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An Employee Training Definition, Playbook, and Guide

Employee training definition

In this employee training playbook, we’ll start with an employee training definition and a list of key concepts.

We’ll also cover:

digital transformation ebook for download

  • Frequently asked questions about employee training
  • Pitfalls to avoid when designing training programs
  • Why most employee training efforts fail
  • Tips and strategies for creating a great employee training program

And much more.

Let’s start, though, with the basics…

An Employee Training Definition, Key Concepts, and Fundamental Ideas

The most fundamental concept to cover, of course, is employee training itself.

Employee Training: A Definition

Employee training is a business function dedicated to teaching employees how to perform their job duties effectively.

Among other things, employee training helps by…

  • Providing on-the-job education, teaching, and training for new hires, as well as existing employees
  • Ensuring that employees have the skills, abilities, and knowledge that they need to become productive members of the workforce
  • Maximizing engagement during training, which can boost productivity, time-to-competency, and even long-term employee retention

Employee training is a critically important business function, especially in today’s fast-paced business world.

Why Employee Training Is So Important in the Modern Organization

Employee training is not a luxury, it is a necessity in the digital workplace.

There are a number of reasons why:

  • Employee productivity depends on how proficient they are, which in turn depends a great deal on training effectiveness
  • Many workplace tools are digital, and digital tools are continually changing, which means that employees must undergo regular training in order to stay proficient
  • Enterprise-grade tools are often very complex – and unavailable outside the corporate environment – so on-the-job training is a must

Today, many businesses are beginning to realize that the employee training function affects organizational performance and effectiveness.

The Employee Experience vs. Employee Onboarding vs. Employee Training

It is important to also understand the relationship between employee training and adjacent functions, such as onboarding and the employee experience.

These include:

  • The employee experience, which focuses on the employee’s entire life cycle with an organization
  • Employee onboarding, which focuses on integrating an employee within the workplace
  • Career development, which emphasizes an employee’s long-term career path

The more structured and sophisticated the employee training efforts, the better the results of that program.

3 Frequently Asked Questions About Employee Training

To gain a better understanding of employee training and its value, let’s answer some commonly asked questions about this business function:

How Does Training Affect Employee Performance?

Training impacts a number of key areas, such as:

  • Skills – The most fundamental area that training affects is skill sets. Training is designed to help employees acquire job skills, which directly impacts their ability to perform their duties.
  • Culture – Training is also an integral part of an organization’s culture. A sophisticated, well-structured training program can set the stage for a culture built around learning and change, for instance.
  • Engagement – Training also affects employee engagement, or employees’ enthusiasm and willingness to put effort into their jobs. Good training programs keep employees engaged and simplify their workplace experience – whereas bad training programs can have the opposite effect.
  • Retention – Employee retention is affected by many things, including onboarding and training. The better that employees become integrated into the work environment, the more successful they will be and the longer they will stay with a company.

Ultimately, these influences combine to affect the overall performance of the workforce. And that employee performance in turn impacts the organization’s performance.

Digital Training vs. Digital Adoption: What’s the Difference?

Today, digital adoption is becoming a hot topic among forward-thinking organizations.

The reason for this is simple – digital transformation relies heavily on the adoption of digital software and tools.

Inevitably, digital training leads to digital adoption, because “digital skills” are not enough.

Instead, organizations must:

  • Fully close the digital gap between employees and their tools. Today, there is a digital skills gap – a divide – between employees and their digital tools. Since those tools keep evolving, employees must also evolve. Unfortunately, traditional training methods aren’t adequate to the task, which is why digital adoption must become a focus.
  • Integrate tools seamlessly into the workplace. The digital workplace is a complex, dynamic environment. And the greater the divide between workers and their tools, the less efficient the work environment will be. Employee training must ensure that digital tools are utilized to their fullest extent and for their intended purpose.
  • Develop proficiency across multiple platforms and workflows. Employee training should naturally provide employees with the proficiency they need to become productive members of the workforce. However, since employees invariably use multiple tools, training must focus on cross-training and cross-platform proficiency – that is, workflows – instead of just proficiency with a single tool.
  • Stay agile, responsive, and adaptable. The digital economy is perpetually changing, which means that organizations must also be continually evolving. The more agile and adaptable they are – the better they can respond to environmental changes – the more successful they will be in the digital age.

