By Mike Barna, Kepner-Tregoe
With large parts of the population working remotely, coursework can be consumed wherever and whenever training is required, as well as customized and adapted to different types of learners. This evolving learning landscape has opened the door to a new world of capability development, giving organizations not only enormous flexibility with how they schedule training events, but also the opportunity to extend skill building to off-site workers. However, the ability for people to transform the skills they've gained from training into measurable, immediate results on-the-job is always easier said than done and doesn't simply happen on its own without a proper support structure in place.
The new learning landscape offers a boon to skill up workforces. However, back on the job evaluation of training effectiveness is still a struggle.
The training program is over, what now? Once people have received training, they are technically ready to apply their new skills. But simply because someone spent several days in a classroom does not make them an expert, let alone mean they will automatically be able to connect the dots between what they learned and how to put those concepts into practice. In our experience, it's often a challenge for folks to close the gap between classroom theory and real-life application, which is why critical behaviors that a training program is designed to instill need encouragement if they are to be sustained. If anything, people need a little bit of handholding to get going so they feel empowered to get results. Otherwise, without that support, it's likely people will revert to their comfort zone and continue what they were doing "pre-training", which will diminish any return on investment promised from training.
It's also a simple case that in order to gain mastery at something, you need to practice. Not everything is like riding a bike; some things can be forgotten if not maintained, and problem-solving is no exception. When it comes to problem-solving especially, managers should work with their team members to ensure they have opportunities to promptly apply new skills they've learned from training while the classroom content is still fresh. Whether that's using what they learned to work through a backlog of issues, help a colleague work through their backlog, or simply apply what they learned to a personal situation to get some experience. At the same time, the onus is also on managers to help their team members work through any obstacles that could get in the way of their continued learning. For example, finding ways to use skills from training may be even harder now simply because of all the distractions that some face working from home.
It's a simple case that in order to gain mastery you need to practice
Other pitfalls we've seen are requirements of extended documentation leaving little time to focus on problem-solving and job responsibilities that have not been adjusted to include time for new skills to be put into practice. Organizations that design the work environment to accommodate for new skills find that training dollars are a great investment. Removing barriers that impede these desired behaviors accelerates integration and helps gain real value from their application.
At KT, our clients rely on us to provide critical thinking/problem-solving training and to help them follow through to enable application on the job. We teach employees the steps of problem-solving as well as preventing problems from happening in the first place. While both offer value for the organization, people rarely get recognized for avoiding problems. This employee may be publicly rewarded for effectively solving problems but goes unacknowledged for avoiding a problem. Thus, the high value of preventing a problem is diminished by the immediate and obvious reward of solving them.
Old habits die hard
Managers should work with individuals to determine how to use new skills and avoid defaulting to old habits. It’s up to leadership to encourage the use of new skills and give individuals the time needed to master them on the job. Ultimately this will produce a better outcome.
One client we are working with asked us for help to improve their investigation process for a team that was overworked, submitting poor investigations and submitting them late. We were startled at their response to our suggested solutions. Their perspective was that they only have a few hours to spare for training or they'll fall further behind. They also didn't want to touch existing processes because, "That would take too long." This is a catch 22 indeed! And they are not the only team to be on the hot seat where the clock is ticking and, in order to execute properly, their team needs deeper skills. Taking a longer view would show better clarity when considering the consequences of investing valuable team time vs. continued poor results. While situations are always different, our experience shows the choice would favor biting the bullet and taking the time to provide training that is consistent with the outcome the team is looking for.
It’s up to leadership to encourage the use of new skills and give individuals the time needed to master them on the job
Sustaining value. Some of the benefits of training are hard to measure because they are qualitative in nature. Factors like job satisfaction, high morale, and increased employee retention may seem intangible—but can be extremely beneficial to the bottom line. Training is about improving individual and team performances, and in turn influencing the overall performance of the organization.
To drive sustained behavior, priority must go to determining how new skills impact the workplace and removing barriers to their adoption. In any struggle between what is good for the organization and what is good for the learner, it is the learner-based impacts that will drive sustained behavior. Upskilling the workforce is no longer constrained by in-person training, but new skills must be supported once training is complete. Whether employees are working on site or remotely, training should include efforts to remove barriers for the use of new skills and to support their integration into the way work is done.
Read more about Maximizing your Training Investment
We all hope that you are well during this disruptive time in our world’s history. For over 60 years our company, Kepner-Tregoe has had the opportunity to help major organizations navigate successfully through radical change, help solve intractable problems and increase incident and problem-management performance through tools, training and consulting – leading to highly effective teams ready to respond to your company’s most critical issues.