This is the first of a three-part series about what people face after training. This first section discusses the concerns that employees have once training is done. The second article will discuss management concerns, and the third will look at what experienced employees, who often serve as ad hoc trainers, have to deal with.
According to ATD’s 2015 State of the Industry report, employees spend an average of 32.4 hours in training programs. That is time in which they have structure and guidance supporting their efforts to learn new skills. For the other 1,967.6 hours of the year, they’re doing their jobs and presumably applying what they learned in class.
But classroom knowledge doesn’t automatically become work behavior. Employees have to try out new skills in real-world chaos and focus on adopting new habits. Most have no more guidance and support for this kind of learning than an annual performance assessment of broad competencies like “manages time effectively.”
It’s tempting to think that workers can take care of their own skill development. They’re responsible adults who came to your company with strong capabilities. But it’s not that simple. Here are the questions that plague employees as they try to apply what they’ve learned between training courses.
Where do I start?
After the controlled environment of training, it can be hard to figure out how to use recently-learned techniques in the melee of the work day. New employees, in particular, don’t have a network of advisors to turn to. And established folks will want to fall back into comfortable habits.
For example, if new managers take a class on how to coach employees. How should they apply that knowledge? Should they start having coaching meetings with everyone on their team? Should they just start with one person? Should they pretend they’ve been coaching all their lives or admit that this is new to them and engage the “coachee” in helping them figure it out? Who can they talk to if their forays into employee coaching don’t go as illustrated in class?
How should I prioritize my time and effort?
Conflicting or vague priorities will decrease any team’s efficiency, but if you don’t clearly prioritize use of new skills, employees will revert to comfortable habits and let external events determine how they spend time.
For example, if a company pulls people out of work to learn how to give better presentations, then it’s an important skill to have. But as soon as the class is over, managers want to know when the current project will be done, whether there will be budget overruns, or who’ll go to Minneapolis for a meet and greet. If no one mentions the presentation skills and there’s no room in the schedule for working on them, employees focus on other things.
What do I need to know, and who can help me learn it?
There’s always a gap between the generic content learned in class and the real world. No project, engagement, or customer-call goes exactly like the ideal. Even with the benefit of role plays and simulations, problems never obligingly show up exactly as practiced.
So people still need help after class. Employees need clear descriptions of what they should be able to do after training. They need someone they can turn to for advice when their attempts go pear-shaped. And they need both the time and permission to make mistakes while they’re getting better.
What can I do today to make progress towards my long-range goals?
Marathon trainers don’t just head out and do 26 miles. They have to work up slowly, mile by mile. And employees with annual objectives or long-term mandates need to take the small steps that eventually add up to big progress.
But what are the small steps? Employees need specific short-term goals that link up into a long-term skill. And they should be able to accomplish each interim goal without feeling overwhelmed.
*** Go here to read about how you can help your team progress with new skills. ***
How can I show my manager that I’m making progress?
Even conscientious managers don’t know what each employee is up to every day, which is a good thing because micro-management poisons a work culture. But managers need to know how team members are progressing toward a long-term development goal.
If management takes skill development seriously, then they need to see whether people are improving, whether they’re struggling and if they need follow up. Managers also need to encourage folks. Skill development takes diligence over time. If employee efforts go unnoticed and unrewarded, people will quit trying.
Each small practice attempt, such as a mock-customer meeting, might seem too unimportant to track, but these are the activities that add up to real change. So it’s crucial to offer people a way to record them and review their progress over time.
How can I productively use the unstructured time in my day?
Even with today’s busy schedules, learning opportunities crop up. New team members may attend a project kick-off run by a well-respected leader. What should they learn from that to make them better at their jobs?
There might be 20 minutes between meetings. It could be Facebook time! Or it could be a chance for someone pop into the office of a mentor and review the latest sales meeting. Or ask a peer to demonstrate a new piece of machinery.
In order to take advantage of these opportunities, employees have to have a ready list of little tasks they can do whenever they get the chance. If it’s as easy to consult the list as it is to get on Facebook, people can turn scheduling inefficiencies into measurable progress.
*** Read here to see how to encourage continuous learning at your company. ***
Effective training supports learning through work activities.
When employees step out of the training room, they’re smacked with the barrage of every-day assignments and unsure of how to turn training into reality. So an effective program has to accompany them back to work and continue supporting their efforts with
- Clear, actionable objectives that relate to real work
- Resources and qualified mentors who can help
- Realistic stepping stones to the long-term goal
- Hands-on practice time and acceptance of mistakes
- Immediate, useful feedback
- Continuous accountability, prioritization, and tracking of learning
- Easy access to learning tasks when opportunities pop up
Many companies have long considered training a classroom exercise and once employees get the “knowledge” of a skill, they’ll be able to apply it without any further support. But you only have to take a close look at what happens after the classroom to realize that’s not true. A good program will help employees answer the questions above. They’ve put in the time to go through class. With a little support, managers can make sure they use that training to get better at their jobs, improve team performance, and grow their careers.
At Pract.us, we’re dedicated to helping companies improve their results from training by giving managers and easy way to guide, track, support and encourage employees as they practice and improve new skills. Learn more here.