It’s widely recognised that introducing IT teams to the latest technology, business, and security advancements is essential for maximum performance and productivity.
What’s not often discussed, however, are the mistakes IT leaders make when establishing and supervising training programs, particularly when training is viewed as little more than an obligatory task.
“Treating training as a checkbox exercise sends the message to your team that you don’t really care all that much about the content they’re learning — and that mindset is contagious,” warns Steve Ryan, a manager at BARR Advisory, a cloud-based security and compliance solutions provider.
Is your organisation giving its teams the training they need to keep pace with the latest industry developments? To find the answer, here’s a quick checklist of the seven most common training mistakes you need to steer clear of when upskilling your IT teams.
1. Emphasising the wrong goals
A big mistake many IT leaders make is relying on a training structure that prioritises career advancement over skill development.
“This creates a culture of ‘ladder-climbing’ rather than a focus on continuous training, learning, and improvement,” says Nicolás Ávila, CTO for North America at software development firm Globant.
To keep teams engaged and reaching toward goals, Ávila suggests individualising skill-building while periodically creating skill-focused missions. Experimentation broadens expertise, particularly in a rapidly evolving field like technology where being able to learn many new skills is key to both career and enterprise success, he says. “Creating a culture of development also leads to a happier and more engaged workforce, which can minimise attrition.”
Don’t fear attrition — fear stagnation, Ávila advises. “If you have the right team some members will leave, but if you have the wrong team they might all stay and slowly damage your organisation beyond repair.”
2. Neglecting soft skills
Focusing solely on technical skills and ignoring other essential professional abilities, such as business acumen, communication management, and leadership, is a serious mistake, says Sharon Mandell, CIO at Juniper Networks. “Some people call them ‘soft skills,’ but I think these should be thought of as core skills,” she states.
If team members are unable to communicate with and influence both colleagues and stakeholders, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to produce solutions that work for everyone, Mandell says. “A better approach is making sure you’re doing some of both, developing technical and complementary core skills.”
For maximum training effectiveness, Mandell recommends that IT leaders follow a balanced approach. “By focusing on creating well-rounded teams, you’re thinking long term,” she says. You’ll also build a sustainable and resilient organisation, not just tech skills for today. “Don’t let urgent things cloud your long-term strategy.”
3. Failing to address change
Commit to continual learning, development, and business alignment to stay ahead of the curve and fulfill larger business goals, advises Dalan Winbush, CIO at code application development platform firm Quickbase.
Because technology is always changing, IT personnel must stay current with new innovations to continue performing their jobs effectively. Prioritising business alignment at the expense of continuous learning and growth may lead to lack of innovation, stagnation, and an inability to achieve organisational goals, he warns.
Training technology is also rapidly advancing. Intelligence automation (IA)-driven training options — including offerings that utilise artificial intelligence and machine learning — have the potential to boost training results by providing highly focused job- and business-relevant instruction featuring individualised learning experiences.
4. Disregarding diversity
Failing to recognise IT team members as unique individuals leads to uneven training results at best. “Diversity extends to the uniqueness in how we think and process information, and these differences shape the way we learn and interact,” says Ashwin Sadasiva Kumar, senior vice president, learning and campus head, at IT consulting firm Virtusa.
IT leaders and their training colleagues should design training modules that cater to all learning styles. “Some people are visual thinkers, while others are more analytical or creative,” Kumar says. Perspectives matter, he notes. “Therefore, training diversity is important, since it allows team members to approach problems and challenges from different angles, which can lead to more innovative solutions and better decision-making.”
Kumar suggests that CIOs should widen their training perspective and focus on their teams’ needs. “This starts with encouraging employees to be creative and curious, while also cultivating the workplace to prioritise individual growth,” he says. “Employees are looking for leaders to incubate a workplace where they have a seat at the table, whether that’s anticipating the needs of clients, understanding organisational needs and forecasts, identifying and pursuing deals, or feeling motivated.”
5. Instructional irrelevance
IT leaders tend to believe that most staff members understand training’s importance and how it relates to their job, says Orla Daly, CIO at educational technology firm Skillsoft. Yet that’s frequently not true.
IT pros want training relevancy, Daly says. If team members don’t understand why a specific training program or session is necessary, they probably won’t recognise its value. Focusing on topics that are relevant to their job, and may possibly lead to career advancement, will motivate staffers and make them eager to learn.
When lacking context on training’s value, team members are likely to dismiss training as an unnecessary chore. “They either won’t make time for it or will go through the motions without digesting or retaining any of the key messages or insights,” Daly explains. “This not only defeats the purpose of the intended training, but can lead to frustration and disengagement among teams.” IT professionals crave growth and professional development. “If they’re not seeing the value in their current training programs, they may lose motivation or even consider changing jobs.”
Building training relevancy requires IT leaders to recognise and demolish training barriers, such as course sessions that conflict with team members’ hectic work schedules or intruding on their personal time. “It also means connecting training to professional development and career growth,” Daly says.
Leadership development and power-skills training are frequently unfortunate afterthoughts, Daly states. “By showing employees how training can help them achieve their own career goals — in addition to supporting the needs of the business — IT leaders will see greater productivity and engagement from their team members.”
6. Cutting corners
Team education should never be regarded as an afterthought, so training programs should be allocated appropriate resources in terms of money, time, and trainers, says Randall Trzeciak, director of the Masters of Science Information Security Policy and Management program at Carnegie Mellon University.
“Don’t allow resource limitations to deny training to all relevant IT staff members, including secondary support staff,” he advises.
Unlike fine wines or blue jeans, training programs don’t age well. “Make sure that IT skills are keeping pace with change,” Trzeciak recommends. “Ensure there’s an ability to measure training effectiveness during and after the training program’s completion.”
7. Treating training as a discrete entity
Perhaps the best and most effective training approach is educating team members without them even realising it, BARR Advisory’s Ryan says. Besides providing conventional formal training, a growing number of organisations are making training an integral part of each team member’s everyday work-life.
Ryan points to security training as an example. “This means sending out periodic reminders to employees, conducting regular phishing awareness and reporting exercises, and incentivising employees to improve by gamifying the learning experience.”