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Maximize Performance Improvement with Increased Employee Skill Retention from Training

Training employees is useless if they either forget what they learned or return to doing things the way they always have.

If your organization is creating training that’s being forgotten, then you’re wasting people’s time, time developing training, and a whole lot of money.

Employees are too important to your organization to waste their time and not have them learn anything from training or change their behavior. If employees forget their training, unlocking their true potential is impossible. That means your organization must take action to ensure employees gain meaningful skills from their training.

Anything that helps employees perform their jobs better will maximize performance improvement and ensure training contributes to organizational growth. Effective employee training is essential.

Regarding remembering training, the adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is all too true. Without learning close to the point of need and with regular reinforcement, training and skills will be lost over time, leaving employees feeling lost when they need to use what they were supposed to have learned from training.

Is your employee training out of sight, out of mind?

It’s aggravating for employees to take training and then have a two-week gap before they’re expected to use their newly acquired skills. That seems to be extremely common, though. For company technology, it’s extremely common to have a two-week training period before employees get access to a new system.

Ever heard that? “Everybody needs to be trained before we go live!”

Ugh. That’s a recipe for disaster.

That’s one reason we always say it’s essential to train employees as close to the time of need as possible. We’re going to go a bit deeper than that with methods that can be used to combat the forgetting curve.

Whether it’s a course for software or a set of safety protocols, forgetting important training can have serious consequences.

Fortunately, there are ways to ensure employees don’t forget their training while helping them retain learned skills. It could come down to limiting the length of any given training session, spacing training, providing resources to help employees remember, or just training as close to the time of need as possible.

Instead of spaced learning, a traditional L&D approach to helping improve retention, we like spaced doing even better. I’ll go over that a bit more, but it’s exactly what it sounds like, but with a performance twist.

Organizational training should always be about doing/performing and not just about learning. That’s also why we propose leaving learning objectives for performance objectives.

Organizations must change how they approach training and invest in methods to ensure employees are prepared to perform. That’s the only way organizations can truly reach their potential.

Benefits of Improved Employee Skills Retention

This may be obvious, and I don’t need to break down the benefits, but I will anyway!

Professional development is useless if employees can’t apply what they learn.

Improved employee retention of skills has multiple positive benefits for any organization. Time is money, and money is money. You’re wasting both with pointless training that isn’t done to provide real skills to employees.

Here are two of the major benefits of doing it right.


Improved training retention ensures employees are productive when it comes time to apply learned skills. Employees forgetting causes mistakes, delays, poor service, or worse.

Implementing strategies that enable maximum performance improvement and ensure employees don’t forget can help to minimize these delays and ensure projects stay on track.


Employees are always more engaged when they know what they’re doing and feel supported. Improved skills retention contributes to that because it’s up to the employer to ensure employees know how to do their jobs.

Even the most highly skilled job where employees come knowing most of their trade requires organization-specific skills. When employees are supported with good training, they will be more engaged in their work.

When employees are engaged, they perform better and quit less.

I mean, when I feel confident that I can complete a task and do it correctly, I’m more motivated and enthusiastic. If I see no point in the job, am not supported, and constantly have to second-guess myself because of a lack of training, then that’s pretty miserable.

When training is forgotten, the opposite occurs, leading to apathy and a lack of effort. Ensuring employees don’t forget the skills they learned in training can be the difference between an efficient and effective workforce and a disjointed and unenthusiastic one.

One of the biggest negatives of a lack of engagement is employee turnover. Nobody wants that, and every organization wants to reduce high employee turnover.

Strategies for Improving Skill Retention from Training

Organizations have several strategies to ensure employees retain skills from training. Sometimes, it’s actions that need to be taken by the organization, and sometimes, it’s employee education.

There’s always a desire to get people trained with enough time before launching a new company system. That mindset has to be thrown away. Instead of trying to do everything on a schedule with plenty of time to spare, that mindset should be changed to do everything to maximize skill retention from training to increase employee success.

Enough, though. Let’s get into specific things organizations can do to improve skill retention from training.

Space It

If you do something once, you’ll probably remember just a little. Spaced practice is a great place to start in corporate training.

Dividing courses into smaller chunks and providing realistic practice enables employees to keep skills fresh in their minds. It could be as simple as providing a high-quality course with the necessary details and then spacing out practice pushed out in the days after training.

Spaced learning and practice help employees refresh their memories when learning is overwhelming.

