Employee Learning & Development – moving beyond mandatory training - PerformHR

It is commonplace in industries that are heavily regulated to see a focus on providing mandatory training. Mandatory training is often used to show that governing rules & regulations are being met and employees are competent in their roles. You may have seen something like this before. It usually takes the form of a tick & flick exercise such as running through a checklist or a 2-3 hour induction program. These generic pieces of training are easy to spot as they are often very dry and cover topics such as workplace policies and procedures or legislation. 

But what does mandatory training actually achieve? Sure, you may be able to check all the required compliance boxes to deem your employees as competent, but how much of the knowledge is being retained by your employees? How engaged and motivated do they feel in their roles by completing mandatory training? What’s in it for your employees?! 

To put it simply, if you treat your training like a tick & flick exercise, so will your employees. They will do the work in as little time and with as little input as is humanly possible. Now I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like very engaging and effective learning to me! And if the only training being provided is mandatory, what kind of learning culture are you building in your organisation? Not a very successful or sustainable one I bet! 

One of the main reasons organisations provide mandatory training (apart from it being, well mandatory) is to show external auditors that their employees are ‘Competent’. But what does a competent employee look like?

Competent Employees

Competent Employees are easily identified as the employees that meet the following criteria:

  • they have an understanding of the basics and principles of their roles
  • they hold some good, practical experience
  • they can independently handle about 70% of the scenarios they encounter 
  • they know where to find additional information if it is needed
  • but they will need access to a leader or mentor to answer their more complex questions & assist with the more unique scenarios they encounter. 

A Competent employee is one that is known as a “steady performer”. That is, they can perform the core requirements of their role independently & consistently, while still needing further support to handle the trickier situations or tasks they may find themselves in on occasion. These employees make up the majority of the workplace, but they lack the star quality that brings with it a certain competitive advantage.  

Capable Employees

Capable Employees on the other hand are those that deliver differentiated & sustainable performance. These employees have a certain X-factor and are known as top performers. 

Capable Employees have the following characteristics: 

  • they have a strong level of understanding and a broad range of experiences to draw upon
  • they can handle more than 90% of the scenarios they encounter without needing to refer to someone else
  • they can deal with many different challenges
  • others often ask them to help them with more complex scenarios
  • they can come up with solutions to scenarios I haven’t encountered before. 

What does this look like in practical terms? 

As a self-proclaimed foodie and wannabe chef I like to use the following example.  

Mandatory training is like the pre-prepared meal planning service that is delivered to your house under the cover of darkness. You have the exact quantities of every ingredient needed along with step by step instructions and accompanying photos. You can make a meal that yields similar results to the picture by following detailed instructions laid out for you. And all this while using only a handful of staples you already have on hand (I.e. existing skills & experiences to draw upon). You are provided with specific learning outcomes to be met to stay compliant, and that is the main purpose of the training. 

But could you make the same meal without looking at the recipe card or without having all the ingredients laid out for you? While providing Mandatory training provides employees with the required skills and knowledge needed to handle the basics, aiming beyond mandatory training and encouraging employees to adapt a continual growth mindset turns your competent employees into capable ones. And that is of benefit to everyone. 

Why should I move beyond mandatory training?

The idea of compelling someone to take training is bound to generate an undesirable experience, which is why it is important to do away with ‘mandatory’ compliance training because anything forced in learning will result in less recall. There can also be a ‘push-back’ attitude among learners because learners are turned off from such mandatory training and end up switching off from it even if it is relevant and presented in a more engaging manner. 

Instead, organisations should foster a culture of continual learning and professional growth. Employees who adapt a growth mindset are said to receive the following benefits: 

  • greater comfort with taking personal risks and striving for stretch goals  
  • higher motivation to perform well
  • enhanced brain development across a wider range of tasks
  • lower stress, anxiety and depression;  
  • better work relationships  
  • higher performance levels.

At an organisational level, the benefits are also countless and include: 

  • increased morale and employee engagement levels
  • better workplace culture
  • higher retention rates 

How do I move beyond mandatory training?


Any decent human resource strategy will include a learning and development framework that supports individual learning & encourages employees to adapt a continual growth mindset. 

Key points to think about when developing a learning and development framework that moves beyond mandatory training include the following: 

  • Learning in the Workflow: Craft experiences for learning that are proactive, practical and are at the point of need “just in time”. 
  • Know Your Learner: Create a non-linear, psychologically safe program that recognises people’s existing capabilities. Listen to your team and respect their individual career goals. Personalise each individual employees own learning path. Remember that learning is need driven by choice! 
  • Collaborative Learning: Tap into the voices of experience within the team and place value on collaboration to tackle pain points and learning needs collectively. Inclusive learning is shared through showcasing and storytellingexperimentation, peer to peer learning and mentoring. It is also important to provide access to high calibre experts for learning opportunities. 
  • Assess needs early, often & always: Go where there is energy and build capabilities that address your real needs. Ensure you remain “on pulse” by using data such as current trends, business cycles and business priorities to guide your design thinking and choices.  
  • Be a Brave Business Leader: Your goal should be to leverage the capabilities within your team that align to your vision, values and growth mindset. 

Focus on a Blended Learning Approach

To build and develop the capability of your team, a best practice approach is to combine a range of learning methods, based on the 70:20:10 model. The 70:20:10 Model is a rough formula for what is believed to be the ideal holistic blend of learning methods in order to achieve optimum learning capabilities in the workplace. 

The model’s creators hold that ‘on the job’ experience (the 70 percent) is the most beneficial for employees because it enables them to discover and refine their job-related skills, make decisions, address challenges and interact with influential people such as managers, colleagues and mentors within work settings. They also learn from their mistakes and receive immediate feedback on their performance. 

Employees learn from others (the 20 percent) through a variety of activities that include social learning, coaching, mentoring, collaborative learning and other methods of interaction with peers. Encouragement and feedback are prime benefits of this valuable learning approach. 

The formula holds that only 10 percent of professional development optimally comes from formal learning such as Webinars, face to face training, eLearning, video learning, podcasts, etc. 

We access high calibre experts to partner for hive learning opportunities. 

In summary, it can be said that to support the growth of your employees and keep them engaged you must move beyond mandatory training. The benefits to both employees and the organisation as a whole are numerous. By adapting a human resource strategy that includes a learning and development framework, you are setting yourself up to build capable employees which brings a competitive advantage over others.  

A blended learning framework is essential for building & developing the capability of your team. And remember that employees with “growth mindsets” focus predominantly on bringing their hardest and most astute efforts to their work and seek to improve by learning from whatever transpires, which will only bring more benefits to your organisation. 

“You may have seen something like this before. It usually takes the form of a tick & flick exercise such as running through a checklist or a 2-3 hour induction program.”

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