Optimizing the Impact of Training

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Experience shows organization leadership can make a significant difference in the value training adds for both participants and for the business.

The potential benefits of training are many. Examples include the following:

  • Enabling behavior change that results in achievement of business goals
  • Enriching, changing or strengthening the desired company culture
  • Demonstrating management’s commitment to providing opportunities for employee growth and development
  • Introducing knowledge that is critical to effective implementation of infrastructure such as ERP systems
  • Meeting compliance requirements
  • Teambuilding

Often, the actual benefit of training falls far short of all that it could contribute. Why? There is no one answer to this question. The answer depends on variables such as these:

  • Your organization’s definition of value
  • How easy or difficult the behavior change expected of participants
  • Readiness and capacity for change among participants
  • Buy-in of participants
  • Support provided by leadership
  • Degree of alignment between the work environment and the performance expectations of training participants.

We can probably all agree that most often, achievement of the purpose and goals of training programs require that participants effectively transfer knowledge/learning into the workplace, for training to be successful.

Research shows that even well-designed, engaging training sometimes fails to be applied in the workplace. And, surveys vary widely in their findings on training’s effectiveness. In fact, some surveys report that as much as 80% of knowledge gained in training is lost, while others describe significant performance improvements and satisfying returns on investment.

Almost any training can make a positive difference in some tangible or intangible ways. We believe organization leadership plays an integral role in optimizing training’s positive impact for both the participants and the organization.

There are three time-based opportunities leaders can leverage to enable and drive transition of of knowledge and new skills to the job. In our experience, most organizations miss or under-utilize at least two of these. The Opportune Times are:

  1. During the Planning
  2. Throughout the Delivery
  3. After Training Completion

What leaders do and don’t do at these opportune times can make a dramatic difference in driving participant outcomes and improvement in business performance. When leaders leave knowledge transfer up to the individual training participants to manage for themselves, it’s highly possible that once training in a knowledge or skill area ends, the forgetting begins.

Most organizations have given priority to investing in employee development. Many have considerable experience with training despite the high costs to provide it, and we continue to strive to improve the results and return of our investment in training.

The purpose of this article is to provide an easy-to-use tool for leaders use, to optimize the impact of training by leveraging the three opportunities noted above, with an emphasis on increasing knowledge transfer, thereby helping to achieve the desired outcomes and results.

We begin with the three Opportune Times.

The three Opportune Times above enable leaders to set up their participants and training programs for success. It is in these windows of time leaders can plan, pre-arrange, and schedule a number of support activities and resources to form a strong and flexible Framework — a Framework that defines a context for learning. Such a Framework can become a living, adjustable, systematic component of your training programming.

We’ve identified three primary Categories, each including examples of critical Elements, for training organizers to focus on during the three Opportune Times. The Categories are Training Content, Coaching, and Management.

Following are examples of Elements within each Category of an effective training Framework:

  • Training Content
    • Aligned with the business purpose and goals
    • Developed through collaboration between leaders and training providers
    • Bought into by participants
    • Designed to include learning activities created by the training providers, for use during group sessions and outside group sessions by participants, to lock in knowledge and provide for confidential practice of new skills
    • Underpinned by clear explanations of management’s purpose in providing the training, management’s specific behavioral expectations of participants (during and following training delivery) linked with the desired outcomes, performance improvement and business results
    • Bolstered by communication up front describing mentoring, coaching and other support actions management is making available to participants
    • Positioned as a company Certification Program versus a program with a Certificate of Completion, with an explanation of the difference between those1
  • Coaching
    • Includes, early in the coaching process, training to strengthen the participants’ self-efficacy and capabilities to manage their behavior change
    • Includes frequent observation with one-on-one discussion and feedback at least weekly and documented
    • Recognition that when training is completed, participants return to a workplace that remains the same. Training has not changed the work environment or the day-to-day workload, stresses and pressures — and as a result it’s a real challenge for participants to try out fragile new knowledge and skills by converting it to behavior. It’s uncomfortable. It takes more time to get things done. This is where Coaching comes in; a key element to knowledge transfer is Coaching that reveals environmental obstacles participants face in applying training on the job — and provides support to overcome those obstacles
    • Provides for confidentiality to enable participants to be comfortable and open with their Coaches without risk
    • Tailored to fit participant needs for learning transfer
    • Scheduled in advance, to support participant learning and practice of new knowledge and skills during and following training delivery
    • Provided by Coaches who have been prepared with the purpose and goals of the training, the purpose and goals of the Coaching, as well as a detailed understanding of the training content and behavioral expectations for participants
    • Provided by individuals who can be fully objective and maintain confidentiality while still reporting results and progress to appropriate members of management (after discussing those reports with participants)
    • Designed to supplement other support by management
  • Management
    • Communicating with participants to prepare them for training, provide the context (how the training fits the business purpose and will help achieve goals), discuss desired behavior change, and build energy and interest.
    • Working with participants (direct reports) to establish and agree on a one-on-one communication process and set up a schedule, to support effective transfer of learning to the workplace
    • Listening to participants to determine obstacles to transferring knowledge to the workplace, and providing support to remove or overcome any obstacles
    • Discreetly observing their participants on a day in and day out basis, with emphasis on transfer of learning to the workplace
    • Conducting regular one-on-ones to discuss and provide specific feedback on performance with emphasis on transfer of learning to the workplace
    • Discussing the role of transfer of learning to the workplace in achieving the company purpose, business goals, and participant’s performance goals
    • Providing meaningful, specific praise and showing appreciation to each participant for each effort observed transferring learning to the workplace, often
    • Providing constructive feedback with intent to help and support participant in learning transfer to the workplace

