Many companies can be commended for the amount of training and development opportunities that they offer their employees. Many of these short (or longer) courses have great value and staff members seem to find them helpful. Employees who attend these courses, however, often complain about the lack of opportunity to implement the principles and suggested actions that these courses espouse – they say: “If I had to do what the course is suggesting, I would get fired” or “How can I do that if I can’t trust my boss?” or “It will be career-limiting if I make a mistake”. For some, obstacles that stand in the way of proper implementation are immense, causing staff to lose hope or to become immobilised. They complain: “Why even invest in a course that we can’t even put into action?”

In order to receive the best return on investment from training that is provided by the company and simultaneously not to frustrate the employees who attend the courses, an empowering environment needs to be created where implementation is encouraged (even if mistakes are going to be made). This empowered environment consists of the following elements:

  1. Managers that “walk the talk” – managers need to lead by example and attempt to fulfil the course intentions. Some employees have asked me at previous workshops: “When is my manager going to attend this course?” – the implication here being that the manager needs to learn and implement the skills as well.
  2. Performance conversations need to relate directly to expected course outcomes – managers should not ignore the occasion, but rather focus directly on what has been learned and potential areas of implementation. A good leadership practise is to ask the employee how he/she thinks things should change.
  3. Affirm that mistakes may be made during a trial period – we all make mistakes, most of which are good learning opportunities. Leaders should facilitate the process by asking pertinent questions, but not by “telling” the employee what to do or how to do it.
  4. Managers should offer themselves as “sounding-boards” for the employees to deliberate ideas – this is not to say “yes” or “no” to suggestions, but to support employees in their respective attempts at change. Open dialogue should be encouraged.
  5. The provision of an organisational link to strategy – education provided by the organisation should not be done in isolation, but should be linked to the company’s “big picture” and the skills needed to fulfil organisational goals. Communication of the links should be pervasive.

Achieving a good return on investment for company-offered training opportunities requires managers to provide an empowering environment for successful implementation of the principles and desired actions of the respective workshops. All the educational opportunities in the world will not help if people are not empowered to act on them.

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