Make the Training "Stick" By Gina Abudi
(Summary: In this article Gina addresses the issue of transfer of training and retention, two factors that determine if the training investment is actually worth it. We like the article because it's more than the usual throw away material on getting training to stick. There are other strategies available to make training more effective, though, but the topic is a bit more complex than can be fit into a short article. More companies should attend to this, and build in the components to ensure that what is "learned" in training actually ends up used on the job.)
Too often participants get out of the classroom and forget all about what they learned. Those new skills and knowledge are not always applied back on the job.I had heard many reasons why the individual was not applying their new skills including:
- "I have no time - I need to catch up at work."
- "My boss just wants me to get the job done as quickly as possible; he won't support me trying something new. I'm lucky I got time to even go to the class."
- "The class was great, but I don't really know how to even go about using what I learned. Where would I start?"
There is usually a valid reason for organizing a training session - the sessions are rarely held just because "there is training money to spend." Although, don't get me wrong, I have, frankly, seen these situations but that's a whole other topic. Often the organization is trying to increase a particular skill to improve on something in the organization. Maybe they need to improve negotiation skills of their procurement group because they frequently need to negotiate with contractors.
Possibly there is an upcoming project that requires teamwork among employees based overseas and the individuals on the project team need to learn how to team virtually and work with individuals from different cultures as this is the first time they would be doing so. Maybe there is a new performance review process in place and managers must learn how to provide effective and relevant, objective feedback to help employees continue to grow and develop within the organization. There are many reasons to hold a training session. Regardless of the reason - let's not waste the money invested! There are a variety of ways to ensure that participants have the opportunity to apply the training back on the job. Let's discuss a few options here.
At the end of a training session, have the participant work with his/her manager to complete an action plan on how the individual will apply the skills and knowledge learned in the workshop. Prior to the start of the workshop, it should be clear to participants and their managers that action planning will be a required component to ensure that there is a clear plan in place to apply the newly learned skills. The purpose of the action plan is to create an individualized plan for how the participant will apply the new skills and knowledge and delineate the support he/she needs to do so.
Components of the action plan may include:
- Goal: What goal is the individual trying to meet?
- Improvement strategies: What high-level strategies is the individual putting in place, in conjunction with his/her manager, to meet that goal?
- Tasks/action steps: What will the individual do to meet that goal?
- Support/resources needed: What funding, time, people or materials resources are needed to achieve the tasks/actions steps to fulfill the goal of the action plan?
- Timeline: By when will this be accomplished?
- What are the implications for professional development?
- How will the individual and manager know that he/she is making progress? What benchmarks are being set? What is the evidence of success in reaching the goal?
- How will the individual and manager determine that the goal has been reached? What are the measures in place for reaching the goal? What is the evaluation process?
Let's assume for the purpose of this example that Jack is a Business Analyst at a systems company who has been in his role for about 2 years. He is having difficulty influencing individuals who do not report to him and getting what he needs in requirements gathering sessions. He also has difficulty in focusing a group's efforts toward a common goal and especially managing individuals who are outspoken on the team. Too often the project teams complain that the information they get from Jack does not meet the clients' needs, thereby causing rework, increasing budgets and deadlines being missed.
The 2 day workshop Jack attended was focused on improving skills for business analysts who need to work with others to get information needed for projects. The workshop covered topics such as how to identify barriers to effective communication, how to improve team dynamics and various influencing and communication techniques to use in a variety of situations. Jack wants to make sure he can actually apply his skills. His manager, Lisa, has agreed to help Jack develop an action plan to apply his skills back on the job.
For the purposes of the example, let's assume the class ended on June 30 and the last day included role playing to practice the skills learned in the workshop. Additionally, Jack walked away with various job aids to help him use his skills. Jack completed an action plan before the end of the second day of the workshop in conjunction with Lisa. The action plan mapped out how Jack would apply his newly learned skills, what support he needed from his manager, Lisa, and others, and a timeline for applying those skills. Additionally, it included a way to measure Jack's progress and success at applying those skills.
Ideally, action plans will not be done just once and forgotten. There should be an ongoing plan between the participant and the manager for continuous improvement of these skills.
One-on-one coaching is another way to help an individual apply newly learned skills. Coaches will work with the individual to guide them through the situation, providing support, suggestions and acting as a sounding board.
Let's look at an example. Sally works in procurement for a utilities company. In her role she is responsible for negotiating contracts with vendors to do work for the company on a contract basis. Given that market conditions has made it favorable for the vendors, Sally is having an increasingly difficult time negotiating contracts equitable to both the company and the vendor; too often the contracts put the company in a poor position and are increasing their costs. Additionally, vendors are getting more difficult to monitor and control and the contracts are not protecting the company sufficiently should there be an issue with a contractor that is damaging to the company.
