Maximizing the Impact of Formal Training
Get the Biggest Benefit From Your Team's Desire to Learn
Charlie recently hired Karin onto his team. She is relatively inexperienced, but she has potential and a good attitude. However, despite sessions of role-playing, one-on-one coaching, and shadowing co-workers, she's not achieved her goals. Now, the HR department has asked her to attend a formal training course to address her performance issues.
Charlie is skeptical of this "intrusion" as it's a busy time of year and resources are stretched. He also worries about formal training's effectiveness: he's seen plenty of people attend expensive courses with no benefit to the team when they get back.
Karin is desperate to stay in her new boss's good books and knows his views on this type of training – she'll either have to say no or put in extra hours to make up for the time away from the office. So, she backs out of attending the course. Consequently, she continues to miss her performance targets, and the situation deteriorates.
If you find yourself in a situation like this as a manager, how can you ensure there's a more positive outcome for everybody involved? In this article, we'll explore some of the strategies that you can use to ensure that you, your team, and your organization benefit from formal training.
Training as Part of a Learning Culture
It's important to foster a team culture that encourages people to engage with learning and get some real benefit from it.
This is particularly relevant for formal training, which is often an organized and structured event delivered in a classroom or workshop, or online. It can be the best way for team members to learn a "hard skill" (something measurable, such as using software) or to develop a certain level of competence or knowledge in a subject. But, it can also be expensive and take people away from their work.
For it to be fully effective, learners need to be supported and encouraged throughout the entire process. And this is where you, the manager, come in.
For help and advice on building a helpful learning culture in your organization, see our article, Encouraging Learning in the Workplace. And for information on delivering learning that blends classroom and on-the-job approaches, see our article, 70:20:10.
Seven Ways to Maximize the Impact of Formal Training
By following the seven tips below, you can help your trainee team members to get the results that will benefit them, you, and the organization.
1. Fine-Tune Your Team Culture
Having an all-in-it-together, no-blame, pro-learning culture in your team is crucial for the success of any formal learning process. You and your organization can see a tangible return on the investment that you've made when a more knowledgeable and competent team member returns.
Supportive cultures encourage team members to seek learning opportunities. And people won't feel guilty about attending formal learning if everyone else knows that they will benefit from the new skills and knowledge learned.
Managers should be ready to allow newly trained team members to take on new tasks, and make a few mistakes, as they refine their new skills and learn how to put them into practice.
2. Set the Tone
Research shows that managers can best develop a learning culture by showing their own enthusiasm for self-development. In fact, to gain the maximum benefit from formal learning, everyone on your team must be committed to and engaged with it. And that includes you!
Cultivate a team-wide growth mindset by sharing your own learning objectives. Be clear about how you work toward them, and discuss the benefits that a focused approach to development has brought to your working life. When people understand that they can improve their skills as you've done, they'll likely become more enthused about developing themselves.
Take time to explain the importance of the training to the rest of your team whenever someone is going on a course. Also, reassure those who are waiting patiently for their own training that their opportunity will come. They'll likely feel less left out or resentful, and more likely to support the learner.
Some managers can feel threatened and behave unhelpfully if their team members start to know more than they do. This is a form of self-sabotage, and our article, Avoiding Managerial Self-Sabotage, explores how you can stop yourself from doing this.
Also, remember that everyone on a team, including the manager, can benefit from one person's formal learning – more skills, higher competence levels, and an improved team performance reflect well on all its members.
3. Analyze the Course Content
When one of your people is booked onto a training course, take time to find out about its content. This will give you an idea of how much more competent he or she will be, or what new knowledge he will have, when he returns.
Set aside time for your team member to complete any preparatory work that he needs to do, such as background reading. Make sure other team members understand that this is part of the formal training.
4. Define Learning Objectives and Outcomes
Before the formal learning starts, hold a one-on-one meeting with your learner, and work with her to establish clear objectives and expected outcomes.
It's important that she understands how you expect her performance to improve and how this should contribute to team and organizational objectives. When you commit to helping her to put her learning into practice, and coach her to achieve her objectives, she'll start training with greater confidence, purpose, focus, and direction.
It's also essential to identify outcomes that will benefit your learner personally. When she sees that she'll be closer to realizing her career aspirations, hitting her goals, and raising her profile, she should feel more interested in, engaged with, and motivated by learning.
5. Give Practical Support
Time away from the office can sometimes seem more like an interruption to work than an opportunity to improve performance and results. So, it's vital that you support your learner practically, to minimize disruption and to ease the pressure on him, so that he's able to make time for learning.
Start by helping him to free up some time for his course by rearranging meetings, adjusting schedules, redistributing work, and managing his distractions (such as emails and visitors). This will allow him to attend his course without worrying about work piling up while he's away.
The pressure on other team members will likely increase when he's away, and he may be unable to focus on his learning if he's concerned about the impact of his absence on colleagues. So, it's important to think about how your team can manage its workload, and whether it needs additional support while the trainee is away.
Teams are often made up of individuals with specialized skills, and one person's absence can negatively affect the productivity of the entire group. Read our article, Cross-Training, for advice on creating a flexible team and minimizing the impact of one member's temporary departure.
6. Encourage Reflection
A frequent criticism of managers is that, when team members return from a training course, they expect them to be "back to business" almost immediately. This means that people don't have the chance to put what they've learned into practice, and quickly forget it.
You can help your learner to reflect on what she's learned once she's back at her desk, by asking her to share her new skills or knowledge with colleagues in a presentation or workshop. The harder she has to think through what she's learned, the better she'll retain it and be able to apply it to her work.
It's important to give her opportunities to re-read materials and notes after the formal learning, so that she can absorb them. As soon as possible after the course, and when workloads allow, set aside time for her to review them.
7. Apply the Learning
You'll obviously want to see a return on your investment in formal learning, but it's unrealistic to expect your learner to be able to use his new skills or knowledge perfectly straight away. So, allow him space and time to practice what he's learned, and give him the freedom to make mistakes as he masters his new skills and applies his new knowledge.
As his confidence in his new competencies grows, you can set him stretch goals, so that he doesn't return to his old habits. This will force him out of his comfort zone, and help him to use his learning to maximum effect.
During this time, monitor his progress regularly, recognize his efforts, and celebrate his progress. It doesn't have to be a financial reward – just simply saying "well done" or highlighting his achievements to his colleagues will make him feel that the process has been worthwhile.
Reaping the Rewards
When a company invests in its people, they tend to feel valued, and this can boost their engagement, loyalty and productivity. Learners can pass on their new skills and knowledge, empower their colleagues, and raise the overall levels of competency within a team and an organization.
Managers can also improve their standing as leaders of high-performing teams.
When you maximize the impact of formal training, you help people to open their minds to new ways of working and inspire them to try new ideas. You're playing an important role in helping them to achieve their goals, too.
Formal training is an organized and structured intentional act of learning new skills or knowledge. However, managers can view it as an interruption to work, rather than as an investment in their people's development.
To make sure that everyone gets the most from formal training, instill a learning culture. Bring the whole team on board by giving everyone your support – not just the learner.
Establish your expectations for formal learning, so that people understand how their improved competencies will help them, their team, and the organization.
When a team member returns from a training course, embed her learning by testing her knowledge regularly, allowing her time for practice and making mistakes, and setting her stretch goals.