From Learning to Performing (Part 2)
By Neil Shorney, Director, Naturally Sales Ltd.
Congratulations! You’ve just found the perfect training program for your employees! It covers everything they need to know, and just the right level of detail, and the trainer is great. Sure, it was expensive, but you get what you pay for.
Well, sort of... What you’re paying for is most likely three days of a trainer’s time in a classroom, a nice lunch for your team, and some course materials to take away afterward and put on the bookshelf in case they’re ever needed.
If this is your company’s attitude to training, then you’ll most likely get exactly what you’ve paid for, as described above. However, new knowledge isn’t much use to an organization if it sits on a shelf gathering dust. Knowledge has a habit of doing that unless the organization takes steps to ensure that knowledge is utilized, rehearsed, and developed. It’s important to remember what you should be buying from a training company, and that isn’t training—it’s change. Change in behaviors, change in skills, change in interactions with others, and, ultimately, change in business results. And while a skilled trainer can play a big role in helping this change to come about, the employer also must take responsibility for ensuring the training budget is used wisely.
I deliver regular Microsoft Excel online training for a multinational company. After each session, students are given an evaluation form to complete, and some of the questions on this form relate to organizational support, expectation setting by managers, and follow-up coaching. Another evaluation is sent six months later, and there’s a strong correlation between high scores in these areas and noticed improvement in job skills many months down the line.
To help organizations to get the best return on training investment, here are some tips to help turn the training you buy for your employees into the change you need in your business.
When it’s decided an employee should attend a training course, one of the first things that should happen is that the line manager (or other suitable coach) sits down with the employee to set expectations for the learning outcomes. This helps to focus the employee on the most important objectives, whilst also getting increased buy-in to the program, leading to better engagement during the course. Areas to discuss include:
- Why you’re sending the employee to a course
- What you expect the course to be like
- What you’d like the employee to learn during the course
- The desired business impact of this learning
...as well as answering any questions the employee may have. This also will help to reassure the employee that you’re not questioning his or her ability, but giving him or her additional skills that can be used to be successful. If this is some time before the training course, it’s worth having a recap before the employee attends.
Review the Training Shortly Afterward
Within a couple of days of the course, the line manager or coach should meet again to review the course. Certain areas should be covered in this meeting, including:
- General feedback from the training course
- Checking that expectations were met and remedying this for future training sessions
- Identifying key topics to be practiced
- Discussing changes the employee will make as a result of the training session
- Reviewing or creating an action plan
As a closing exercise in many training courses, participants create an action plan to help skills adoption and behavior change. If this has been done, as part of the course, it’s important to discuss this with the employee. If there was no action plan as part of the course, it can be valuable for the company to create one with the employee shortly afterward. Include goals and measurements, as well as outcomes and achievements that should occur as a result of achieving these goals.
If the course was an open session attended by one employee, this should be sufficient. However, if this was an in-house training course, or if more than one employee attended an open session, it could be more valuable to facilitate a group action planning session to get more learning outcomes on the table, but still with an individual focus. As we know, everyone is different and has different learning needs.
So far, we’ve discussed actions that should be taken within a short period of time around the attendance at a course. As training should create lasting change, it’s important to follow up again, at least after six months, but more frequently if desired. The six-month follow-up will be less detailed than the previous one, discussing not specific learning, but the results of this education: Has the hoped-for improvement been seen? If not, why not? What lessons can be learned for the future? How can learning events be run better to increase ROI next time? And, of course, if the expected results are seen, what comes next? What other training can be completed to further improve working efficiency?
As mentioned, we do not buy training; we buy change. Training is a small part of this change, and in order to get the results required, it’s vital that organizations provide additional support to maximize a training program’s chances of success. A good trainer should, of course, liaise closely with the business to help achieve these business results, which will result in long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships between trainers and their customers to ensure that maximum improvement is seen, and that maximum return is achieved on training investment.
Neil Shorney is a director of Naturally Sales Ltd, a British business that provides sales training in London (http://www.nsales.co.uk/sales_training_in_london.php) and a program of Microsoft Excel Webinars to a global audience. Through a combination of many years of training professionals, and ongoing experience leading an international sales team at one of the world’s largest project management training companies, Shorney brings his clients cutting-edge training and consultancy from the front line of global business.