As early as the mid 1800’s Ebbinghouse and others demonstrated the fast pace of new learning loss. More recent studies along with anecdotal observations indicate that no matter how good your face to face learning initiative is in helping learning to ‘stick’, the likelihood of learning influencing practice is limited if there is no follow up’

I read many years ago, and have verified it with my own experiences that even when managers simply take notice and talk to learners about their development initiatives, motivation improves, and the likelihood of transference increases. So how can we create roads to real transformation? – that is how can we encourage learners to sustain and apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge in order to change behaviours and actually transform the way they operate in the work place.

The critical period is 1-12 weeks following the training. If people haven’t made any efforts to implement in a real world situation in that time, it is highly unlikely that they will do so. Knowledge has been lost and is no longer retrievable without referencing the original sources, and skills will not have been reinforced through the laying down of new and more robust neural networks.

Here are seven ways you can create roads to transformation. Some of them involve costly follow up methodologies; others can be integrated from the first design phases of your initiative.

  1. Start at the top. Train the trainee’s managers first. Train the highest level of manager you can get access to. Introduce them to the same program or in a truncated version so that supervisors are aware of the changed behaviours anticipated for their staff. Train them to have follow up conversations and provide feedback. Encourage them to provide opportunities for people to demonstrate their learning in the following few weeks of the training. There is no point someone attending a presentations training if they don’t have a real opportunity in the 1-6 weeks following the event to prepare and deliver a presentation. It is training investment lost. In Sri Lanka post Tsunami, I worked with numerous response and rehabilitation teams. We first introduced a Leading the Team workshop to all team leaders, then cascaded the training down so that each manager repeated a similar workshop with his or her team. We embedded the key messages down and across the organisation.
  2. Train senior managers as co-facilitators in the actual training. In a US car manufacturing company, the failures in the customer client relationship were identified as occurring at higher management levels and not as initially suspected with the front line customer engineers. We convinced the company to oblige all managers to take the training and to accompany at least 1 workshop as co-facilitators. Learning with their staff helped managers understand that they were part of the problem and had to be part of the solution.
  3. Include a ‘Learning Contract’. Involve supervising managers in pre and post workshop initiatives to reinforce learning back on the job. Incorporate a company wide policy that supervisors meet with learners to validate learning objectives for development initiatives. Include follow up processes to verify learning and implementation opportunities as well as feedback and evaluation. A learning contract can be a simple template of questions: What do you need to learn? How are you going to learn it? How will you implement the new learning in your job? How will you know when you have been successful? This is even more successful if integrated with a Staff Performance Development Plan as part of a robust and professional Performance Management Process.
  4. Organise ‘Action Learning Sets’ following the training. Action learning sets can be led by workshop facilitators, coaches or internal HR professionals; they can be face to face or virtual. The goal of an action learning set is to allow people to explore their implementation and to share and scale up best practices. It is not intended for people to be old what they ‘should have done’. When ALS are managed by the learners themselves, they need to be trained in the skills of facilitating small group meetings and in coaching: asking questions and separating facts from opinions, pulling out transferable best practice for the benefit of the learners and the organization.
  5. Public commitments As a wrap up to a training of trainers program we provide a questionnaire and ask each learner to share with the group the actions they will do to cement learning in the first week, within 2 months and within 6 months. The impact of articulating these plans improves commitment. You can also send out quick and easy nudge mails to ask where they are.
  6. Learning buddies. Ask people to identify someone from the training who they commit to supporting and seeking support from. You can help kick off their relationship by including a ‘Give and Get’ activity as a wrap up.
  7. Plan refresher skills workshops. You don’t have to repeat all the original content. Participants are simply provided an opportunity to practice in a safe, supported environment some of the skills they learned in the original workshop and have been attempting to implement. For example following an intense presentations course, organize a half day event and allow learners to practice a short presentation in front of peers and with recording and feedback.