How much employee performance improvement and increased workplace productivity would you expect to see, if you spent over £31.4 billion per year, towards that end?
That is a reasonable question to ask, given that this figure is the estimated yearly ‘spend’ on formal training, learning and development within the UK’s private and public sectors.
Sometimes training fails to achieve its main objective – of generating positive business impacts. One of the weakest links identified in the training cycle, precipitating the potential failure to achieve benefits, is the languid approach to ‘on-the-job’ application of learning. This includes the lack of manager support, trainee preparation, incentives, and an overall design and measurement process.
Therefore, what is required for the successful transfer of classroom training to the workplace, resulting in performance improvement, increased productivity and increased profitability?
This question has been posed by researchers since the early 20th century. Finding answers has intensified in recent years due to economic challenges, an evolving workforce, and increased organisational focus on measuring and justifying training investments. In general, the successful transfer of learning takes place when organisations:
- Develop an overall learning transfer plan, including providing adequate time and resources for the ‘trainee’ to adapt their new learning into workplace behaviour, and ensuring that learning is applied on the job, in an immediate way.
- Implement tools and processes to reinforce the application of learning post-training.
- Measure if and to what extent learning is applied on the job (whilst organisations may take the time to prepare an employee for training and budget for them to attend a learning course, most organisations still struggle to assess and support the transfer of learning from training programmes into the workplace).
- Advocate for and provide full support and involvement by managers, directors or partners in the transfer process.
- Ensure that the classroom instruction approach simulates the actual work environment.
What must management do to increase the application of learning?
A list of actions that management or sponsors should do more of, broadly in the following areas:
- Conduct more education for employees and/or better marketing communication about the range of training opportunities that exists, and the expected outcomes for impacting performance in the workplace.
- Communicate to trainees a transparent strategy for measuring the success or not, of the transfer of learning to the workplace.
- Establish and communicate clear change management guidelines: e.g. expected new behaviours or development of new skills and application into new processes.
- Increase managers’ involvement before and after training.
- Employees need to know that the application of learning is a priority for management. Management can show this by aligning training with company strategy and motivating employees by setting expectations beforehand and offering incentives for them to succeed.
Whilst the employees / trainees must-do’s include:
- Understand that the organisation or sponsor expects them to actually apply what is learned and that there will be an assessment of training impact by collecting data from them and other stakeholders in the trainees’ performance improvement progress.
- Employees need to categorically know that the workplace application of learning is a priority for management and they actively engage practising new skills, new behaviours and providing feedback.
- Employees need to take responsibility for their progress including doing post course discussions with the manager or team leader, getting necessary on-the-job tools, and arranging informal support such as social networks or online forums, and communities of practice such as peer groups, mentors, buddy partnerships and coaching support.
And …. what do the Training Providers need to guarantee?
- That the training courses, seminars, programmes and coaching sessions are objectively aligned to the organisations’ business objectives and strategy and that the training content will really assist employees to progress towards fulfilling the business objectives (i.e. it’s not just a case of selling a product, the training product must be the ‘right-fit’).
- Incorporate real projects into the classroom training. Make classroom training more relevant to the workplace environment, organisational culture and business needs.
- Provide trainees with experiential learning processes through role practise, problem solving, team-working
- Allow for reflection, iteration and discussion in the classroom, allowing the trainees to integrate new learning into mental pathways
- Require that trainees undertake homework, after-classroom project work, create ‘buddy systems’ and provide ‘post-training’ teleconference action learning sets for individuals and groups to continue the new learning processes into their after-training experience.
Holding employees accountable for learning transfer means that the onus is on the organisation to communicate the company’s business and personnel vision and communicate the reasons why a change in employees’ knowledge, skills and competencies is needed to support the company’s growth. Realising the actual business benefits of training is imminently feasible but to achieve this end-result a strategic and structured approach, with all parties playing their part is needed.