Digital adoption strategies enable organizations to keep up in the changing digital economy, making them an essential element of any employee training program.

How Do You Measure the ROI of Employee Training?

To assess the impact that employee training has on an organization’s bottom line, businesses should look at the immediate impacts on employee metrics.

Employee training can impact metrics such as:

  • Employee productivity
  • Employee engagement
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Time-to-competency
  • Turnover and retention
  • Software ROI

All of these metrics, in turn, affect important organizational performance metrics, such as:

  • Organizational agility
  • Innovation
  • Organizational effectiveness

Ultimately, the performance and productivity of the workforce impacts an organization’s profitability and its competitive position in the marketplace.

This is why employee training has become such a critical issue for the modern organization.

However, effective training is not without challenges, as we will discover next.

3 Challenges to Successful Employee Training

In the digital age, employee training efforts face a number of unique challenges that must be overcome in order to see tangible results.

1. The rapid pace of organizational change on a global scale

Digital transformation is driving change across industries and economies.

To keep up with these changes, organizations must make a number of changes to operations, strategies, and more.

Here are a few examples:

  • Digital transformation. Digital transformation is one of the most common types of organizational change in today’s business world. In order to solve business problems, keep up with the pace of change, innovate, and be successful in the modern economy, businesses must leverage technology. They do this by transforming some aspect of their business, such as operations or strategy.
  • The adoption of new digital tools and software. Digital adoption is an important piece of the digital transformation puzzle. It is also an emerging business function that works hand-in-hand with employee training in order to keep employees productive.
  • Innovating new products and services. Another common change is innovation. As we have seen since the advent of the internet, innovation has upended markets, transformed industries, and caused some companies to explode in growth … while burying others. 

In some cases, an organization may choose to completely transform itself from the ground up – which is sometimes necessary to stay modern and relevant.

Organizational transformations such as these require the execution of multiple organizational changes over a number of years.

Irrespective of the exact circumstances, the point remains – to keep up, organizations must change.

And employee training is needed to successfully drive change.

Here is why:

  • Many organizational changes require the adoption of new technology. Many of the changes mentioned above – as well as some we haven’t covered – involve the adoption of new technology. However, adoption means more than just software deployment. It also requires a digital adoption strategy and employee training.
  • To drive such changes, employees must be proficient and productive with those tools. Proficiency is the first step towards productivity and it is one of the fundamental benefits provided by employee training. 
  • Continual organizational change has become common, fueling the need for permanent, results-driven training functions. In an organization that continually changes, employees must continually learn. However, at the same time, they must also stay productive. This is why employee training must evolve to include a permanent adoption approach – one that “micro-trains” employees throughout their tenure with a business.

In short, employee training is crucial to an organization’s ability to survive, change, and thrive in an economy that is continually changing.

2. The complexity of enterprise software

As mentioned above, enterprise-grade SaaS platforms can be quite complex.

For instance, many important digital platforms carry hefty learning curves, such as:

  • CRM platforms
  • ERP platforms
  • HCM platforms

All of these tools have become indispensable for the modern organization.

However, they all require training, which can be problematic.

After all, when employees are learning, they aren’t producing. And enterprises must pay for those training expenses.

Overcoming this obstacle, as we will discover later, requires an innovative approach to employee training – digital adoption platforms (DAPs).

These training solutions dramatically simplify software onboarding and digital training, helping to keep employees engaged.

Also, since these tools enable employees to learn as they go, productivity remains high, even from the very first day.

See below for more information on these tools.

3. The complexity of the digital workplace

A single digital tool can be complex in and of itself.