It’s like an IV drip feed of training to reinforce the most important points of an actual training session or course.

Spaced doing is even better! Of course, if it’s anything that could cause damage to people, then spaced learning may not be ideal. I don’t want a brain surgeon practicing on me with spaced learning.

Spaced doing involves providing employees with regular activities and tasks that require them to utilize what they’ve learned. It needs to be the actual job, though. It’s not cool to say an employee will take on a new process, make them take a course, and then never give them something to practice their skills on.

It happens!

So, if employees have learned new software by taking a course, providing them with regular tasks requiring the use of that software will ensure they don’t forget the training and continue to maximize their performance.

Employees should get to do it until they cement their knowledge and know how to do it like the experts (when necessary). It’s not always essential to make an expert, though. So sometimes, just enough (and not too much) is better.

Never Too Much

Another great way to improve employee retention of skills is by keeping the training short and to the point. That means only training on the essentials and sticking with a less is more mentality. You can’t deny that nothing is important if everything is important.

It’s a good idea to start with our course creation strategy, beginning every course creation process with nothing. It’s a great strategy for simplifying complex content, giving employees just the right stuff when they need it, and saving the rest for later.

You can deliver the necessary skills to learn in a course and then provide additional support in performance support, which is exactly its strength.

It’s a helpful goal to keep any single training session to no more than 30 minutes. That’s our goal, even if sometimes more is needed. If that’s the case, we figure out a way to break it up and ensure employees aren’t sitting in training for more than 30 minutes.

No cramming, please; it simply doesn’t work and is counterproductive. Talk about wasting organizational resources!

Make It Relevant

If employees don’t care about it, they won’t learn it. That’s one reason compliance training is typically so ineffective. Does it move the needle of compliance, or are good people just going to be good while the bad will be bad?

By ensuring training is relevant and employees can relate to it, they might pay attention and care. Relevance is king (and queen) in training.

If you look at some of the best examples of compliance training, you’ll see a trend. It’s relevant to people, and they want to see more. One great example is Microsoft’s compliance training, The Trust Code. It’s a series of dramatic videos in which Nelson plays the main character, who always faces compliance troubles.

Watch this video to see an overview and see how it’s making compliance training more relevant to employees.

It doesn’t have to be compliance, though. Sometimes it’s just about making training more approachable to people and more in tune with how it will help their job. Some messaging and positioning of a course could work wonders. It doesn’t always have to be a huge video production that consumes your budget.

Don’t Train Too Early

We wrote extensively on this topic in our post about training employees as close to the time of need as possible. That means I’ll spend a little less time on that topic here. The gist is that you shouldn’t give employees two weeks to take training when they can’t even use the skills learned for another two weeks.

When you give people too much time in advance to take training, they’ll have forgotten everything by the time they need it. Then you’re just wasting people’s time and ensuring they don’t know how to use the tool when they get access (if it’s software). Either that, or they will flood your help desk with unnecessary questions. You want to reduce help desk calls, not increase them.

That’s a common occurrence, and then training looks bad when trying to train skills too far in advance of the time of need. Properly timed training with just the right content is good, but performance support will help.

Performance Support

Performance support can fill a lot of gaps and works well with training. There’s a reason why performance support is the ultimate form of training that’s often forgotten.

It’s because performance support is a huge help and aid in memory for tasks that aren’t performed regularly. Not only that, but by leaving some tasks to performance support, the skills taught in training are that much more effective.

So, while a course might cover the tasks that employees will often do, performance support should cover those that aren’t. When some content is left to performance support rather than a course, the course will be more effective with more relevant and useful material for employees.

No more wasted cognitive space on useless material that doesn’t need to be remembered!

Nick Jonas kisses the tips of his fingers in the perfection motion at employee training retention perfection.

Have Them (Fake) Do It If Possible

Practicing and doing are the most impactful ways of cementing skills. But sometimes it’s not possible to perform a task.

The practice needs to be real practice, though. Practice isn’t being asked a question about how to perform something with text-based abstract questions. Software is something you do, not just read about.

Have you ever taken one of the tests on LinkedIn for software? Perhaps an Office test or Photoshop test?

They’re pretty bad. You’re asked bizarre questions about how to do a task and must choose from multiple text-based answers or obscure disjointed images. How the heck am I supposed to know that, and how does it help me or prove that I know a task?

It doesn’t.

I can do most of those tasks all day long in the application, but the minute you ask me an abstract question, I’m done. I fail.

