Mandatory Training Is Really Not the Answer

Mandatory Training Is Really Not the Answer

I’ve worked for plenty of companies that believed the way to get employees to attend training was to make it mandatory. While making a training session mandatory might accomplish the goal of getting employees to attend, it doesn’t accomplish the goal of getting them to fully engage. And that’s what really matters.

Employees are usually willing to show up to receive instruction. Companies simply need to let employees know that the program is important. But saying “it’s important” isn’t enough. There are three specific activities that organizations can do to demonstrate the importance of training.

Explain to employees “what’s in it for them” (i.e. WIIFM). Employees are smart. They know that they need to learn new things to stay relevant in the job they have and prepare for future opportunities. Educational programs can help do that. But if companies don’t tell employees what they will learn, then employees don’t know that the training session is important. Maybe we should take all the time and effort spent on communicating that the program is mandatory and refocus it on the WIIFM.

Ask managers to support training efforts. I hate to say it but another big reason that employees don’t attend a program is the manager (not the employee). As someone who delivers professional training, I can’t tell you how many times an employee will tell me that their manager doesn’t want them to attend. Managers should want employees to attend training and keep their skills fresh. Managers who don’t support training are stifling employee growth and potentially contributing to employee disengagement and turnover.

Hold managers and employees accountable for content. Instead of holding people accountable for attending a training program, hold them accountable for practicing the content. I’m not aware of a single company that spends time and resources to hold a training program so at the end of it, employees can do whatever they want. Instructional programs are designed with specific objectives. At the end of the session, employees should be able to do what the program objectives outlined.

Even when training is considered compliance related or required by some entity, the same activities still apply. Instead of telling employees that “Oh, we have to do this training because XYZ Government Agency requires it.”, just say “This program addresses these 4 requirements and explain how it will allow you to do your job better.” Managers should do the same to support program attendance.

Declaring training “mandatory” is easy but it doesn’t create the right environment. It’s better to direct those resources and energy toward explaining why the training is important, asking managers to support the program, and holding participants accountable.