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The Best Training is Just Like Learning to Drive

The return on investment you got from driving lessons is more than infinitely higher (yes I really said that) than that high profile £1,000+ crammed-full-of-speakers training event you went to.  The reason is this: skills can depreciate very quickly, so how well you’re using them 2, 5 or 10 years later is the difference between one of the best investments you ever make, and a costly waste of time.

Let’s look at a case example, based on a study by the excellent training researcher, Ann Bartel[1]. You can see that if a person retains the skill well a year later, returns[2] are outstanding (and if the person actually improves his or her skills every year, returns quickly get into triple digits).  But if they lose a just a third of a new skill in a year, the training becomes a loss maker.

Training Retention Chart

So how do we get those fantastic paybacks by having skills we’ll still be using well in 5 or 10 years?

  • To start with, we learn skills that we know we’ll be using 5 or 10 years later, like goal setting or delegation or problem solving. Quickly debunked and forgotten management fads like Good to Great and Myers-Briggs are the Zumba Jazzercise of the training world and crash expensively at this first hurdle
  • We practise, practise, practise in training until the skill starts to feel natural, and engages our procedural memory (the memory engaged for riding a bike). Concepts and insights alone are like reading about how to ride a bike
  • We set things up to keep practising long after training is over (hopefully because we learned skills that make us better at our jobs and that we’ll enjoy using every day, but also maybe because we set up protocols that prompt us to practise)

If it all feels like learning to drive, or to ski or to do the breast stroke, then we’re onto a rewarding winner.


[1] Returns for 30% & 40% extrapolated from Bartel’s figures for 5%, 10% and 20%

[2] Calculated using wage uplift for the trainee; returns to the business are typically 5x this

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