I’m often asked what it takes to drive a successful learning and development intervention – to embed behavioural change over the long term. I’m sure most of us can easily cite examples of training workshops we’ve attended, which in the moment felt like time well spent. We probably left with some clear actions, confident that they would set us on the path to improved performance. Why is it then that 3 months down the line our learning and these actions are all too often a distant memory?
As a consultant working in this space, there’s nothing more gratifying than returning to a business months after delivering training to hear how changes in approach and behaviours have actively been applied to improve performance. So what does it take? What’s the magic formula? Well each business I work with is slightly different, but to my mind there are three fundamentals that, when in place, will drastically increase the likelihood of learning actively being applied long after any initial training has been delivered:
1. Audience Engagement
If your audience see the relevance in what they’re learning they’re more likely to apply it. If they don’t, they won’t. Simple. So the question is, how do we secure audience engagement? Given the not insignificant time and financial costs of building and delivering training solutions, I’m amazed at how little time is invested ahead of sessions in positioning program objectives with the attendees, along with what’s in it for them. I’ll often begin a session by asking ‘Why are we here today?’ Outside of ‘because I was told that I had to be!’ the most common response is ‘I don’t really know…’. Yes there’s an onus on individual learners to take responsibility for their development, but if organisations are investing in learning and development there’s also an onus on the business and its managers to set the attendees up for success. Helping them understand what it’s about and why it’s relevant is the first step in that process. There are some really straightforward ways to do this. How long does it take to draft an email outlining the objectives of the training along with content items to be covered? Or far better to have a conversation with any attendees you manage, to discuss the objectives, agenda items and any areas in particular they want to focus on? Any half-decent needs analysis should ensure the content is relevant for the group, so to that end it’s also vital that the appropriate stakeholders are consulted. These could include but are not restricted to the attendees themselves, management and customers (internal and external). During the session attendees should be encouraged to relate the concepts to their own day-to-day activity wherever possible.
2. Management Sponsorship
I haven’t yet been part of a successful learning and development intervention that hasn’t benefitted from management support. If attendees recognise that their managers and leaders support the initiative, and see it as a priority, it instantly increases the credibility of the intervention. This sponsorship can come in a variety of forms. A few words outlining why a manager sees the intervention as important is a great start. Unfortunately though, talk can be cheap. We tend to judge others by what they do, not what they say. So in addition to the verbal sponsorship, demonstrating to attendees that we’ll give them the time and space to implement their learnings is critical. Moreover, if we as managers can play an active role in supporting that implementation, all the better. Which leads us to…
I mentioned earlier that there’s nothing more gratifying than seeing ongoing application resulting in performance improvement. By the same token, there’s nothing more frustrating than working with a business who believes that enrolling their people in a 2-day training workshop will be the overnight answer to all their problems. At Flame we position ourselves as the training business that doesn’t believe training works…at least not in isolation. Those of you familiar with the 70/20/10 approach will be aware of the school of thought that up to 90% of learning can take place outside of the classroom, the vast majority of that on-the-job. The best learning interventions I’ve been involved with incorporate a variety of follow-up activities to reinforce and sustain the learning. These can include, but are not limited to, coaching conversations with the line manager, re-connect or follow-up sessions and action learning sets where attendees share their on-the-job experiences and support each other in applying their learning.
Experience tells me there is no one-size-fits all approach that guarantees successful implementation, no silver bullet that works for all organisations. What I do believe though is that those who execute on these three fundamentals are far more likely to convert their investment in learning and development into a sizable return.