that community counts in creating new habits that last.  You can leverage this tendency by creating the conditions for regular communication and positive support among colleagues.  In most workplaces, this condition exists for some employees, but leaves up to 50% (your introverts) left unattended.  So take it up a notch by applying incentives and support here as well.

As you know, training is a key factor to increase productivity and retention, so get the most out of your programs with the right follow-through.


Are you challenged with motivating employees to adopt best-practices, or to meet goals or benchmarks because your training programs don’t result in lasting change or improvement?

Try the solutions-oriented approach that has continuously proven successful in helping people reach performance goals by creating the right framework and programs to support lasting change.

Contact me today at, to learn more about how UpScore can benefit your organization.


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