That’s why doing it in a simulation is the best possible option. Our specialty lies in creating realistic software simulations, which is a great way to help employees learn while doing.

Realistic software simulations and scenarios are great ways to increase employee skill retention.

Realistic scenarios and then doing them are much better than learning from abstract pictures without connection to one another. Our superpower is custom eLearning development with scenarios and realistic software simulations that are effective. That’s how we build custom software training.

This approach can improve performance and significantly boost employee engagement and productivity. Employees will gain maximum training benefits with fake but realistic practice scenarios in a fake but realistic practice system. Software simulations create a safe environment for employees to practice in.

Stories And Scenarios

Tying in realistic and relatable stories and scenarios helps people relate to training and remember skills better. This method can work with software, soft skills, compliance, or anything else.

If there’s something for employees to relate to, as long as it’s genuine, it will make training more relatable and memorable. Instead of telling people not to leave the company laptop in the trunk, show or tell a story about what can happen if you do that.

When training weaves in stories and realistic scenarios, they’re more memorable and relatable.

This is one of the strong points of Microsoft’s Trust Code, which I mentioned above. Instead of simply telling employees what to do and what not to do, they weaved those lessons into stories that helped people see those things and understand the consequences of their actions.

If you can make training more realistic to employees’ work and what they could encounter on the job, then it will be that much more relevant to them. Remember that I mentioned relevance is an essential way to increase training retention? Stories and scenarios are great ways to make training more relevant.

Evaluating Results & Adjusting the Plan

Surveys and feedback can greatly gauge a course’s success and if information is retained. They just need to be formulated well.

Even a brief test that asks them to perform one task or answer a few questions can be helpful. This might also uncover areas where employees are still struggling so training can be adjusted or provide more direct intervention.

Whatever you do, remember that nothing is perfect the first time around. Always be open to iteration. The goal is continual improvement, so you should apply an agile mindset to training design. It’s helpful to remember that projects aren’t always a once-and-done thing (unless they are).

Training should be regularly audited, updated, and adjusted as new information becomes available and things change with employees, systems, processes, and more. By periodically evaluating training results and adjusting content accordingly, organizations can ensure employees remain updated with the latest best practices and their performance continues to improve.

Encouraging Continuous Improvement

To ensure employees stay engaged and retain skills learned from training, organizations should consider implementing a system to encourage continuous improvement.

Rewards and recognition for employees who demonstrate they are continuously improving and retaining skills can motivate them. This is what we call gamification of training, and it can be helpful or harmful.

Feedback on how employees have improved their work specific to training can also help keep them motivated and engaged.

Organizations can also benefit from encouraging employees to share their knowledge and skills. Communities and groups on an enterprise social network are the perfect place to promote social learning. There’s nothing more powerful than a social organization that builds collaboration and conversations into its core values.

Training can only do so much, but a culture of continuous improvement can lead to a healthier workplace and improved performance. Your organization will go far with good training and an environment encouraging learning and growth.

Using Technology to Facilitate Performance Improvement

Organizations can also use technology to ensure employees don’t forget skills and have the opportunity for spaced practice. Several solutions, such as online portals and mobile apps, are available for this purpose. These give employees access to essential resources and information in the palm of their hand, enabling them to review information or skills on the go.

This can be especially helpful for employees working in the field who cannot access a computer.

Sometimes, it could be as simple as sending a quick email as a follow-up to a course that reminds employees of an important task. It just takes a small piece of information to trigger people to remember more. There are entire companies that base their technology solutions on microlearning.

If you’d like to discuss what’s possible, schedule a free consultation, and we’ll walk you through some available solutions and how they can be used to meet your overall employee retention and training goals.

Wrap Up

If organizations want to maximize the performance improvement of their employees, ensuring they don’t forget skills learned in training is a great first step. Or possibly the single largest step.

There are many helpful strategies for achieving this, and any good instructional design consultant will have lots of these tricks up their sleeve. It all comes down to knowing your stuff, knowing the strategies, and being able to put them into practice when relevant.

Maximum performance improvement requires relevance, regular reinforcement, and continual feedback. Luckily, there are many methods to achieve this; you just need to know how and when to use them.

If you become an expert or work with an expert, it becomes second nature after a while. Employee training can profoundly impact an organization’s success or failure. It’s either wasted money or efficient workplace transformation and improvement.

When you’re ready to work with an expert, schedule a free consultation so we can talk to see if we can add value to your organization with top-notch corporate technical training.

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