Ideal Outcomes

Converting “Hostages” in Corporate Training

By Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc. 

There’s a situation we encounter almost every day in a training program. Whether in-person or online we know we can expect some hostages—employees who are there against their will for a variety of reasons. 

It’s an issue that needs to be addressed upfront because the negativity of just one or two people can infect an entire group if you’re not careful. Employee training is key to keep your team’s skills up-to-date and maintaining a competitive workforce. From the company’s perspective there are obvious benefits including improved employee retention, higher productivity, and greater profit margins.  

According to a Microsoft study

  • 76% of employees and 83% of business decision makers say they’d stay at their company longer if they could benefit more from learning and development support. 
  • Employees consider opportunities to learn and grow as the #1 driver of great work culture. 
  • Roughly 8 in 10 employees say they need additional skills to do their day-to-day work. 

And a Human Capital Institute study found:

  • 62% of employees of organizations with a strong coaching culture rated themselves as “highly engaged.”
  • 51% with a strong coaching culture reported above-average revenue growth compared to peer groups.

Common Reasons for Employee Resistance to Training

So, it’s important to get employees on board with your investment in training. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons for employee resistance to training. 

Fear of failure:

Employees may be apprehensive about learning new skills or methods, fearing they won’t be able to master them or will fail. Alternatively, they might worry they’ll be embarrassed in front of their peers. Trainings might scare those who think it will expose their weaknesses or threaten their job security.  

Feeling too busy:

In a busy work environment adding anything extra can seem overwhelming. Training might be viewed as just another item on an already full plate and too much pressure to handle. 

Resistance to change:

People often settle into their workflow and might see training as a disruptive force, pulling them away from their comfort zone. 

Past experience:

Previous training that was ineffective or low-quality can breed skepticism about the value of future programs. 

Relevance and value:

If employees don’t see how training aligns with their goals or how it benefits them directly they’re likely to question its worth. Some employees think their existing knowledge and ways of working are just fine, so they don’t see the need to learn anything new. 

How to Reduce Resistance

How can we turn the tide? Here are some practical steps I’ve seen work to reduce resistance and get your team excited about learning. 

Communicate the benefits:

First and foremost, every business needs to tune in to the largest radio station in the world: WII-FM—What’s In It For Me. Show employees how training will benefit them personally—think career growth, new skills, maybe even a path to a promotion or a raise. Highlight how the new skills will make their jobs easier and increase efficiency. Use concrete examples of how mastering the material will positively impact their day-to-day work. When people see what’s in it for them they are more likely to wholeheartedly embrace a program.  

Get Buy-In Through Involvement:

Let your employees have a say in what training looks like. Which skills do they think they need? How and when would they prefer to learn? Being part of the planning process and having a sense of ownership will boost their commitment. You can also identify champions who are enthusiastic about the training and have them help rally others. 

Address Concerns:

Acknowledge and directly respond to common objections or resistance. Clearly explain how the training program will be structured to minimize disruptions. If previous trainings have been ineffective, acknowledge these shortcomings and discuss how the new training will be different based on feedback received. Transparency can rebuild trust and credibility. 

Ensure Relevance:

Generic one-size-fits-all training is a surefire way to lose employees’ interest. Customize the content to your workforce’s specific roles, challenges, and skill gaps. Also, use interactive components like discussions and activities to keep people engaged. 

Lead by Example:

If leaders and managers dismiss or fail to participate in training themselves, it sends the wrong message. They should be models of the behavior they want to see from employees. Their enthusiasm and commitment can be contagious. 

Highlight Successes:

Share examples and testimonials from employees who have participated in previous trainings. This shows the practical benefits of training and helps in building a positive narrative around it. Real-life examples can be inspirational as well as instructive. 

Offer Incentives:

Provide motivating incentives like bonuses, perks, or public recognition for employees who complete the training program. Most people appreciate a certificate or digital badge that  acknowledges their accomplishment. I have also seen companies use a points system in their LMS for completing training, then when an employee reaches a certain level, they can use the points to purchase company swag.

Turn Hostages into Advocates

Overcoming resistance to training boils down to how you approach the issue. By engaging directly with your team, offering flexible and relevant opportunities, and creating a positive learning culture, you can turn skeptics into believers and make your training programs a success. Be sure to clearly articulate how the training will benefit the employee, not just the company.