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Saturday, April 09, 2005

From Training to Performance – Making Training Stick

Question: How do you make training stick?

Answer: Make sure that the knowledge and skills advocated by the program is applied.

Fast food crews develop the skills to prepare sandwiches and other fast food products because they are made to do what they were taught several times a day. Programmers get to solve problems and make decisions using programming codes as if they were fork and spoon. I can cite several other examples of how people are able to apply what they learn in training and develop the necessary skills.

If all kinds of training have the same impact as what I mentioned, organizations and managers wouldn’t have to be frustrated and skeptical about the impact of some training programs. There is definitely a reason why they should feel this way. Many companies spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of pesos every year to help managers develop supervisory, leadership, coaching, performance management and all those necessary skills to enhance effectiveness and efficiency in delivering results but to no avail. The answer to this question is fairly simple, many participants do not get to apply the information they gather from the training. Is it because the courses suck? I’m sure that is not always the case. A lot of these people go out of the classroom seemingly enlightened and appreciative of what they learned. The smiley sheets (training evaluation forms) tell the story. But where rubber meets the road, they don't always deliver.

The best way to answer this problem is to compare the soft skills development programs to the training on how to cook a burger for a fast food store.

When fast food trainees go out of the classroom, their supervisors, their peers, even their customers have a clear understanding of how they should perform. The measures are clear and consistency is expected. This is the big difference between functional training and some soft skills training. Many times, only a few people will be sent to a soft skills training at a time. The superiors and peers of the participants only have the faintest idea as to what the person learned hence there is hardly any way to support the change. And speaking of change, officemates often welcome change only if it does not involve them. Some people are so afraid of being thrown off by what the change will do in the way they do things that they would fight tooth and nail to oppose it. Knowing that the environment is not ready for the change no matter how ideal it is, the participant would resist implementing it lest they get the ire of their fellow employees. If I get a Dollar for every time I hear the statement “I wish I could do that in my company/department”, I’d be rich by now. Or how about this, “I hope my boss is hearing what you are saying.”

Knowing the problem is half the solution and basing from what I told you, it looks like the problem is how to make the superior and the entire team to support the change brought about by training. Yes that is true, but there is more. I think one of the biggest problems is that a lot of times, training comes before the desire to change. I’d love to hear your side on this: I think in order for training to be effective, it should be a part of a bigger objective or strategy. A good example would be a move to pursue ISO certification. People in the organization get all the training and get to implement what they learn because it is driven by the ISO initiative. A Customer Service Enhancement program that puts in place all the support systems to empower the employees to serve their customers better should drive the training and not the other way around. A teambuilding workshop should be driven by the organization’s desire to build a team environment. Other initiatives that should come with these are, structuring the organization to enhance teamwork, redesigning the incentives scheme to reward team success, giving opportunities for teams to work on problems using team problem solving tools, etc. Six Sigma green belt and black belt training is so successful because they are not the be-all-and-end all of Six Sigma, they are just tools to equip the Black and Green belts in improving the organizations performance. One last example, training on business process reengineering should be driven by a move of the organization to reengineer its processes. For all others, training should be driven by the need to enable the participant to demonstrate certain competency like planning, leading (which in itself can be categorized in gazillion concepts), organizing, controlling, etc. All these should be expected, monitored and evaluated to make sure that the learning is applied and results are achieved.

Donald Kirkpatrick came up with the four levels of training evaluation to measure the effectiveness of training down to the ROI (fourth) level. Without a good program to support and follow through with the learning however, you might just end up finding out that the impact of training faded somewhere between the second (learning) and third (application) level.

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