In the first blush of post-training excitement, your team probably feels like they have a new lease on their work and fresh skills to boost their careers. But what happens after a month – or six? Do those abilities stick around forming a foundation for even more development? Or do they bow to the tyranny of old habits? What can you do to make sure the time and money you invested in training makes a lasting difference?
We’re not good at change.
If what we learn in the training room really makes work easier, you’d think that everyone will naturally want to use it, but it’s not always so cut and dry. In truth, humans almost never change behavior overnight even when a new habit significantly improves our lives.
A novel behavior will be uncomfortable for a while, and people naturally snap back to old ways when we’re stressed or distracted. To get comfortable, we need to keep revisiting our skills, applying them in different environments and under different pressures.
What happens after the classroom makes all the difference.
Hermann Ebbinghaus proved in 1885 what we all know from experience. If we don’t use recently acquired knowledge, we forget it. And rightly so. The brain has to weed out useless information for efficiency. So in order to remember something, we have to use it.
Therefore, it’s important that employees can revisit and reinforce classroom knowledge after training. That means that managers have to pick up where instructors left off.
Reaffirm your goals.
You sent employees to train for a reason. When they’re done with the course, review the original goals and their strategic importance to the business. Let your team know that they’ll be working on applying the new skills in the next few weeks.
(If there’s no strategic impetus for training, reconsider it and read this article to learn whether you really need training.)
To help your team practice, assign work tasks that require the relevant abilities. If possible, make sure your team has several chances in the first month to use what they learned. Research has demonstrated that if you can reinforce information six times within thirty days, you can retain 90% of the information.
If your team isn’t ready for prime time, let them review techniques in a safe environment. For example, a few days after training, have employees demonstrate the skills with each other or for you. They can even discuss how they’ll use it for upcoming work, which provides the double advantage of helping them get comfortable with a new behavior and remind them to focus on learning opportunities inherent in upcoming assignments.
You can also match learners with coaches or other support until they can tackle assignments on their own. This approach is called scaffolding. As they grow in their capacity, learners need less support and the manager or mentor can back off over time.
We come to mastery through applying our abilities in different environments and under different conditions. We can move this process along by regularly reflecting on how well we’re doing.
For example if you’re focusing on communications skills, you can ask people to write a diary or private blog to explore how successfully they used good communication, identify areas for improvement, and imagine ways to do better in the future. Or you can ask groups to reflect together, discussing from each other’s experiences as they practice new techniques.
Research has shown that reflection can greatly improve performance, but it’s not something most of us naturally do, so managers need to encourage the practice.
Follow up personally.
Regular practice, reflection, and learning focus won’t spring up spontaneously once your team finishes a course. As the leader, you have to map out goals and follow up regularly to keep momentum going.
If appropriate, practice the skill yourself and discuss your efforts with the team. Your example motivates much better than your command.
Build on your progress.
As time goes on, unfamiliar behaviors will become second-nature. You can look for ways to advance proficiency further or find other useful capabilities to work on.
As your team gets used to uncovering learning opportunities in their daily tasks, you may realize that courses aren’t always needed. You can help people develop through stretch tasks, mentoring and personalized development plans. You can escape the rigidity of pre-set courses and focus on what your business needs today.
Read this article to learn how to manage work-based learning.
You make the difference.
Many companies never take the steps necessary to make training stick. But with a little judgment and focus you can do what so few teams are ever able to – squeeze every last drop of ROI out of your training.