Sustaining the impact of training and professional development programs can be tricky. Even targeted, well-designed training can fail to get lasting results if there is no follow-up after the training is over. The post-training environment is the most important aspect in combatting learning decay and ensuring that employees’ performance continues to improve.
To sustain the impact of training it is critical to create opportunities for employees to apply lessons learned once they return to their jobs. This hands-on application strengthens and extends the learning far beyond the training. Here are five practical solutions to ensure training has a lasting impact.
1. Have Employees Create Action Plans During Training
Action plans are immensely practical tools for helping employees use what they learned in training. When creating an action plan, individuals must think carefully and critically about the training, which then deepens their understanding. With the help of a facilitator, manager, or peer, employees can customize their action plans according to their own needs and goals. This not only gives them a roadmap for accomplishing the objectives of the training, it also helps managers hold them accountable.
2. Link Training to the HR Cycle
While this isn’t applicable to all types of training, management and leadership development training typically builds key competencies that can be incorporated into the HR cycle at stages such as recruiting, orientation, performance reviews, and promotions. Competencies that are addressed by training can form the criteria for promotion, or orientation programs can involve building personal development plans that are aligned with training competencies.
For example, let’s say a new member joins the customer service team, fresh out of college. While she has an academic background in communications, she hasn’t spent a lot of time working in the real business world. For her, training that focuses on personal growth like time and stress management, collaboration, and conflict resolution is critical. Over time, as she grows into her role, there is an opportunity for her to lead a team of interns. At this point, she starts having some on-the-job leadership experiences. To set her up for success and even more future growth, her manager asks her to complete training in the areas of accountability, team effectiveness, and coaching. Based on her application of the lessons in these training programs, she may be eligible for certain promotions or additional management opportunities.
3. Offer Coaching Training to Managers
Immediate managers typically have the most influence on training transfer — the extent to which employees are applying what they learned in training to their jobs. While clear objectives and action plans help managers know what to expect from employees in terms of desired behaviors and outcomes, having managers simply remind employees what they should be doing it, isn’t the best way to sustain new behaviors. In training programs that have a lasting impact, managers are taught how to model those desired behaviors and coach their employees so that they continue developing them.
4. Reinforce Learning Through Online Games
“Microlearning” — training that is delivered in small (think five or ten minute) chunks — lends itself easily to games. Training content can be adapted into online games that employees can play on their own time after returning to their jobs. Each short session should reinforce one key point or concept from the training. Online games are advantageous for a few reasons: they’re available 24/7, they don’t require a facilitator, and they can be points-based and linked to rewards. In this format, employees can self-motivate and complete the training modules for long-term impact.
5. Build in Regular Assessments
This is a basic but critical factor in sustaining (and evaluating!) training’s impact on employees and your organization at large. After the training, employees should be assessed at regular intervals by their managers, peers, and themselves on how well they’ve retained what they learned and exhibited the desired behaviors and skills. Training solutions that incorporate these assessments can also use the information to customize subsequent training modules or develop a new set of goals for individual employees. Without conducting post-training assessments, you will not be able to gain a clear idea of how effective the training actually was.
There are a myriad of ways to turn a one-time training event into an initiative with ongoing benefits for your organization, and any training program that promises long-lasting results should incorporate these aforementioned five. Creating customized action plans for employees, linking learning to the HR cycle, having managers coach to help apply new skills, providing online reinforcement, and conducting regular assessments of employees gives you a clear-eyed view of the training’s success and its impact on the overall business.