The major predictor of how well learning gets transferred into the workplace is the attitude of the learner’s boss” (T.T. Baldwin and J.K. Ford, Personnel Psychology)
However good the course, however effective the trainer, however keen the learner, if the boss is not ACTIVELY supporting both the learning and the transfer, then getting new skills applied in practice will be an uphill struggle.
So what can or should the line manager be doing – before, during, and after the course – to make the most of the training “spend”, and promote transfer of learning to the workplace, which is where it starts to pay back dividends?
Before the Training
A line manager can do two things here which will ensure the training, when it comes, will fall on fertile ground.
• Choose the right time for the right individual to attend the training. The learner needs to be in a position where he or she can apply the new learning immediately or at least within a few weeks. Otherwise, knowledge, skills and enthusiasm gained on the course will leach away through lack of use and practice. This can be an important factor if you are considering a “sheep dip” approach to training. In this case, you will need to factor in appropriate refresher sessions.
• Spend 30-60 minutes with the learner, working out specific learning objectives for them, discussing why these are important to you as their line manager and to the organisation, how you plan to have them use their new learnings on their return from the course. For courses which deliver a formal qualification, delve beneath this to the skills as well. Why are these ‘skillsets’ important, not just the certificate?
During the Training
Again, two things the line manager can do:
• Take active steps as far as you can, to ensure that during the training course the learner is protected from interruptions, queries or “emergencies” back in the workplace just the same as if they were away on holiday or sick leave. The “learning state” will disintegrate and the learning is less effective if the learner feels they must catch up with emails, messages and phone calls in every break. Tell them you want them to focus solely on the learning and practice throughout the training day, and prove it by arranging for someone else to field queries.
• Check with the learner that travel/accommodation arrangements will not be unduly burdensome. We have previously known participants expected to commute to a training venue two hours each way in rush hour traffic three days in a row, in order “to save money”. The learner’s mental focus and motivation to learn will be far more productively supported if the line manager demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to the training, by recognising the importance of the learner’s physical welfare and mental state as factors in effective learning.
After the Training
Once more, two actions:
• Spend another 30-60 minutes debriefing with the learner. Were your agreed learning objectives achieved? Draw up a scheduled action plan now to reinforce the learning by real-life practice and application in the workplace.
• Arrange coaching sessions to underpin successful transfer of learning to workplace application. Avoid the trap of assuming the learner has achieved full competence simply by attending the course. All skills and techniques (you can think of many!) need between ten and twenty rounds of practice before the learner is properly able and confident to go solo.
If forced to, a truly dedicated learner can struggle through on their own, but transfer will take longer and will be reliant on “trial and error” – an extremely costly and wasteful training method. Further, line managers or organisations which do not ACTIVELY support learning transfer in this way, will breed fewer dedicated learners in the first place. Does your organisation sometimes pay out good money for participants to attend a course passively, even reluctantly, just because they were sent?
So, when planning training, start by getting line managers on board. Their role is key – and crucial – to ensuring your training budget is ‘invested’, and not just spent.