In my travels to a variety of organisations, both locally and abroad, I have been amazed at how much training actually takes root amongst management and staff in spite of mitigating circumstances – almost as if people in general actually do want to grow and develop themselves to take on new tasks and become more efficient and effective. There is a willingness to apply themselves to the training material and apportion appropriate energy to achieving new goals. The resilience of these people is strong. At the same time, however, I have been astounded at how little assistance many organisations are giving to help their employees utilise newly acquired skills and the lack of providing an environment conducive to making training “stick”. These same organisations are caught up in the busyness of operational issues or, quite frankly, in playing political or power games resulting in toxic environments and thus leaving staff educated, but stranded. The return on investment for the training is subsequently low and training is possibly cut out of future budget provisions.
Some of the problems associated with the lack of “training stickiness” are the following:
- Low trust environments – here employees question the motives behind training interventions and adopt an attitude of “they don’t really care about us, but just want more productivity” (“they” referring to management)
- Unsupportive systems and processes – learning management systems are not tied to performance management systems and thus, the expected changes in behaviour following training are not measured and “enforced”
- Non-alignment of training with company strategy – training ends up as a “nice to have’ rather than a strategic intervention to move the people, and subsequently the company, forward
- Busyness of managers – on the job guidance and interest towards daily application are often neglected on account of busy schedules and “other” priorities
- Training is too intellectual (or just logical) – non-emotional interaction with employees becomes an academic exercise unrelated to “burning” issues
Charles Jennings, a leading thinker and practitioner in learning and development, drawing on the earlier work of McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger, suggested a ratio of 70:20:10 for a learning strategy – 10% of learning taking place in the classroom and through reading, 20% from others (mostly the boss) and 70% from tough jobs (difficult work applications or challenges). Although just a reference model in its original form, the theory does point to the need of extending training outside of the formal classroom situation and addressing the following to make training “stick”:
- Deal with the toxic organisational issues – training (change in expected behaviour) and other organisational changes only become a reality with the development of trust relationships within the organisation. Toxic environments mitigate against successful implementation of new initiatives.
- Align the training programmes and schedule to strategic organisational initiatives – training initiatives should equip managers and employees to deliver on strategic goals and targets.
- Develop integrated systems – the learning management and performance systems should be feeding into each other to breed an environment of accountability with every learning and development activity.
- Manager involvement in staff development – all leaders should be measured and held accountable in terms of supervising and coaching respective employees. Current statistics (John Faulkes and others) suggest 25% of management time needs to be spent in coaching others in various forms. Employees need to experience the serious attitude of management towards successful implementation of training received.
- Peer coaching – regular meetings with colleagues to discuss:
- What did I apply that really helped and why?
- What did I apply that didn’t work and why?
- What will I focus on going forward?
- Emotional connection with “pain” – all training given needs to elicit an emotional response from the delegates. An emotional experience sticks in the memory, especially if related to the “pain” being currently felt – e.g.: non-performance, not meeting sales targets, behaviour issues, the strategic implementation gap, feelings of self-inadequacy, etc.
- Practice and feedback – an airline trainee pilot spends hundreds of hours in a simulator practising decision-making in difficult situations, even life-threatening ones. The instructor gives ongoing feedback to every decision made, re-enforcing good responses and giving guidance where needed to responses which might place the “plane and its passengers” at risk – regular feedback is essential for the implementation of material learned during the training and subsequent growth.
- Publish successes – show appreciation and reward behaviour that corresponds with the proposed outcomes of the training design. Ongoing communication regarding expectations should be sustained.
Making training “stick” with employees requires the total commitment of all managers/supervisors to make this a reality. Training “stickiness” is not just a human resources functional role, but a priority of everyone in leadership.