Sally's manager, Andrew, has asked the learning and development group for help in addressing this issue. Overall Sally has been an asset to his department and has been working hard on improving her skills in negotiating. He noted that she has read a few books on effective negotiating skills and attended a half-day workshop on her own time. However, at this point she needs help.
Learning and development has suggested that Sally attend a 3 day negotiating class that would focus on defining a model for negotiation, teach her how to develop trust and build credibility with vendors, manage the inevitable conflict that occurs during negotiations and teach her how to develop collaborative approaches to ensuring negotiated agreements meet mutual goals. While the class will include practice role playing negotiations, the learning and development manager suggests that Andrew hires a coach to coach Sally before her next negotiation. The coach will be able to guide Sally in applying the skills she will learn in the negotiating class and provide her even more confidence in applying those skills successfully. The learning and development manager has worked with coaches before and found them to be an effective way of helping individuals apply what they learn in a classroom and gain confidence.
Sally has completed the class. She felt it was quite successful - even completed an action plan to map out how she would apply her new skills! There is a new project kicking off at work and Sally has been assigned to negotiate the contractor agreement with a very large vendor. This vendor would be working with the company under contract for a one year time period. Let's jump to the coaching session! Andrew, with the assistance of learning and development, has hired a coach for Sally. This person has extensive experience coaching individuals in negotiations, specifically in this industry.
The coach, Michael, reviewed with Sally the skills she learned in the workshop and reviewed the action plan Sally completed with her manager's support and assistance. They reviewed together the upcoming project and what the company expects from the vendor. Additionally, Michael walked Sally through a few negotiation sessions, playing the role of the negotiator for the vendor. He made the role play a difficult one for Sally, not giving in easily and pushing the vendor's agenda rather than trying to work collaboratively with Sally to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. The tough role play really forced Sally to utilize her new skills!
When the time came for the actual negotiation with the vendor, Sally mapped out a plan with Michael. She wrote down every possible situation which might arise and brainstormed with Michael how she would handle the situation with the vendor.
To wrap up the example, let's assume the negotiating session with the vendor was successful - both parties left the table pleased with the results and came to agreement on a mutually beneficial contract. (Yes - I know that it isn't always a happy ending; sometimes people can't be coached.)
As you can see from this example, coaching is another way to apply the skills learned from a training workshop. Coaching does not have to be solely one-on-one as it is in this example. Coaching might be done in small groups - for example, a project team that is not getting along may attend a effective teamwork class as a group and then use a coach to improve how they work together toward a common goal.
Another option might be to use a portal solution to provide participants in a training workshop with additional resources and support after the class. This goes beyond just applying new skills from a training session back on the job. It provides a central location where the participants in the training program can not only get support from a subject matter expert but can help each other also! By helping each other, the individuals are strengthening their skills even further and continuing the learning process. Portal solutions might include any or all of the following components:
- Information around best practices and lessons learned
- A Q&A session for participants to seek assistance from the subject matter expert
- The ability to search for past discussions and Q&As to understand how others are applying the skills
- Access to templates, job aids, check lists, and other resource documents
- Access to resources within the organization that can provide support
- The ability for participants to assist each other by answering questions, sharing documents, problem solving, and acting as a sounding board for each other
- Access to group coaching sessions
I have used portals successfully for project teams that are across multiple locations. The portal provides them a central location to help them achieve their objectives and get the support they need. I have also used them successfully for management staff within an organization - especially new supervisors/managers. It becomes a central meeting place where they can support each other as they take on the many challenges involved in people management.
There are a variety of ways to make sure the training "sticks." Choose an option that works for the organization and the situation - but definitely make a plan to ensure individuals can apply what they are learning back on the job. The training workshop should just be the first step in gaining new skills and knowledge - support participants by providing them with the resources they need to practice those new skills and continue to enhance and develop them. Employees who feel supported in the organization are more committed to the organization's growth; and they prosper along with the organization.
Gina Abudi has over 15 years consulting experience in a variety of areas, including project management, process management, leadership development, succession planning, high potential programs, talent optimization and development of strategic learning and development programs. She is Partner/VP Strategic Solutions at Peak Performance Group, Inc. in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She has been honored by PMI® as one of the Power 50 and has served as Chair of PMI®s Global Corporate Council Leadership Team. She has presented at various conferences on topics ranging from general management and leadership topics to project management. Gina received her MBA from Simmons Graduate School of Management.
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