How to maximise your ROI on training

What is mastery? Let Dara Murphy help explain how to take training to the next level.

Reading time: 3m 30s.

How would you describe your top performing staff? In all organisations, high performing staff perform masterfully and automatically with natural confidence in their skill set. Training is traditionally delivered by a subject matter expert who has a huge amount of experience and acumen on the subject.

Once training concludes and it is time for staff to perform using their newly trained skills and knowledge some common challenges occur. Do any of these sound familiar?

Re-learning on the job

Employees, who have new hire training, when they start working and it is time to display their skills and knowledge staff have to learn on the job possibly missing key opportunities.

Meeting expectations

Passing the training test yet finding it difficult to meet on the job real-world expectations. This can be a big demand on the time of the manager or the person responsible for monitoring the performance of the staff.

Knowledge recall

Staff find it challenging to recall key information on a product or service at the critical moment.

If we want our top salespeople to smoothly and confidently match customer needs to product features we must train them to that fluent standard. 

Hesitant/not confident

Staff are hesitant to use their newly acquired skills and knowledge.Staff are only confident in certain areas. If a salesperson is unsure about the features of some aspect of a product the results may be missed sales.

Problem solving

When faced with novel situations staff find it challenging to solve the challenge independently.

Workload distribution

Unequal work distribution between high performing and underperforming staff.


When faced with these performance challenges after putting all this time and resources into delivering training, it’s fair to ask what is your ROI on training and why do they occur? These challenges occur across all training environments for a very exact reason: Competency standards.

Where we set the bar for training our staff’s skills and knowledge results is directly responsible for all the on-the-job challenges listed above. If we want our top salespeople to smoothly and confidently match customer needs to product features we must train them to that fluent standard.

If we want our customer service representatives to automatically quantify sales leads, and have second-nature knowledge of all our latest products and services, we must train them to that fluent standard. If we want our newly trained doctors to perform skills confidently and automatically we must train them to that standard.

How can I raise the bar on my competency standards?

Most training professionals agree that automatic, confident, fluent performance is a proper goal for training. Yet when defining standards, most training programs have an accuracy focus. They give the learner opportunities to practise until they perform accurately.

That could mean getting 25/25 questions accurate on an MCQ. It could mean performing 10/10 sales roleplays correctly. It could mean surgeons practise a surgical knot 10/10 times to accuracy. It could mean new hires answer 50/50 questions about a new launch product. Training up to 100% only allows learners to train to accuracy.

When defining competency standards, to ensure the bar for standards is measurably higher, the definition must include not only the behaviours but also the time it takes for an expert to perform fluently. To train to mastery we must include the time element when we define standards.

When training a salesperson to match customer needs to product features a learner who can match 50 examples correctly in 1 minute is said to know the material to a higher standard than a salesperson who can correctly match only 25 per minute. A surgeon who can perform eight knots in five minutes is performing to a higher standard that one who can accurately perform four knots in the same amount of time. 

How do I go about defining a fluency standard ? 

This is done by probing an expert performing multiple examples of the same skill and using that score as a benchmark. For example, an expert surgeon can drill 10 surgical holes in 95 seconds, a top performing call representitve can answer 15/20 questions on a flashcard in one minute.

In contrast training to accuracy alone will result in many of the challenges discussed earlier. Behavioural fluency represents a standard of true mastery for competency standards. It’s a performance standard that individuals and organisation need on the job. As most training programs do not measure fluency they, therefore, do not come close to producing fluency.


About the author

Dara Murphy is the founder of GrandMaster Performance.



Binder, Carl & Sweeney, Lee. (2002). Building fluent performance in a customer call center. Performance Improvement. 41. 29-37. 10.1002/pfi.4140410207.+

Bloom, C. and Binder, C. (1989), Fluent product knowledge: Application in the financial services industry. Nonprofit Management Leadership, 28: 17-21 

Levy, I. M., Pryor, K. W., & McKeon, T. R. (2016). Is Teaching Simple Surgical Skills Using an Operant Learning Program More Effective Than Teaching by Demonstration?. Clinical orthopaedics and related research, 474(4), 945–955. doi:10.1007/s11999-015-4555-8



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