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Training Not Effective? You Might Have a Leadership Problem

If your team members aren't performing, it could be a top-down issue.

Ineffective Training

A service company invested $300,000 in an organization-wide IT system over a standard three-year contract. Historically, the company has run using in-house software solutions,. including spreadsheets, emails, and Lotus 1-2-3 (which hasn’t had support since 2013). However, the staff – especially the long-tenured executives – liked the cobbled system because they had familiarity with it.

Along with the new software came a significant amount of organizational change. The consulting firm provided train-the-trainer courses for managers in various departments to learn how to deliver education and coaching to all other members of the staff. Regular training sessions from the consultants went well, and managers reported a high level of satisfaction with the quality of training they received. Each in-house trainer received high scores on the final training assessment, with all passing the exam.

Within the office, each department scheduled regular training sessions for their workgroups. Executives and staff within each department gathered to learn together how to work within the new IT system. However, some executives stopped paying attention to the classes and started emailing and texting others on their cell phones. Questions that these executives asked didn’t pertain to the course content; they elicited information about projects or sales questions unrelated to the use of the IT system. Idle prattle took over when executive peers were together. Worse, managers voiced their displeasure with the service, and they started avoiding the IT system in favor of their old processes.

Trainers and the executive staff received post-training evaluations with poor reaction scores. The staff felt unmotivated to learn, and they too began exhibiting similar behaviors doing other work, texting on their mobile devices, or chatting with their work friends during training sessions. Workers also began falling into old habits using the legacy systems encouraged by some executives. Subsequently, the company experienced low adoption of the IT system and poor collaboration, sub-par performance, and conflicts among the departments about what information was correct and “the source of truth.” Employees consistently made mistakes within the computer program, and the IT managers became more and more frustrated.

Expected Outcomes of Training and Development

Training and development of staff intends to build knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) for participating learners. Companies that adopt a learning culture tend to foster organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Moreover, as teams develop KSAs and have the ability to put that newly acquired learning to good use on the job, performance among talent increases because of these gained competencies.

When training works, employees experience a rise in self-efficacy – defined as the confidence that an individual possesses that they can execute work behaviors to achieve expected levels of performance (Carey & Forsyth, 2009). This confidence, in turn, correlates strongly to improved job performance and job satisfaction. When employers invest in training for career development, workers perceive the organization to exhibit support for their well-being and success (Desta et al, 2022). Subsequently, organizational commitment among employees grows leading to improved retention of qualified and trained talent.

Self-efficacy through training contains a potent elixir for positive change. In addition to promoting job performance, training can also help organizations to identify and reduce counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs) (Arciniega et al, 2021). When job satisfaction improves and the organizational culture becomes positive and aligned with strategic objectives, employers and their customers reap the benefits of a highly engaged, confident, and satisfied workforce. Self-efficacy through training contains a potent elixir for positive change.

The New World Kirkpatrick Model (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2021) provides a framework for measuring training effectiveness on four levels:

  • Level One: Reaction – Learners report the level of confidence on their ability to have learned something from the lesson or course. They may rate the instructor, environment, and materials as they relate to how well they feel their learning relates to their job and can be put into action at work.

  • Level Two: Knowledge Transfer – Assessments corresponding to the material learned can be assessed through various testing instruments including quizzes, exams, interviews, essays, or projects.

  • Level Three: Behavioral Change – Workers apply the KSAs they achieved during training. Here in the field, managers can support continuous learning and performance improvement through on-the-job training, reinforcement, and coaching.

  • Level Four: Performance – Finally, when training meets business objectives, the degree by which performance has improved individually and in work groups can illustrate whether training had a positive or null effect on workers.

When any of these four levels experience interference, training may prove to provide less-than-expected outcomes.

Training and Development

The Effect of Leadership on Training Effectiveness

Adults at work learn best when they have a positive attitude. Their cognition, social receptivity, and emotional state create a state of mind where they readily achieve successful knowledge transfer, skills development, and new abilities (). With a goal-oriented mindset and self-discipline, workers engaged in learning and development can achieve high scores at all levels of the Kirkpatrick Model.

However, when leaders exhibit CWBs, apathy toward the learned material, and disregard for learning objectives, fellow subordinate or peer learners tune into social cues and can mirror those poor traits. Subsequently, learners can encounter interference in their ability to learn and apply their lessons on the job. Worse, further CWBs and unethical behavior may result insofar as harm may befall the organization and its people with nothing to make circumstances better, a lack of respect for trainers and other stakeholders in the learning process, and a notable absence of caring.

For better or worse, leaders can and do lead by example. When exhibiting bad behaviors as poor learners, managers can expect bad results – this should come as no surprise. What you reap, so shall you sow. However, the converse rings true: those transformational leaders with a growth mindset who set the benefit of the organization and their fellow workers as a goal can cultivate motivated learners whose interest in development can grow. Therefore, with an established culture of learning coupled with transformational leadership, organizations can grow self-efficacy with training to develop competencies, boost performance, and foster organizational commitment.

Bottom line, leaders: pay attention in class and serve as the model student. You will experience growth, your team will experience growth, and you will increase your likelihood to achieve your goals.


Arciniega, L. M., Servitje, A., & Woehr, D. J. (2021). Impacting the bottom line: Exploring the effect of a self-efficacy-oriented training intervention on unit‐level sales growth. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 32(4), 559–576.

Carey, M. & Forsyth, A. (2009). Teaching tip sheet: Self-efficacy. American Psychological Association (APA).

Desta, A. G., Tadesse, W. M., & Mulusew, W. B. (2022). Examining the relationship between aspects of human capital management and employee job performance: Mediating role of employee engagement and moderating role of perceived organizational support. International Journal of Organizational Leadership, 11, 64–86.

Kirkpatrick, J. & Kirkpatrick, W.K. (2021). An introduction to the New World Kirkpatrick Model. Kirkpatrick Partners, LLC.

Yang, M., Lowell, V. L., Talafha, A. M., & Harbor, J. (2020). Transfer of training, trainee attitudes and best practices in training design: A multiple-case study. TechTrends, 64(2), 280-301. doi:

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