However, when we consider that the digital workplace consists of multiple software applications and digital workflows, the situation becomes even more complex.

Consider, for instance, that employees must…

  • Use multiple platforms to complete even a single workflow in a normal office setting
  • Learn new tools and workflows whenever they are hired to a new position
  • Continually learn new features and workflows as those tools are upgraded
  • Make adjustments to their skill sets every time workflows change or organizations change

Overcoming these challenges will require a new way of thinking since, as mentioned, traditional training methods cannot overcome the challenges covered here.

Unfortunately, in fact, traditional training methods cannot keep up with today’s ever-changing digital workplace.

3 Major Problems that Result from Sub-Par Training

Three are quite a few training methods that are used in an enterprise setting, but some are more effective than others.

When it comes to digital training, methods such as the following cannot keep up:

  • Classroom training
  • One-on-one teaching
  • Online teaching

Even webinars and video courses are not the most effective or economical training approaches.

These types of training methods can result in a number of problems, such as…

1. Never-ending training that gets no results

Unfortunately, organizations waste far too much time and effort on training methods that just aren’t appropriate for digital software.

Using the aforementioned approaches on training, for instance:

  • Often fail to deliver up-to-date, practical skills. Software continually changes, which means that training programs must also continually change. Unfortunately, however, there is typically a lag between software updates and training material. Even if a training curriculum is current, it will often be more generalized, and not focusing so much on practical skills.
  • Stretch out the learning curve for far too long. The aforementioned training approaches tend to be generalized and divorced from the target software. Employees learn more slowly – in many cases too slowly – depressing productivity and performance.
  • Is ultimately ineffective. Generalized training materials, irrelevant course content, and other problems all tend to keep engagement low, which, in turn, lowers the ROI of training efforts.

All of these problems end up creating training programs that keep employees underperforming – while organizations continue to pay for extensive, ongoing training programs.

2. Decreased proficiency, productivity, and performance (among other metrics)

Earlier, we saw that employee training ROI can be measured by examining some key metrics related to productivity.

These include:

  • Productivity – The amount and quality of output
  • Proficiency – Skill levels with a tool or a set of tools
  • Engagement – Enthusiasm, interest, and motivation in the workplace
  • Satisfaction – How content and happy workers are 

Among others.

When employee training fails to deliver, these metrics will suffer and ultimately harm the organization’s bottom line.

3. Negative impacts on the organization itself

As most business professionals already know, the workforce’s performance is ultimately tied to the organization’s performance and effectiveness.

When employee training cannot maintain an effective, skilled workforce, then a number of other problems crop up:

  • The organization has a harder time meeting its stated objectives
  • Organizational changes become more difficult and the organization becomes less agile
  • When the workforce has trouble meeting productivity quota, they will be less innovative
  • Strain caused by poor training has a negative effect on the culture and the climate of the workplace
  • Poor training will also negatively impact the talent pool, by driving away top talent and employees who want robust on-the-job training programs

When considering all of the problems we have covered so far, it should be clear that effective training is not an option in the digital age – it is a survival trait.

Tips for Creating a Great Employee Training Program

We now know the reasons why employee training is so important.

But how do you go about creating an effective, results-oriented training program?

Here are a few tips, tactics, and strategies that can be used to develop a training program that gets real results:

1. Create an employee training template

An employee training plan template, or checklist, can streamline HR workflows and make life much easier for employees. 

And, most importantly, they can help to structure a training program, ensuring that those training efforts stay organized and results-focused.

Here is a sample template to follow:

  • Record basic employee information. This information should include administrative details, such as the employee’s name, job title, department, hire date, career objectives, important contact details, and so forth. 
  • Include an onboarding checklist. Onboarding is the first stage of the employee journey, where they are integrated into an organization. Among other things, employees must become socially integrated into their environment, align with the organization’s objectives, undergo orientation, and begin training.
  • Design a core training curriculum. A training curriculum should be based around an employee’s individual needs. This checklist should lay forth a series of courses, in-app walkthroughs, product tours, learning objectives, and performance criteria. 
  • Finish with a career development and long-term training checklist. An employee’s long-term career development plan should focus on ways that an organization will help employees succeed over the long term. Mentorship options, long-term career objectives, continuing education, and other training opportunities can be included in this template.

