The Problem with “One-and-Done” Trainings and How to Get More Out of Your Leadership Development Efforts

How many times have you attended a training seminar only to walk out the door and soon after not remember much of what you learned?

Some studies indicate that without training reinforcement, we will forget half of what we learned immediately following the training. After 6 months to a year, we can forget upwards of 75% or more of what we learned. Other studies suggest a higher learning loss of up to 90% after a week.

These statistics are based on the “forgetting curve” which was introduced by Hermann Ebbinghaus many decades ago.

Yet many companies are still investing in “one and done” trainings for their employees.

Why is that?

In some ways, it’s hard to get away from it – after all, sharing materials in a workshop or training is the most straightforward way to ensure that you’ve delivered all the content that someone needs to know in order to do their job well.

But what can you do to get more of that training to stick, or to really, truly impact someone’s development?

There are a few different factors that lead to low retention on training. I’ve highlighted a few below that are important to be aware of.

  • Information Overload
  • Lack of Repetition
  • Lack of Relevance

Information Overload

Think about how your lessons were structured when you were in grade school or middle school.  You would be taught some new concepts, and then assigned homework or exercises to reinforce those concepts. Finally, you’d get tested on them to see how much you retain.

The main difference between this approach and the approach often taken in companies is the timeframe over which this learning happened. You might spend an entire semester on a small number of topics in school – whereas in organizations you get at best a day or maybe a couple of days, all condensed together.

It’s no wonder we feel overloaded when we come out of a training.

Tip: I suggest to break up training seminars into several shorter, more digestible workshops spread out over a longer time period. Ideally, each session focuses on just one topic at a time to prevent information overload and increase the participants’ retention rate

Lack of Repetition

Another common issue is that trainings will happen once and then never get revisited. For example, a manager may attend a seminar on how to have difficult conversations with employees.

She leaves excited and inspired but does not have any “difficult conversations for several months”. Then three months later an employee is highly frustrated and resigns. The new manager is now left on her own to try to remember and apply the concepts she learned.

This is tough given how many different situations and challenges leaders face day in and day out.

Tip: One of the most important aspects to increase retention and support the application of the content learned is repetition. By introducing repetition retention will significantly increase. This process is frequently illustrated by a graph similar to the following:

Repetition can be created by using some of the following methods:

1. COACHING—Group or Individual Coaching

Implement group coaching programs either by internal managers or external coaches following the delivery of the training. I always recommend regrouping the participants with their peers in multiple facilitated group coaching sessions the weeks or months after the training (this could even be casual ‘brown bag lunches’ or ‘virtual coffee chats’). This greatly helps to reinforce the positive experiences and learning, people can share what worked well and didn’t work well in practice, and, most importantly, they can share some suggestions and tips with each other.


You could also use post-training assignments such as emailing out group or individual exercises and activities or articles to read to ensure they stay engaged with the topic and the key takeaways are being repeated.


Depending on the systems you’re using, you could set-up a web-based blog and discussion thread or wiki page where participants can interact with the instructor and each other in an on-going manner, dialoguing or responding to case studies, stories, videos, and examples.

By doing this, participants engage with each other and maintain their learning experience outside of the seminar or workshop.

Lack of Relevance

Lastly, one of the most critical factors impacting employee motivation to learn and knowledge retention is the actual relevance of the content.  How many times have you heard something only to think “how does this actually help me in my job?”

At that point, you’ve probably already tuned out the content and the likelihood that you retain and leverage it are very low. The fact that people have different learning styles, experience levels, and expertise also exacerbate the impact of “one-size-fits-all” training. Particularly in leadership or management skills, what one person lacks in confidence or executive presence may be a time management or productivity issue for another person.  Both may have a large impact on their ability to really grow as a leader, but the content and support they would need would be drastically different.

Tip: Think about how to personalize your development efforts. While there will often be a base foundation that is relevant for everyone, it’s often the individual gaps that really start to come into play as people move up in an organization.  Pay attention to the extent of customization the participants need in their training to reach that “next level”. These individual development needs are ideally addressed in either smaller groups or 1-on-1 coaching.


With the pace of change in business, companies need to be even more thoughtful about how the training and development programs they create are relevant to employee skill sets and the current business and leadership needs of the organization.

More and more companies are moving to personalized development programs, which are ideally a combination of training and coaching to get increase retention and make it as relevant as possible. 


Ramona is a leadership coach who helps new managers succeed in their first few years as leaders by building solid leadership skills and habits. She believes that professional success needs to co-exist with success in all other areas of life to achieve sustainable high performance and fulfillment.

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