As you have likely noticed, the Elements above fit into more than one Opportune Time (during the planning, throughout the delivery, and after training completion). This is because each Category requires action across the entire span of time. Different people may be involved at different times, as appropriate: Training Organizers, Organization Leadership, Training Providers, Coaching Providers and Training Participants.

You’re probably thinking of additional actions that management, training organizers and participants might take to help optimize the impact of training in your own organization.

Next Steps

Think about the next training program you expect to provide. We recommend teaming up with appropriate colleagues (perhaps a subset of the people who’ll be involved i.e. Training Organizers, Organizational Leaders, Training Participants, Training Providers, Coaching Providers) to identify elements from each of the three categories. Next, organize the elements across the three Opportune Times. This is an early, draft Framework. Assess its do-ability. Evaluate its impact.

Once you establish a flexible, systematic training Framework for one training program, it can also serve as an editable template that can be adjusted and tailored for additional, future training, based on experience and changing needs.

Summary

There are three Opportune Times for Training Organizers to work with Organizational Leaders, Training Providers, Coaching Providers and Training Participants to establish a Framework that can set up the program and the participants for success. These Opportune Times are 1) During the Planning 2) Throughout the Delivery and 3) After Training Completion.

We’ve identified three Categories of Elements that need to be addressed during the three Opportune Times. They include Training Content, Coaching, and Management. There are lots of important Elements within each Category that need to be acted on during the Opportune Times. The organization designs its Framework by selecting their priority Elements from each Category and planning them across the three Opportune Times.

Building such a Framework for training adds value in several ways, such as:

  • Providing a systematic approach to developing training that is aligned with the business purpose and goals, thereby establishing its priority
  • Bringing the appropriate people together to agree on criteria for design of training content, learning activities and behavioral expectations of participants for transfer of learning to the workplace
  • Planning scheduling of training and coaching
  • Equipping training providers to connect content with business needs during training delivery
  • Bringing about pre-launch communication to clarify management expectations, and generate enthusiasm and buy-in among participants
  • Building the knowledge and skills of the participants in managing behavior change
  • Pre-arranging confidential, professional coaching for training participants, during and after training delivery, to enable effective transfer of knowledge and learning from the training to the workplace
  • Establishing criteria for effective measurement of training program success

Collectively, this added value can drive success in knowledge and learning transfer that drives improved performance, and results in achieving the business purpose and goals.

Today, more than ever before, it’s clear that training is integral to improving organization performance, achieving the business purpose and meeting business goals. In fact, it’s widely recognized that talent development is essential to sustainable business growth, as it increases employee engagement, develops knowledge and skills needed into the foreseeable future, improves employee retention and creates a culture of learning and capacity for change. Given training’s importance, we’re convinced It makes sense to focus on designing and delivering training with a systematic approach, a strong and flexible framework, that can help optimize the impact of training. We hope this article will serve as a helpful tool as you move forward with your talent development programming.

Have we achieved our goal? Have we added value for you? Please share questions, comments or experience. We welcome feedback!

1A Certificate of Completion includes completion of a learning program. A Certification includes completion of a learning program, practice applying knowledge/learning, and successfully passing tests/quizzes.

A Company can provide their own certification programs, i.e. “CompanyABC Certification in Leadership.” While this would not be accredited or formally recognized externally, it would have meaning to employees and contribute to the Company brand.

Recommended Reading:

“Transferring Learning to Behavior,” by Donald L. Kirkpatrick and James D. Kirkpatrick, copyright 2005 by Donald L. Kirkpatrick and James D. Kirkpatrick, published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

“Four Levels of Training Evaluation,” by James D. and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick, Copyright 2016 by James D. and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick, published by ATD Press.

“Tiny Habits,” by B.J. Fogg, Copyright 2020 by B.J. Fogg, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

1KodoSurvey LINK: https://kodosurvey.com/blog/beginners-guide-learning-transfer-2019

“Evidence-Based Design That Leads to Learning Transfer,” from ATD – LINK: https://www.td.org/insights/evidence-based-design-that-leads-to-learning-transfer

“Transfer of learning: How to maximize employee training and development success,” from CQ – LINK: https://www.ckju.net/en/blog/transfer-of-learning-how-to-maximize-employee-training-development-success/29628

Copyright 2021 by Rosanna M. Nadeau

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