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Why ‘Watch and Learn’ Training Fails

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, ‘Is Your Company Encouraging Employees to Share What They Know?’, author Christopher Myers points out that while organizations invest significant resources in handbooks, protocols, formal mentoring programs, and knowledge management systems to share employees’ experiences for the purpose of creating in-house training programs, the Fortune 500 still lose a combined $31.5 billion per year from employees failing to share knowledge effectively.

That’s a lot of money going to waste on learning efforts.

This begs the question, Why? and further, How can we improve upon our existing training systems, so that they do not fail?

As the article points out, employees incur productivity and opportunity costs by trying to reinvent the wheel, repeating others’ mistakes (perhaps, of employees who are no longer with the company), or wasting time searching for information which ultimately may or may not be relevant to the situation at hand (SharePoint may not be working so great).

While formal systems might help communicate established best practices (the what), they often don’t explain how an individual should apply them to their own work.

As a result, employees rely on informal learning and training practices — shadowing or observing senior and fellow colleagues, in order to ‘watch and learn’ what they need to know.

But watch and learn only goes so far. What may have worked for an employee, group, department or division for a specific product or service in the past few years may not necessarily work at the present time.  Customers and the general business environment may have changed, or not be applicable to the employee interested in applying past successes to a current situation.

Additionally, teams are geographically dispersed, adding the challenges of remote workforces and a layer of cultural complexity to the process.

The solution is to learn collaboratively in a two-way interactive process, Myers points out. Learning cannot simply be in one direction, and as products, processes and people change, group learning and iteration is the only way the process will work.

ExpertKnowledge is aware of this pain point and we are working to close this gap. Our learning development tool, Synapse, is designed specifically for knowledge capture and transfer, so that a company’s internal experts can share what they know best, and others inside the company can reap the benefits of this expertise in a highly dynamic, iterative, and collaborative environment.

Both parties need to benefit — not just the learner.  An organization that understands this concept and that has a system in place that moves beyond the watch and learn will surely succeed.

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