Of course the template should be optimized over time as needed. 

Employee feedback, data, and analytics can provide insight into the template, the training method, and all of this, in turn, can be used to further improve the training template.

2. Focus on the employee experience

The employee experience represents the full life cycle of the employee, from the moment they first come into contact with an organization, through to post-exit communications.

There are different models of the employee experience, which often include stages such as:

  • Recruitment. Recruitment is the first stage of the employee life cycle. During this stage, HR vets, selects, and interviews candidates. It is an important stage of the employee journey. Along with the next stage, it can help set the tone for the rest of the employee’s relationship with a company.
  • Onboarding. Onboarding is the process where employees become integrated within a company. During this phase, they learn about the organization, their role, and they also begin training.
  • Training. Training and development overlaps with other stages of the employee experience. And today, employee training should actually become a permanent function that continues throughout the lifetime of the employee.
  • Performance. Once an employee is competent and productive, the focus shifts towards maximizing productivity and performance. The right training approach – through micro-training solutions, for instance – can help ensure that employees perform at their best.
  • Departure. All too often, employers pay little attention to this point in the journey. However, with exit surveys and dialogues, employers can learn a great deal, in order to make further improvements to the employee experience.

Training is only one part of this journey, but focusing on the entire journey can improve training results. 

By keeping that strategic perspective, HR professionals can seamlessly align training efforts with onboarding, career development, and performance aims.

3. Stay agile and adaptable

Agility is an important mindset and business approach, not just for software development (where agile originated), but for virtually every other business function.

In essence, agile prizes areas such as:

  • Constant collaboration
  • Working solutions 
  • User-driven design
  • Responsiveness

There are plenty of resources online that describe how agile is applied in different business areas, such as agile change management or agile software development.

These can provide excellent insight on how to apply agile thinking to employee training.

4. Be data-driven

Traditionally, HR functions, such as employee training, are not data-driven endeavors.

However, in recent times, the use of data has spread to a variety of business functions – and for good reason.

Data can help…

  • Organizations gain better insight into their business efforts
  • Relevant business professionals stay focused on objective numbers, rather than on opinions or preconceived notions
  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of target business processes
  • Inform decision-making and business process optimization

When it comes to employee training, data can be used to learn more about…

  • Employee training needs. Software analytics, a feature of digital adoption platforms, can help trainers understand how employees interact with software. Those interactions, in turn, can highlight learning opportunities, weaknesses in the training program, and so on.
  • The impact of training on employee performance. KPIs and performance metrics demonstrate how valuable a program actually is – it’s real-world ROI. That information can also be used to make adjustments to a training program if necessary.
  • The impact of employee performance on organizational performance. Another important relationship to examine is how employee performance is connected to organizational effectiveness. For instance, if employee performance fails to measure up – and hinders organizational performance in a certain area – then data can illuminate this and point toward solutions.
  • Software ROI. A software product’s value depends a great deal on employee productivity. After all, if employees lack proficiency with a product, then the organization will only realize a part of that product’s potential ROI.

And so on.

Though many data-driven HR practices are still emerging, they can significantly aid the training manager and enhance training efforts.

Digital adoption platforms (DAPs), for instance, have software analytics that can be used to learn a great deal about software interactions, user behavior, and training needs.

5. Use digital adoption platforms (DAPs)

Digital adoption platforms are ideal employee training solutions.

They are UX and training layers that automate much of the training process, by providing in-app instructions and guidance.

