The unwritten first step to ensure training transfer: diagnosing development

It’s no secret that the main goal of workplace learning – whether formal training, stretch projects, reading or coaching – is to improve employee performance on the job, in a sustained way.

While learning should provide an experience that enriches an employee’s knowledge, skills or understanding, it should also be aligned to the needs of the business.

And given the investment companies make in formal and informal training and development, measuring how well the learning is being applied — or ensuring the transfer of learning — is critical. But this is not something every company is good at.

I’m going to suggest that before you dig into ways to ensure transfer, you should take a closer look at the development activity itself and whether it is the most appropriate method to boost an employee’s performance. This is the oft-overlooked first step in ensuring effective learning transfer.

Assessing the type of learning and development activities that support improved performance isn’t cut and dry. What if you or your managers are assigning developmental activities to improve a key area, but the chosen tactics aren’t addressing the actual TYPE of gap that the employee has? This could be doing more harm than good. We can help!

Diagnosing development: a simple framework

Below we share this awesome framework from our friend Dr. Henryk Krajewski (@buildvalue), President at the Anderson Leadership Group. This “development diagnosis” provides a quick guide of what type of development activities could be applied based on the specific TYPE of gap an employee has.

Here’s how to use it:

Your first step is to identify the gap. Why does performance need to be improved? Is it because the employee doesn’t have the knowledge and information they need? Is it because they don’t know how? Is it because their values or mindset are not aligned with those of your company?

Or does it actually come down to the harder- to-change aspects of personality and intelligence?

The below chart lists some great questions you and your managers should consider in order to determine the gap, and recommend high impact development tactics.

Now that your organization has a framework for diagnosing development needs, and the appropriate tactics have been assigned, you can consider how best to ensure that the learning is applied and consistently demonstrated.

The elusive training transfer!

To strengthen the connection between the “training room” (or the book/ conference/ mentor) and the workplace, below we share some learning transfer tips we’ve gleaned from hundreds of our customers over the past decade.

Organization-wide tips

  • Make sure that continuous improvement and ongoing learning are messages that emanate from the top. If employees understand that the company as a whole puts great emphasis on development, then the employee is more likely to appreciate the learning or training they are undertaking as something that is valuable, both personally and for the business. Not a punishment!
  • Set expectations that employees participating in learning and development activities are not only encouraged, but expected to apply their experience to the workplace.
  • If it’s a formal “in-class” training session you’re hosting, then ensure you’ve hired the best. An uninspiring trainer can inhibit the application of learning right from the get-go.
  • Provide the training over a staggered period of time. Give plenty of opportunity for developmental support in between training modules if applicable so that employees have an opportunity to digest the information, practice applying it and review in subsequent meetings.

Manager and employee tips

  • Have the employee undertaking the development activity document personal goals and action plans that are time-bound or include specific milestones for applying the training.
  • Consider using a formal goal setting process or MBO process to support application of the training and milestones noted above.
  • Have your managers review the progress on those goals or actions with the employee on a monthly basis.
  • Ensure that praise and recognition for the developmental effort undertaken by the employee are part of the goal review.
  • Have the employee share their key learning highlights with their peers via a presentation or team meeting.
  • The employee can mentor another team member or group that’s looking to enhance their knowledge in a similar area. This is particularly useful if the training was based on a job skill enhancement or new best practice.
  • Give them every opportunity to apply their new knowledge or skills — this can be via stretch projects, or participation in informal teams or working groups.

Measuring impact on performance

If the goal of the development activity was to enhance employee competence and performance in a key area (and based on what we’ve already noted, it likely was,) then a measured improvement in the focus area is a litmus test of whether or not that learning transfer has taken place, and taken hold!

The Training Impact Report included in Halogen eLearning Manager is a great tool that helps our customers identify whether their developmental activities are having a long-term, positive impact on employee performance on the job, by giving them a view of employee performance ratings before and after completion of a learning activity or path.

Using the report, can the manager see an improvement in the employee’s performance on the target competency? If so, can they make the connection to the development activity, and subsequent training transfer actions that the employee undertook?

Yes? Fantastic! Keep reinforcing the learning and ensuring that the employee has every opportunity to apply their new skills and knowledge for sustained performance.

No, or not sure? Have the manager go back to the diagnosing development chart and ask themselves if the gap they were trying to address was correct. Maybe it wasn’t a skill that needed to be honed, but a values gap or, even more difficult, a fundamental personality issue. Perhaps a different type of developmental activity is in order.

Now comes the question of how critical that competence or skill is to the employee’s role? What about to the organization’s success?

If various types of development and training transfer activities have been put in place, to no avail, some tough decisions will have to be made. But we make those every day, right?

As long your organization provides the tools to diagnose development, the steps to ensure training transfer and the means to measure training impact, tough decisions are nothing a great HR team and strong manager can’t handle.

If you want more ideas on this topic, visit our Center of Excellence on employee development best practices or download the white paper Learning puts the heart in talent management.

Your turn. We’d love for you to share your employee development tips and training transfer ideas with us in the comments section below.

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