Sustaining Training Beyond the “Event”

As you are aware, the market can change quickly and there is more and more information out there we all need to digest and incorporate into our work. In my role in human resources, I was challenged with helping our employees stay current. My route? There isn’t just one, but I can tell you I am creating an internal university program of courses using our manager and employee playbooks every day to reinforce what we learn.

My challenge is one that all organizations face, whether it comes in the form of training for new staff, training on new systems or products, or retraining people who aren’t meeting performance targets.  These efforts can be expensive and time-consuming, but are critical to keep things running smoothly. So we all want to be sure our training activities are effective and sustainable.

There are lots of companies that provide seminars offering good information about new skills or approaches to common management concerns.  People generally feel good about attending the class and are eager to try out their new strategies.  Then life gets in the way.  The business at hand gets the focus. There is often something else more pressing at work that takes priority over applying the recent training.  Before long, the enthusiasm and energy of the training has been drowned out by the daily demands and it seems like the event never happened.

The other scenario is that a manager with the best intentions comes back from a training session and what seemed perfectly reasonable in the classroom, is confusing or hard to implement in real life.  Even though the learning is still fresh and the trainee is willing to try out the new skills, it’s not easy to make the transition from the classroom to the real workplace.

What’s lacking in these scenarios is the chance to practice and reinforce the lessons learned so that they won’t be hard to implement or easily forgotten.  The graph shows how the impact of new training fades quickly if it isn’t reinforced, but training that is reinforced provides sustainable results.  Zig Ziglar uses the equation “Will + Skill + Refill = Success” to indicate that a willing learner plus the new training still need practice and reinforcement to achieve success.

So how do you reinforce the training messages?  Think about what you did when you got a new puppy or had to potty train your first child.  The methods used to reinforce business training really aren’t that much different than what you did in those situations.  You help your trainee (or puppy or toddler) by providing opportunities to practice, coaching them through the activity repeatedly over several days or weeks and providing encouragement and rewards for success; maybe even sprinkle in some negative reinforcement to get the point across on the importance of being a good student.

Some basic training reinforcement tips include:

  • Provide training handouts (see examples): if trainees have a handy reference that summarizes  key information and can refer to it, they are more likely to retain information and practice the right way.
  • Coach trainees as they incorporate their new skills into their routine: This can be done in the training session or as a follow up activity.  Allowing everyone to try out their new skills in the training environment helps them build the confidence to be effective when it counts.
  • Don’t wait for perfection before recognizing or rewarding the new skills: Even if it didn’t work perfectly the first time, support the trainee with kudos for what worked and encouragement for improving the areas that still need work.
  • Reinforce training messages: Use your regular communication methods (meetings, newsletters, intranet, etc.) or have contests or other fun activities to encourage and promote the new behaviors.
  • Set a good example:  Whether you are the trainer or simply someone who is an expert in the subject area, be aware that you are the model for those in your organization.
  • Celebrate success: Praise the people who have incorporated the new skills into their routine and highlight the additional benefit the organization receives from the person’s new contributions.

Good managers can leverage training activities – whether provided by internal resources or by outside experts – if they support and reinforce the learning through simple, easy to use techniques.  Think of it as a vital part of the training investment.  You wouldn’t spend money on something that didn’t work for longer than one day.  Add these steps to your training programs and see how you like the results.  If it works for your dog, it should work for your staff!

By, Nancy Lane, Human Resource Manager at Red Book Solutions and B2A, LLC – 30 years of experience in education, medical imaging, oil & gas and business services.

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