Leadership training should result in better leadership. Safety training should generate safer work practices. And sales training should show up in more effective sales efforts.
But a new study has confirmed that only 6 to 10 cents of every training dollar actually results in new behaviors on the job.
The research identifies several key issues that get in the way of training transfer – issues that you as a trainer can influence to increase the effectiveness of your efforts:
1. No reinforcement on the job. This is one of the common obstacles, researchers found. Once people get back on the job, there’s no opportunity to put newly acquired skills into practice.
What to do: Design a follow-up plan to get people using what they learned as quickly as possible. And make sure it has teeth: Without specific accountabilities for learners and supervisors, applying new skills will always take a back seat to urgent demands.
2. Nonsupportive organizational culture. This issue is closely related to the first. The organization gives lip service to training, but fails to follow through in the face of production pressures. Or there’s a misperception of what training involves: Top management sees it as a one-shot deal, after which it’s back to business as usual.
What to do: Before your spend more time creating training that won’t be supported, address the organization’s commitment head on. A training culture has to start at the top: If your top managers and/or CEO aren’t buying in, find out why. They may need more education about how to make training effective and on the bottom-line benefits.
3. The learner isn’t comfortable with change. Most people feel threatened by change. It’s tempting to respond by suggesting that the changes will be easily mastered. But that approach can make learners feel even more skeptical.
What to do: Be upfront. Acknowledge that change can be hard. Then make a compelling case for why it’s necessary or desirable.
4. Negative peer pressure. One of the most devastating things for a trainee to hear is peers saying that it won’t work or doesn’t matter.
What to do: There’s a difference between skepticism and naysaying. A learner’s healthy skepticism can be a good thing: It’s a sign of engagement and creates an opportunity for the trainer to get issues on the table.
Naysayers are something else: People who refuse to engage at all can undermine the willingness of others to try new things. Consider whether it does more harm than good to have them in training sessions where their attitudes can poison the well.
5. The learner perceives the training to be impractical or irrelevant. There’s a vicious circle here: If learners have a preconceived notion that the training can’t be put into action or doesn’t matter, they won’t engage. Since they don’t engage, the lessons aren’t put into practice.
What to do: Describe the relevance and the practical benefits up front, when the training is assigned or scheduled.
Don’t just tell people that they’re signed up for their OSHA-required confined-space training. Tell them: “Because your job may require you to work in confined spaces, you’ve been signed up for training that will show you practical ways to stay safe under those conditions.”
Also, make sure training is properly targeted. If you’re teaching basic sales skills, don’t insist that experienced salespeople sit through the sessions. Give them something more relevant to do.
6. Trainees perceive the design or delivery of training was poor. Even if the topic is seen as relevant and practical, learners won’t put learning into practice if they thought it was delivered badly. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that training has to be dull or that people just don’t like to be trained. If your training isn’t engaging, there’s something wrong with it.
What to do: Solicit and act on feedback. For example, before you roll out a major training program, try it out with a few people and get their feedback. Ask for evaluations after each session, and be willing to retool if necessary.
7. Too much star power. Sometimes a highly gifted trainer can become an impediment to training transfer. People feel inspired and empowered in the training session, but later feel they can’t act on it without the trainer there to guide and encourage them.
What to do: Build peer support systems to make sure the enthusiasm and commitment carry through. Get learners to support each other as they put what they’ve learned into practice – for example, with a buddy system or through follow-up meetings.
Kontoghiorghes, C. (2014). A systemic perspective of training transfer. Transfer of Learning in Organizations, pp. 65-79.
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