These solutions offer many advantages over the other training approaches covered above, because – despite being automated – they offer training that is…

  • Interactive. Interactive training allows users to directly use a product. Since digital adoption platforms train users directly inside the target application, employees have the benefit of interacting with the very subject of their training.
  • Scalable. Not all training platforms can scale. Human-led training, such as classroom training, is an example of a training approach that cannot scale. And although related training approaches can scale – such as online teaching – they come with other limitations that digital adoption platforms do not.
  • Contextualized. Contextualized learning takes place directly inside the environment, or context, that is relevant to the users. And, as mentioned, digital adoption platforms train users inside the most ideal context of all – their actual workflow.
  • Experiential. Experiential learning – learning by doing – is the best form of learning. Users can immediately apply what they are studying, improving engagement and offering an immediate connection to the subject matter.

They are able to deliver on all of these counts due to a core set of features that include:

  • In-app walkthroughs. In-product walkthroughs take users one step at a time through a series of tasks. In this way, employees can learn workflows with little to no supervision, dramatically reducing the need for technical support and human trainers.
  • Product tours. Product tours are introductory walkthroughs that demonstrate a product’s core feature set. These tours are short, designed specifically to demonstrate the functionality and value of a product.
  • On-demand guidance. When users have access to immediate information, they no longer need to contact technical support or trainers. Along with the other features covered here, on-demand information can replace the need for a great deal of human training, improving time-to-competency, productivity, and more.
  • Software analytics. Software analytics monitor users’ interactions with a software platform. That information tells trainers what their stumbling blocks are, where they make errors, and how to improve training walkthroughs. 
  • Task automation. Automating business processes offers a number of benefits. Not only does it free up user time for more interesting, valuable activities, it can also add major productivity gains across the organization.

The effective use of these platforms can dramatically improve the results and efficiency of enterprise training efforts, regardless of the organization’s size or industry.

6. Remember the forgetting curve

The “forgetting curve” is a concept that models how people forget information.

If no attempt is made to remember information, then that information is gradually lost over time.

The amount of information lost will depend on an individual’s memory strength.

Generally, though, if people don’t apply what they have learned, then they lose 90% of it within 7 days.

There are several ways to mitigate this problem:

  • Reinforcement
  • Interactivity
  • Clarity
  • Application

Training programs that exploit this idea can increase the overall knowledge that employees retain – and, as a result, the efforts of their training programs.

7. Tailor the experience to employees’ learning styles

Different people have different learning styles.

For instance, some may prefer to learn via…

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Text

However, for the most part, the more engaged people are, the better they will learn.

This is why experiential learning – that is, “learning by doing” – tends to deliver the best results.

When people can actually apply what they have learned in the real world, they will have a greater understanding of that information and they will remember it longer.

8. Create a new employee training definition

Ultimately, it is important to remember that employee training is not just about skills.

It is about:

  • Employee productivity
  • Maximizing engagement
  • Ensuring that the workforce meets the organization’s performance expectations
  • Minimizing time-to-competency
  • Increasing the ROI of investments in software and training

A new definition of employee training – one that is linked to organizational performance goals such as those listed here – is the first step towards restructuring the employee training function.

With a clearly defined mission, HR personnel and training managers can help craft a training program that gets measurably better results.

9. Change the workplace culture

Organizational culture makes a big difference in employees’ behavior, their attitudes, and their ability to learn.

There is certainly no such thing as an ideal work culture that works for every organization.

However, there are some traits that can facilitate employee learning:

  • A pro-learning mindset
  • Openness to change
  • A digital culture

Rapid organizational culture change can be costly and taxing for employees. One workaround is to implement changes gradually, by recruiting candidates selectively, through incentive programs, and so forth.

10. Learn from industry leaders

When it comes to employee training, there are a number of go-to sources that can provide insight.

These include:

Among many others.

The key takeaway is that any business professional who wants to deliver high-quality training should continue to “train themselves,” as it were.

By continually studying employee training trends, techniques, technologies, and knowledge, the relevant parties will be able to create better experiences for their coworkers – and better results for their organization.

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Digital Adoption Team

A wonderful team of Digital Adoption, Digital Transformation & Change Management Experts.