How to improve your employee development and training programs

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When it comes to employee development and training, many managers and business owners are all-too-familiar with the problem of retention — why does it seem like no one remembers what they learned? Was anyone paying attention?

The good news is they probably were. The bad news is your 25-slide walkthrough and 5-minute Q&A session for your new product roll out was sorely lacking. There are many understandable excuses for taking shortcuts with your training sessions (money, time, resources), but simply said, presenting information does not constitute training. Organizations must move beyond this to create meaningful learning for their employees, whether through in-person training, e-learning tools, or mobile learning. The suggestions below will get you started.

Understanding retention

The goal of training and development is to convey information or instructions that improve knowledge of a topic, providing the learner with a mandatory level of understanding that can be demonstrated. As simple as it sounds, the process is often easier said than done.

According to Edgar Dale, a turn of the century educationist who explored how learners retain information, people only retain 50% of what they see and hear two weeks after training. Others, like German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, put that number closer to 10-25% if the new information isn’t presented and applied effectively.

Most trainers and many studies will tell you that there is plenty of evidence to support the basic premise that simply presenting information isn’t enough to ensure good retention. Conversely, retention can go up exponentially if employee engagement and participation are part of the discussion. So why do organizations continually settle for ineffective methods of employee training?

Common Excuses for Poor Employee Training:

Not Our Fault: Many companies believe that the problem lies with their employees’ lack of attention rather than the presentation format. If a large segment of your employees fails to retain information, are you confident that the problem lies with them and not your employee development method?

Not Enough Time: The “our employees are too busy to train” is another excuse trainers hear constantly. In these situations, trainers are rushed to get through all the material, providing little to no interaction, especially for large group training.

Don’t Know How: Getting past “death by PowerPoint” can seem like a challenging task, but there are many studies and resources available to help trainers and instructional designers improve employee training.

No Money: Money, or the lack thereof, is no longer a valid reason for poor training. Elaborate simulations are not required for training that goes beyond simply presenting the information.

How to Create More Engaging Training

Creating more engaging and interactive training must become a priority for organizations. Afterall, you’re spending money and time on these anyway, so why not go the extra mile to make it effective? The following strategies can be incorporated into employee development programs to help improve your retention rates.

Job Aids/Leave Behinds

After employees walk away from your training, do you have anything to offer them to further their understanding of the content? Have you developed any job aids, task aids, or leave behinds?

Consider developing tools that can support your employees when they are confronted with specific questions about the new product or business process you just trained them on. Expecting them to remember every bullet point you read is simply not realistic. Provide them with references like hand-outs, checklists, and talking points that put the information into context.


What happens after you have a training session, whether it be a WebEx or face-to-face? Do you have any sort of evaluation?

An evaluation is more than simply asking, “How would you rate the trainer?” A meaningful evaluation asks specific questions about the content they were exposed to and assigns a pass/fail score. If you don’t have a learning management system to deploy this, an interim solution like SurveyMonkey could work.

A strong follow-up survey makes learners and trainers accountable. It should also give you a good indication of how the information was processed and retained. If survey results show that a majority of your audience did not understand the material satisfactorily, you’ll have time to remedy the situation before it becomes an issue with clients or work processes.


This is arguably the most difficult thing to incorporate into an employee development program, especially if the session is virtual and the group is large. But it’s important and there are strategies that you can implement to this end:

  • Use a polling or real-time Q&A function. As you go through the training, insert some polling questions that refer specifically to the content you have just taught. You’ll know immediately if you have low participation or poor understanding, and can review the material again.
  • Call on participants. Saying something like, “Mike, would you mind going over the three features of this product for the group?” will keep everyone on their toes and will give you immediate feedback from the group.
  • Incorporate gaming to improve training. For example, you could include a game of Jeopardy, pausing at strategic points and engaging the audience with a fun question and answer period. There are many templates and ideas online that you can download and adjust to your liking.
  • Have learners teach to the group. If the recall of content is extremely high when learners are required to think for themselves, why not design an exercise where they teach key points to others? If the employee development session is in-person, break into smaller groups and have various small nuggets of teaching topics prepared. Have everyone present a topic to their sub-group, and then rotate. Walk around the class and listen to what is being said, providing feedback where appropriate. If the session is online, modify the exercise and have one or two volunteers teach one of the topics you just went through.

Follow up

Since studies show that retention rates of new information go down as time goes by, it’s important to follow up with supplemental training and reminders. This can be as simple as regular emails that reinforce a few key points at a time. Or you could send out brief, periodic quizzes to test and remind employees about important information.

Resources for recruiting, training, and retention

Many hiring managers tout their employee development and training programs when recruiting top talent. To stand by those promises and truly invest in the growth of your employees, it’s important to deliver quality programs. For help with this and other hiring and management issues, sign up for Monster Hiring Solutions where you’ll receive expert recruiting advice, the latest in hiring trends, and more.