So, what can you do when a trainee isn’t getting it? We’ve all been there. Anyone in a leadership role has worked with an employee who seemed difficult, if not impossible, to train. It can be frustrating for the manager and employee. The manager’s frustration can turn to resentment based on the assumption that the individual doesn’t have the capacity to learn. While, at the same time, the employee might begin to feel singled out. So, what can a manager do to help an employee who isn’t getting it? Training a trainee is more than reading to them from a manual. Here are a few suggestions.

What Can You Do When a Trainee Isn’t Getting it? 

Learn How They Learn

Not everyone takes in information the same way, and not everyone learns as you do. Understanding how someone learns can be as easy as asking them. A trainer tends to train others the way the trainer learns. It should be the other way around. If you’d like to learn more, try this post, How NOT to Train. 

Check Their Understanding 

Too often, I’ve heard trainers asked leading questions about a trainee’s understanding of a procedure. For example, “Do you understand?” Does anyone who asks this question really expect a trainee to answer no? Dig in, ask open-ended questions, and discover what they know and what they don’t. How to ask Questions for Understanding

Is Someone Influencing them?

Has someone else on the team, or the outside, influenced their behavior? Did a co-worker show them a shortcut? Has a family member or friend told them it was unneeded? Ask the trainee directly what they believe and don’t believe about the training.

Are They Buying In?

Do they think they have a better way or that they don’t need to do it your way? Instead of embracing the training, does the trainee want to train the trainer? If so, listen to them – you never know, they may have a valid point, but if not, you’ll at least be able to explain why it’s not what you expect.

Do They Lack Confidence?

If a trainee lacks the confidence to follow the procedures, they most likely lack the confidence to tell you. Once again, be a detective; ask them what they’re having trouble with.


I’m not always a one meeting learner, are you? But, too often, we expect trainees to know our procedures after only being exposed to them once or twice.

Ask and Ask Again

I was helping four managers who worked together as a team. Each had four to six direct reports, and they all followed the same training procedures. When I asked the group how I could help, they brought up the topic of this post. They asked, “What do you do when you’ve gone over something three or four times with someone, and they still don’t get it.” My answer was to find out why.

The six points listed above are where I told them to begin. At the end of our conversation, one of the managers asked how he could determine if the lack of training retention was a lack of understanding, outside influences, learning style, or all the above. I told him to ask, to sit down with the teammate privately, and then:

  • Tell them you want to help
  • Ask how they learn, how they study. Are they hands-on, verbal, or auditory learners?
  • What do they understand, and where are they confused?
  • Has someone told them or showed them they don’t need to follow the training?
  • Do they think it’s an option to follow the training?
  • Do they think they have a better idea? If so, let’s hear it.
  • Are they unsure of their ability to follow the training, and if so, how can I help?

What Can You Do When a Trainee Isn’t Getting it? 

What can you do when a trainee isn’t getting it? The best way to learn why they’re not learning is to ask and then ask again.

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

So, does your business have a management training plan? Because, if not, many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out. It might help you stop putting off what you want to do.

Photo by Mira Kireeva on Unsplash